Tamil Nadu went to polls on Wednesday in an election that is seen as testing the extent of public anger against the ruling Congress party battling a string of corruption scandals and high food prices.
Tamil Nadu,a swing state that helps give Congress a Parliamentary majority,is ruled by the regional DMK party,a ruling coalition ally linked to a multi-billion dollar telecoms graft scandal that has roiled Asia’s third-largest economy.
Elections in Tamil Nadu are one of the most important of polls in five states this summer which are seen redrawing the political map of India ahead of the 2014 general elections.
Results for these state elections will be known on May 13.
A defeat for the DMK will not affect the stability of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government as no party wants a snap vote before the scheduled 2014 general election.
But a loss for an important Congress ally would bolster Opposition parties and impede government attempts to pass politically-sensitive economic reforms,like streamlining taxes or opening up retail to foreign investors.
Analysts give the Opposition AIADMK an edge in the elections,given the scandals and helped by its alliance with a party of a popular Tamil Nadu film actor.
The defeat of state and regional parties that currently support the UPA (ruling) coalition could lead those parties to re-think how they are positioned electorally,analysts at political risk group ‘Eurasia’ wrote in a note to clients.
If parties decided to abandon ship,’Eurasia’ said it would scramble the coalition and,amid a frenzy of politicking and deal making,further sink Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reform agenda in Parliament.
Congress is looking for a good performance to reassert its political weight over its fickle allies and the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Congress has 207 seats and depends on regional allies to reach the 272 halfway mark in parliament.
The government has proposed several reforms such as overhauling the tax system,allowing foreign investors in the retail sector,and freeing up diesel prices,but has been unable to implement them due to a lack of political support.
GRAFT SCANDAL WEIGHS
DMK leader Andimuthu Raja was the telecoms minister during a flawed 2007/08 mobile phone licence allocation process where police say millions of dollars were paid as bribes to him to favour some firms when the lucrative licences were handed out.
The bribes were routed through the party’s television channel,police say. India may have lost $39 billion due to the rule violations,the state auditor estimated,potentially making it the country’s biggest graft case.
In the general elections,Tamil Nadu sends 39 MPs to the 545-strong Lok Sabha.
Parties of all shades have promised citizens free grinders,television sets,goats and gold ornaments if they come to power.
On Wednesday,Kerala and Pondicherry states go to polls,with Congress the favourite. Congress is also seen winning the northeastern state of Assam.
Congress and ally Trinamool are also expected to win eastern West Bengal state which will vote later this month in a month-long staggered election.