The 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu, instrumental in deciding the fate of national politics for a quarter of a century now, vote Thursday in what will be one of the most closely contested elections for many years now. For the main contestants in the fray, at stake is not only a share of power at the Centre, but also their positioning vis-a-vis the assembly elections due in two years.
Though the contest is primarily between the ruling AIADMK and the DMK, the coming together of a group of small, but influential, outfits under the NDA umbrella has introduced an element of unpredictability. Added to this is the presence of the Congress and the Left parties, which have their pockets of goodwill that, in at least a handful of places, could make the difference.
The ruling AIADMK, led by Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, is the frontrunner in this race, capitalising on the strong anti-incumbency wave against the UPA and the welfare juggernaut unleashed by her since winning the last assembly election. Opinion polls and the general public mood indicate her party could win 20 seats — its best ever is 19 in 1999. While this would be a vast improvement on the nine of 2009, it will still be short of the 30-35 the party has been dreaming of.
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The same pollsters say the DMK will win only about half the 18 seats it won in 2009. But that would be only one side of the story. Any evaluation of the DMK’s present strength should factor in the drubbing of 2011 when it won only 23 assembly seats. Winning eight to 10 Lok Sabha seats — approximately 50 to 70 assembly segments — would in fact be a morale-booster for the party that is facing rebellion exemplified best by party president M Karunanidhi’s son M K Alagiri.
The emergence of a “third front”, a coalition of contradictions held together by the promise of power under the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, has made the difference. It has enabled the BJP to be a cohesive element despite having no presence in state politics.
In BJP president Pon Radhakrishnan, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, PMK founder S Ramadoss’s son Anbumani, and DMDK founder Vijayakanth’s brother-in-law L K Sudheesh, the coalition has fielded some star candidates who are strong contenders this time. In Perambalur (IJK founder T R Pachamuthu) and Vellore (NJP founder AC Shanmugam) the front has two leading but controversial education entrepreneurs, both contesting on the BJP symbol.
This group of seven is collectively referred to as a rainbow coalition, which, however is a misnomer in the state’s political context. The Modi-led BJP is sure to drive away Muslim votes, and on board are the PMK and KMDK, two vehemently anti-Dalit outfits that are strong in the north and west. This is sure to have an impact Thursday when Dalits and Muslims are likely to vote en bloc against them.
Having inked an alliance with two Islamist parties — IUML and MMK —and two Dalit parties — VCK and PT —the DMK is hoping to consolidate these votes, accounting for over a quarter of the total electorate.
Many believe the Congress and the Left would be lucky to win any seat.
Also in the fray is the fledgling AAP that has little traction in the state but has two anti-nuclear protest leaders, SP Udayakumar in Kanyakumari and M Pushparayan in Tuticorin, both of whom are expected to secure a significant number of votes.
Though the state is only half as large as Uttar Pradesh, the propensity of Tamil voters to vote as a wave and the flexibility of all major players to align with any national party, depending on the post-poll scenario, have made Tamil Nadu a key component in all elections since 1989. In these 25 years, the DMK has emerged a crucial player in Delhi politics, especially in the last 15 years during which it has been part of the ruling coalition. This is the Tamil Nadu model that others, including the AIADMK and the NDA constituents, are hoping to replicate.
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