Tamil Nadu is all set for the polls with both the major parties in the state, the DMK and AIADMK, stitching a grand coalition of allies and friends. Most parties except TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiyam (MNM) are part of these alliances. Opinion polls have consistently been giving the DMK-Congress alliance a huge edge in the polls, and it might be true with double incumbency both at the state and the Centre against the AIADMK and BJP respectively.
There is a certain anti-Modi media and public narrative which is hard to miss in Tamil Nadu. The Balakot bump is very muted. Adding to this is the ‘known unknown’ of TTV Dhinakaran who might take away a large number of votes from the alliances. If he does, the alliance candidates will collapse; and if he takes away a substantial number, it might lead to a respectable defeat. If Dhinakaran proves to be a damp squib, then the AIADMK-BJP alliance has a chance.
Kamal Haasan is not contesting the polls himself, demoralising his fans, though his party is contesting all the 39 seats in the state.
2019 Lok Sabha elections: key constituencies in Tamil Nadu:
Kanyakumari: This is perhaps among the few constituencies in Tamil Nadu where the BJP has a significant vote share. This constituency is unlike others in the state with a significant population of Christians. It is dominated by the Nadar caste, and most parties field Nadars — Hindu Nadars or Christian Nadars. It is perhaps the only constituency in Tamil Nadu where the national parties have a greater say than Dravidian parties.
In 2014, BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan won by a margin of more than 1,20,000 votes. Radhakrishnan is an old warhorse; he has won twice from this constituency and had been in the contest six times.
In 2014, the Congress and DMK were not in an alliance. Now they are. Pon Radhakrishnan is facing Congress party’s Vasanth Kumar, a prominent businessman. Vasanth’s family has been in politics for a long time, his brother Kumari Ananthan was a longstanding Congress leader and his niece is now the president of Tamil Nadu BJP — Tamilisai Soundararajan. A minority consolidation behind the Congress and DMK could prove difficult for the BJP.
Thoothukudi: Also called as Tuticorin, and located in southern Tamil Nadu, this constituency is in the limelight only because of the contestants. DMK leader Kanimozhi, the late M Karunanidhi’s daughter and a Rajya Sabha MP, is facing Tamilisai Soundararajan.
Sporadic protests against the Sterlite copper smelter plant at Tuticorin since a decade, snowballed into a massive agitation in May 2018 when protestors, taking out a march to the District Collector’s office, were shot at and 13 people lost their lives. They were demanding the closure of the Sterlite copper plant. The embers have not cooled yet.
Some say the AIADMK was unwilling to face the electorate in Thoothukudi and hence has passed on the constituency to the BJP. BJP is not as strong as it is in neighbouring Kanyakumari and has to depend on the AIADMK and the Puthiya Tamilagam to increase its chances. Kanimozhi is a well-known face in the constituency and she has been spending time, cultivating the voters. It does not look encouraging for the BJP.
South Chennai: It is a constituency with significant Brahmin population and educated middle-class voters. It has pockets of support for the BJP, and the Modi narrative has quite a few takers. It was expected that the BJP would contest from this constituency as it won around 2.5 lakh votes in 2014, contesting without a major partner.
But the AIADMK, which won it the last time, is contesting the seat. The AIADMK-BJP candidate is Dr Jayavardhan who is son of Jayakumar, a senior AIADMK minister in the present government. Jayakumar was always known as a north Madras politician where he has been winning repeatedly. Jayavardhan had won in 2014 in an AIADMK wave with a margin of more than 1,30,000 votes. However, it is yet to be seen how BJP-friendly voters take to the candidate.
The DMK alliance has fielded Tamizhachi Thangapandian, daughter of a senior DMK leader Thangapandian. They hail from Virudhunagar area in southern Tamil Nadu but the party has sought to go with her, projecting a fresh look.
BJP voters have a soft corner for Jayalalithaa and would readily vote for the AIADMK if she were around, but in her absence, one is not sure of their interest levels with the AIADMK alliance.
Coimbatore: The constituency has a substantial BJP voter base and BJP’s C P Radhakrishnan has won twice from this constituency. In 2014, without any major alliance partner, the party received around four lakh votes and it is on a strong wicket with the support of the AIADMK. It has a substantial number of industrial workers, small and medium industries, weavers and an agricultural hinterland.
Radhakrishnan is facing Natarajan of the CPI(M). The focus of the campaign will be on national issues like demonetisation, GST and other economic measures. It is also an urban constituency with a substantial population of Gounders — AIADMK leader Edappadi K Palaniswami is a Gounder. The note ban and GST narrative would be tested here.
Central Chennai: This is a traditional constituency of the Maran family; former Union minister Dayanidhi Maran had won twice from this constituency before which it was held by his father Murasoli Maran thrice. This time around, Dayanidhi has been fielded from the DMK and he faces a fractured and a weakened opposition.
The AIADMK has given this seat to the PMK which is not known to be a city-party.
There is an SDPI candidate on behalf of the Dhinakaran alliance, which is eyeing the Muslim voters in this segment.
Kamal Haasan’s party has given the seat to Kameela Nassar, a social activist and spouse of film actor Nassar. Kamal is sure to spend some time campaigning in this constituency. However, the DMK-Congress looks very strong in its arithmetic.
Sivaganga: This is the traditional constituency of Congress leader P Chidambaram (he has won seven times) and his son Karti P Chidambaram is now in the race. In 2014, when Congress was not in an alliance with any of the Dravidian parties, many of the Congress leaders were in a retiring mood, and some of them had withdrawn from the contest. Karti P Chidambaram ran a vigorous campaign and got more than one lakh votes, the second highest for any Congress candidate in the state. Despite being under a cloud due to a variety of cases, he is contesting again.
Facing Karti is BJP’s H Raja, the enfant terrible of the state BJP, a tireless speaker and the face of Hindu assertion in Tamil Nadu. Both Karti and H Raja do not belong to the majority Thevar community in the region, and Dhinakaran might hold some cards here.
In constituencies such as these, it is a bit early to read the impact that Dhinakaran could create with his Thevar vote base. On paper, the DMK-Congress alliance looks very strong.
Theni: Theni encompasses the Andipatti assembly constituency, a favourite of MGR and later Jayalalithaa. It is a constituency dominated by the Thevar community and is now witness to an interesting contest.
In a triangular fight, Ravindranath Kumar, son of O Panneerselvam, deputy chief minister and AIADMK leader is facing senior Congress leader EVKS Elangovan and Thanga Tamil Selvan of Dhinakaran’s AMMK.
Winning from this constituency is of emotional significance for both the AIADMK and AMMK. It is a brownie point which they would not like to miss. Elangovan appears to be an outsider to the constituency, and it might turn into a fight between Panneerselvam and Dhinakaran.
Theni was earlier a part of Periyakulam constituency and Dhinakaran had won as an MP. If AMMK wants to make an impact, it would be in this constituency.