This Tamil Nadu election differs from recent state polls not just for the absence of both J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi. In the fray are an alphabet soup of parties flowing seamlessly from one alliance to another.
There is the AIADMK alliance, including Vanniyar-based PMK and BJP. And the DMK-led group, including the CPM, CPI, the Dalit party VCK, IUML, another Muslim party MMK, and Vaiko’s MDMK.
There is the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) of Kamal Haasan, who prevailed while Rajinikanth again promised only to deceive. The MNM has two allies, All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) led by Sarath Kumar, backed by Hindu Nadars in southern Tamil Nadu, and Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK), founded by conglomerate Pachamuthu.
There are small-time but crucial veterans: Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (with followers among the downtrodden sections) and K Krishnaswamy’s Puthiya Tamilagam (backed by the SC community).
Come poll day though, it may be virtually an AIADMK vs DMK battle, with leaders across the political spectrum saying the two parties will together mop up 80% of the votes. Harking back to the DMK and AIADMK’s worst performances, post-Rajiv Gandhi assassination in 1991 and after Jayalalithaa’s corruption-tainted term in 1996, respectively, a minister says, “The two have always had minimum 20-22% votes. The fringe parties can’t hope for more than 15% votes.”
AIADMK CM Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) has indicated it won’t be a cakewalk for the DMK, as polls have predicted, by the size of his Trichy rally on March 7 — one of the biggest so far. EPS’s speeches, apart from his government’s sops, are also drawing more traction than the staid oratory of DMK’s M K Stalin.
In private, leaders of smaller fronts also calculate their best-case votes at 7%-8%. If the AMMK hopes to touch that figure, so does MNM; Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi is aiming for above 5%.
A DMK veteran says that at this point, they are looking at 170-200 seats out of 234. However, one of his AIADMK counterparts says that even at his party’s worst, the DMK won’t get more than 150. As per this ruling party leader, the main drawback for the AIADMK right now is that no more than 30 candidates seem sure-shot winners. “Palaniswami will win but he will have to fight tooth and nail to retain his CM seat,” he says.
AIADMK sources insist that its alliance with the BJP is not hurting the party. However, the BJP tally may not touch double digits.
One of the seats the party expects to win is Coimbatore South. Its popular candidate Vanathi Srinavasan may prevail over Kamal Haasan — MNM sources admit his chances are “slim”.