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All eyes on battleground Tamil Nadu

All eyes on battleground Tamil Nadu
Among the states that are going to polls this summer, Tamil Nadu will be the one to watch. The future of leaders like M Karunanidhi (DMK), Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), Vijayakant (DMDK) and Ramadoss (PMK) will be decided on May 19 when the counting takes place.  The stakes are high for each one of them. Without any major alliance in sight, the votes could be split in a multi-cornered contest.

Tamil Nadu’s ruling AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa is desperate to win another term and has been working for it more so after a Karnataka court acquitted her in a disproportionate assets case last year. The case has gone to Supreme Court on appeal but Jaya is optimistic because the split in the opposition votes may be beneficial to the ruling AIADMK, which has a vote share of about 44.3 percent. It won 37 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections. Back in 2011, the AIADMK won 151 seats with a vote share of 38.4 percent. The AIADMK was not in alliance with any major political party during the 2014 general elections. In the 2011 assembly polls, the party chose alliance with DMDK, CPI, CPM, MMK, PT and AIFB. AIADMK has not gone for any alliance this time around.

Jaya has not developed any second rung leadership. She believes that there is no need for it. The problem is that she is not in good health, which could affect her ability to campaign vigorously. The incumbent chief minister faces the danger of a political witch-hunt if she loses. 

Stakes are even higher for the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who had led the party for more than five decades and has been the chief minister five times. Karunanidhi will fade away quietly if the party loses this time. He is seeking votes as the last chance.  He is the chief ministerial face for the party, which has aligned with the Congress this time. He will be 98 by the time they complete the term and, therefore, he may anoint his son Stalin after winning the state.  He also has to balance the family feud where his daughter Kanimozhi and elder son Azhagiri are also jockeying for his legacy. Hit by the 2G scam the party is yet to recover from the shock. That is why the DMK chief is wooing smaller parties and DMDK. He has already met 20 of these smaller parties. In the 2011 assembly polls, DMK aligned with Congress, PMK, VCK, and KMK. For 2014 general elections, DMK was in alliance with VCK, MMK, IUML and Puthiya Tamizhagam.

As for the DMDK chief Vijayakant, these polls are crucial to proving his relevance. Has he been overrated? This will be proved by the DMDK performance this time, which was formed in 2005 by Tamil actor Vijayakanth. It formed an alliance with AIADMK coalition for 2011 assembly polls and was a part of the BJP alliance for 2014 general elections. Though the party is not considered a big threat to the two Dravidian majors, it is seen as an important ally due to its stronghold in certain areas of Tamil Nadu. It had a vote share of 7.8 percent in 2011 and won 30 seats in the Assembly and no seat in Parliament. He has decided to go it alone shunning the overtures from the DMK, BJP, and other parties.

The PMK, a caste-based party launched in 1989 won a single seat in Lok Sabha and three seats in Assembly in 2011. Former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, son of the PMK chief S Ramadoss has been declared its chief ministerial candidate. The ambitious party was part of the DMK alliance in 2011 and with the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It has influence in pockets and a vote share of 4.4 percent.

The Congress has shown no real signs of a revival. It has been riding on the back on Dravidian parties since 1967. It has no local leader to match Jaya or Karunanidhi. It won no seat in 2014 and has five seats in the Assembly. Its vote share came down from 9.3 percent in 2011 to 4.3 percent in 2014. A revival seems unlikely with no local leadership.

The other national party BJP has one seat in Lok Sabha and its vote share has gone up from 2.2 percent in 2011 to 5.5 percent in 2014. This too has no important local leader. But the BJP might gain strength with the support of the Kongu Nadu Makkal Katchi. 

The MDMK, headed by V Gopalaswamy, also known as Vaiko, has a 3.5 percent vote share but no seat in either the Assembly or Parliament.  He will disappear if he loses once again. He comes from the DMK stable and launched his party in 1994. He is now heading the third front called People’s Welfare Alliance consisting of left and other smaller parties.

It is clear both Jaya and Karunanidhi may not depart from the scene at the same time. With age on her side, Jaya may hang around at least till the next elections if her health permits. If the DMK loses it might probably split and join the league of other smaller parties like the PMK and DMDK. IPA

(The author is a senior commentator on political affairs. Views expressed are strictly personal)
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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