Tale of two elections in Tamil Nadu: Double anti-incumbency in operation to make things tough for NDA in the state
Politics, Tamil Nadu

Tale of two elections in Tamil Nadu: Double anti-incumbency in operation to make things tough for NDA in the state

While India enters the poll process with the announcement of Lok Sabha elections on Sunday, Tamil Nadu people will also be voting for the longevity of the state government.

For, along with Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission will be holding bye-elections for 21 Lok Sabha constituencies to be held along with the general elections to Lok Sabha, polling for which will be held in a single phase in the state on April 18. However, since a matter relating to three seats is pending before the Madras High Court, bye-elections will be held only for 18 seats, which became vacant after the disqualification of 18 rebel AIADMK MLAs for defying party whip in the assembly.

Although it is a double anti-incumbency that is operating in Tamil Nadu, with the state in continuous turmoil ever since former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa passed away in December 2016, the ruling AIADMK and Edapaddi Palansiwami government can breathe a bit easy as it only requires 116 members in the assembly to be safe.

In fact, the 234-member assembly has the magic number of 118. The AIADMK that had won 136 seats under the leadership of Jayalalithaa, went into a turbulent political turmoil and leadership crisis with several twists and turns. Eventually, a group led by Jayalalithaa aide VK Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran revolted and broke away to mount a challenge.

It is under this process, that 18 of its MLAs had defied party whip in the assembly and speaker eventually disqualified them. The Madras High Court upheld their disqualification, paving the way for the holding of assembly bye-elections in 18 seats.

The entire focus of the ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu is to secure its future by winning as many of the assembly seats to shore up its numbers and save it from predatory moves, by the opposition and the breakaway group led by Dhinakaran. Incidentally, he had beaten both AIADMK and DMK to win the seat of Jayalalithaa in Chennai in a by-election.

The 2016 general elections to state assembly saw Jayalalithaa romping home, to a historic successive victory in the state.

But the difference between the AIDMK and DMK vote percentage was wafer thin, indicating that the poll could have gone either way. The DMK came close, but not close enough to power, only due to Jayalalithaa’s strategy of splitting anti-incumbency votes in different directions.

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But with Jayalalithaa no longer alive, and no charismatic leader in AIADMK to woo voters, Chief Minister Palaniswami largely seen as fronting for the BJP strategized a winning formula – by entering into a rainbow alliance with other players – Pattali Makkal Katchi, DMDK of Captain Vijayakanth, the BJP, and two other smaller parties – to shore up its vote arithmetic.

The state government well knows that there was an anti-BJP sentiment on the ground due to a host of reasons, including poor central government response to Gaza cyclone, and hence needed the other players to make up for the possible losses in vote share.

The AIADMK is impacted by a perception prevalent among the people that it was the B team of the BJP that was seen as anti-TN. So, it has a tough battle on hand to save itself from the DMK onslaught more important in the assembly bye-elections. Which is why the AIADMK was more concerned about the bye-polls and doles out Lok Sabha seats to other alliance partners after extracting a promise that they will support the AIDAMK in the assembly seat fights.

The polls race in Tamil Nadu has just begun after all alliances firmed up and the line up ready – for an AIADMK Plus versus DMK Plus.

The Others – significant among them Kamal Haasan, actor turned politician and rebel AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran are the X-factors. Incidentally, both of them will cut into BJP and AIADMK votes, respectively, so that they could end up benefitting the DMK alliance. While Kamal Haasan is not expected to win even a single seat, either in Lok Sabha or assembly segments, Dhinakaran is a different kettle of fish.

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He has his pockets of influence and strength in Southern Tamil Nadu and parts of Western Tamil Nadu and can prove to be a big headache for the ruling party and its efforts to shore up its numbers.

But luckily for the AIADMK government, it only has to win two for the magic number 116 and make it foolproof by winning more than four so that even if polls were held for the three more seats, their outcome would make no difference to the survival of the state government. The Edapaddi Palaniswami government has more than two years term left still.


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KV Lakshmana is a senior journalist who spent the last eight years in Chennai, covering Tamil Nadu, he writes about South India and all that it has to offer. He tweets at @kvlakshman

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