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A change of guard in Tamil Nadu

A change of guard in Tamil Nadu

A change of guard in Tamil Nadu
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By N Ramakrishnan  May 3, 2021 4:18:36 PM IST (Published)

The DMK under its President M.K. Stalin has regained power in Tamil Nadu after being in the opposition for 10 years.

The results of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections have once again conclusively proved that the fight is between the two Dravidian parties—the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)—and those in alliance with them, while all other parties that claim to be alternatives are at best contenders and nothing more. This has been the case ever since the then Congress lost power in the State to the DMK in the 1967 elections and has since been reduced to a rump.

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The DMK under its President M.K. Stalin has regained power in Tamil Nadu after being in the opposition for 10 years. The DMK-led alliance, which includes the Congress and the two Left parties, has 159 seats in the 234-member Assembly, while the AIADMK and its allies, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), will have around 75 seats. The DMK comfortably crossed the halfway mark with 133 seats while the AIADMK had to settle with 66 seats. Opinion surveys and exit polls had predicted a huge win for the DMK-led front. Some even gave it a complete sweep, which did not happen.
It has been a long wait for Stalin, who has been under the shadow of his father, former Chief Minister and former party President M. Karunanidhi, for quite a while. Finally, this election has proved that Stalin is his own man and has taken a giant step out of his father’s shadow. How he runs the government and handles the bureaucracy, balancing various interests and keeping the boisterous elements within his party under control, will test his mettle and administrative and leadership qualities.
The AIADMK, which was led in the elections by outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, has put up a good fight, proving that it cannot be taken lightly. It has proved its detractors wrong too, as not many gave it a chance of winning the number of seats that it has. The BJP will once again have a presence in the Assembly with four members; it last won in the 2001 Assembly elections when it had four MLAs in the House.
According to initial figures put out by the Election Commission, the DMK has bettered its vote share to 37.67 percent in this election from 31.64 percent in 2016, while the AIADMK has seen its vote share fall to 33.29 percent from 40.77 percent in 2016, a clear indication that Palaniswami’s performance as Chief Minister alone was not enough to make up for the absence of J. Jayalalithaa’s charisma and crowd-pulling capability.
The Congress has improved its tally in the Assembly from eight seats in 2016 to 18 this time, while its vote share has actually dipped from 6.42 percent in 2016 to 4.82 percent now. The BJP’s vote has more or less remained constant, at 2.62 percent now compared with 2.84 percent five years back.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) drew a blank, with Kamal Haasan himself losing to the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan in Coimbatore South in a see-saw battle where fortunes kept swinging one way or the other with each round of counting. Likewise, the Naam Tamizhar Katchi, a Tamil nationalist party of film-maker-turned-politician Seeman, did not win any seats in the election.
T.T.V. Dinakaran, a nephew of Sasikala, aide and close friend of late chief minister Jayalalithaa, who floated the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), lost the election; he had won the by-election from Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency in north Chennai after it fell vacant following Jayalalithaa’s death. He had then contested as an independent candidate and defeated the AIADMK’s nominee.
Stalin’s move to rope in poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) to help it in the run-up to the elections has been vindicated. The DMK, with its well-oiled party machinery, began preparing for the elections long before they were due. There were numerous events and programmes that were aimed to refurbishing Stalin’s image. It helped that Stalin himself was prepared to put in the long yards required to take his party to the podium. The DMK overcame initial hiccups in seat sharing, especially with Congress, to put up a united fight. However, the party did not sweep elections as it thought it would. In many constituencies, it has turned out to be a close fight.
With this victory, Stalin has cemented his position in the party—not that it was ever in any doubt. His son Udhayanidhi has won from a constituency in Chennai and will be making his debut in the Assembly; the third generation of Karunanidhi’s family to become a legislator. Stalin’s estranged elder brother was a member of Parliament and a Union Minister in the Manmohan Singh Government, while his half-sister Kanimozhi is a member of the Lok Sabha.
All eyes will now be on Stalin’s choices for the cabinet. Some of the old names such as Durai Murugan, K.N. Nehru and Ponmudi will automatically find a place, while there will be quite a number of new and, hopefully, young faces. The focus will also be on whether Stalin will go in for a mass reshuffle of the bureaucracy, both in the IAS and the IPS, which is what happens in the State whenever there is a change of party in power, or will he retain the key ones for continuity. All said and done, the Edappadi Palaniswami Government did a decent job of handling the first wave of the coronavirus and also in tackling the second wave. Stalin’s first task will be to bring things under control on the Covid situation and start fulfilling the party’s poll promises one by one.
There is likely to be a power struggle within the AIADMK. It is a matter of time before Sasikala makes her move, trying to unite the AIADMK and the AMMK and asserting her position in the merged party, given her once proximity to the late party supremo Jayalalithaa.
According to ground reports, more than the double anti-incumbency that the AIADMK faced, it was the division within its ranks and the reluctance of many candidates to spend the money and time that cost them the election. Also, the MNM and NTK, which were expected to eat into the DMK’s votes more than the AIADMK’s, appear to have harmed the AIADMK. The respective vote share of the MNM and NTK are not yet out, but, according to the Election Commission, “others” accounted for 14.45 percent shares of the votes cast.
The Congress continues to be relegated to the background and is left to play second fiddle to the DMK. Its leaders will have to ponder over the party’s fate. The problem is the party has more leaders than workers and it has to rely on the Dravidian parties to do the leg work.
The BJP left no stone unturned in its attempt to make a mark. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a galaxy of union ministers and even Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath campaigned extensively in the State. Its candidate selection was also much better than last time. The comforting fact is that it has got four members in the House, where since 2006 it has had none.
Unlike Congress, the BJP has shown it is in for the long haul and will do all it takes to capture power. It now has to sustain the momentum in the State. More importantly, it will help the party a lot if it learns a lesson from the immortal lines of a song by the late poet Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, which begins as: “Tamizhan endru oru inam undu; thaniye avarkku oru gunam undu….” Roughly translated, it means there is a separate Tamizh race that has a distinct identity or characteristic. You cannot view Tamil Nadu with a monochromatic lens.
With the heat and dust of the elections over, the results of which were anticipated, none will blame the electronic voting machines (EVMs) of malfunctioning or cry that democracy is dead!
N Ramakrishnan is a Chennai-based freelance journalist with over three decades of experience. The views expressed are personal
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