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'AIADMK didn't lose polls only because of BJP'

By A Ganesh Nadar
May 03, 2021 19:25 IST
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'The BJP has become a reasonably larger force in Tamil Nadu in the last two years.'

IMAGE: Outgoing Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. Photograph: ANI/Twitter

A hard fought election in the midst of a pandemic has come to an end with Tamil Nadu giving a clear mandate to Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader M K Stalin to form the next government.

Both outgoing chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Stalin of the DMK had started their campaign for the assembly election a year ago.

Both leaders also did some hard bargaining with their respective allies over seat-sharing, to peg down their demands.

Even the campaign was bitter at many stages, pointing to how critical both sides felt it was to win the first assembly election without their respective stalwarts, the AIADMK's Jayalalithaa and the DMK's M Karunanidhi.

As was expected and as the exit polls predicted, the DMK won the election, but was it a simple case of anti-incumbency against a 10-year-old government that led to the AIADMK's loss?

Dr Sumanth Raman, a seasoned observer of politics in Tamil Nadu, tells A Ganesh Nadar/, "We will have to wait for a few months for the dust to settle to see how the equations play out in the AIADMK."

Why do you think the DMK won? Was it because people wanted change irrespective of governance?

I think it is basically 10 years of anti-incumbency, so people wanted a change. There was also an anti-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) sentiment (against the AIADMK for allying with it).

Did the DMK win because it had better allies?

It has a larger alliance. As I have told you earlier, arithmetically alone they had a 40% vote share.

Would the AIADMK have had a better chance if they had roped in expelled rebel leader T TV Dhinakaran?

It would have made a small difference; maybe they would have got 8 to 10 seats more. But it would not have changed the results.

Reservations for Vanniyars, announced by Chief Minister Palaniswami on the eve of the election, did not seem to have worked for the AIADMK.

I won't say it hasn't worked at all. It hasn't worked as much as they expected.

We have to find out if there was a consolidation of the other castes in that group against them.

The BJP has scored its best ever tally winning four assembly seats. But did allying with it pull down the AIADMK?

The BJP has become a reasonably larger force in Tamil Nadu in the last two years. Its vote share must have gone up from 3% to maybe 5% or 6%.

The AIADMK lost a significant number of votes because of the BJP. Votes of the minorities and also others who did not like the BJP, but the BJP's vote share of 5% also helped them.

So they did not lose the elections only because of the BJP.

The Congress contested 25 seats and won 18, improving its strike rate considerably from 2016. What do you think was the reason?

One is obviously the pro-DMK sentiment.

Most of the seats are in southern Tamil Nadu and minority-dominant constituencies. Some 50% were in southern Tamil Nadu where the Congress has a base in and around Kanyakumari. They also won the parliamentary by-election there.

Seeman's Naam Tamilar Katchi, which was expected to fare well, has been blanked out yet again. Is this the end of the road for him?

We have to go through the vote share. I believe he has increased his vote share significantly.

It is too early to write him off. He will have to build on this, but in the absence of an alliance with a major party it will be very difficult.

Is it also the end of the road for Vijayakanth and his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam?

I cannot see a way back for the DMDK. It is going to be very, very, difficult. They should have accepted the 12 seats offered by the AIADMK. They may have won a couple of seats and had a presence in the assembly.

Why did the electorate find Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Needhi Maiam unappealing, so much so he even lost the election in Coimbatore South?

He gave a very tough fight. He put in all the effort. His message needs more time to register.

When he gave away 100 seats (to allies) people were wondering what he was doing. The MNM would be disappointed with their overall performance.

Does Kamal Haasan have it in him to continue the fight for another five years?

I hope so because Tamil Nadu needs an alternative to the two major parties.

In retrospect, Rajinikanth seems to have done the right thing by staying out of the fray.

Oh, yes! Most certainly.

The critical question is, what happens now to the Palaniswami-O Panneerselvam combination in the AIADMK?

I think they will continue, there is no real issue now. They have done reasonably well. I expect Edappadi Palaniswami to be the leader of the Opposition in the assembly.

Will the AIADMK break up, in the absence of someone strong like Jayalalithaa to keep it together, following this defeat?

I don't expect any immediate issues now. We will have to wait for a few months for the dust to settle to see how the equations play out in the AIADMK.

Will V K Sasikala make her move now to take over the party?

Not immediately as the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (of nephew Dhinakaran) has performed poorly.

What did poll strategist Prashant Kishor bring to the table for the DMK, and how much of the DMK's success can be attributed to him?

He brought a lot of focus into the DMK's campaign and gave it a professional touch. That definitely made a difference.

In the end, the state has once again reposed its faith in the two-party system of the DMK and AIADMK. Do you see it changing?

The only constant in life and politics is change. The question is, when will it happen.

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A Ganesh Nadar /