Tamil Nadu looks headed for a non-traditional poll

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By: S Sethuraman

The schedule of 2021 state polls has been notified on the heels of another round of project announcements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tamil Nadu on a second visit to the State on February 25. The same day, he launched BJP poll campaign for Tamil Nadu from Coimbatore. (Tamil Nadu and Kerala will have one-day poll on April 6 and counting on May 2.)

Earlier in the day, he was in Puducherry, where his party had successfully manoeuvred to dethrone the Congress Chief Minister after he lost support with several partymen defecting to BJP. At a public meeting, Mr Modi charged the Congress government with failing to work with the Centre. He expressed confidence of BJP-led NDA forming a Government after the April 6 election to the 30-member Union Territory assembly.

Similarly, BJP leaders, both at local and national level, are highly confident of creating a broad base for the saffron party for the first time in Tamil Nadu.  This assumption is made on the strength of development projects announced by the Prime Minister and the performance of ruling AIADMK, led by Chief Minister E. K Palaniswami , as also a the noticeable lack of anti-incumbency factor so far.

There may, however, be some issues to be sorted out, such as the State BJP’s call for a coalition government (NDA led by Palaniswami of AIADMK) and Deputy Chief Ministership for BJP.

The AIADMK-led Alliance in Tamil Nadu is more or less getting into shape. As before, PMK will be chief State ally and given 25 seats followed by BJP 20 seats, DMDK of Captain Vijayakant 10 seats and a couple of local parties. The state BJP President L Murugan is yet to react to these numbers. AIADMK wants to contest some 170 seats. The central leadership of BJP is yet to be involved in the electoral alliance.

The return of V K Sasikala, former confidante of ‘Amma’ Jayalalitha to Chennai has not found much receptivity for her call for unity between AMMK and AIADMK to fight the “common enemy” – DMK. AIADMK leaders have ruled out any unification of AIADMK and AMMK led by Sasikala’s nephew T T Divakaran. But AMMK, at the behest of Divakaran is also drawing up its list of candidates and there would be some uncertainty till the time for nominations.

The announcement of the election schedule on Feb, 26, somewhat earlier than expected, has made it urgent for the major Dravidian rivals to firm up their alliances and also work out seat-sharing with less than 20 days left for the last date of nomination on March 19. The facility of online nominations would be available this time.

DMK and Congress had begun consultations and yet to arrive at a mutually acceptable number as also the constituencies. DMK has offered about 15-20 seats to contest for the Congress against its demand of 50. DMK leaders point out the Congress had only won 8 seats in 2016, DMK, which has made headway in its poll campaign, believes it could field around 170-180 candidates and win the most for the 234-member assembly.  It is confident of settling the seats for Left and other state parties in the DMK-led secular alliance. Left parties also would like double-digit figures and they have been recording a better percentage in seats contested by them.

While the most crucial battle in the four states to go to polls would be in West Bengal the way BJP has been working for its ambition, the aggressive approaches of its leaders including the game of some notables in TMC being drawn into their fold and the series of visits by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The Prime Minister has had several bitter clashes with Mamata Banerjee in his highly focused campaigning for control of the East. In his last meeting the Prime Minister indicated the likelihood of Chief Election Commission announcing dates of election early, taken to be first week of March.

Indeed the Election Commission announcement for eight-phase polling in West Bengal beginning March 27 to April 29 has been questioned by WB Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who asked whether the poll dates and schedules have been announced as suggested by PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah. Voicing her suspicion, Banerjee requested the Commission not to look at West Bengal, “through the eyes of the saffron camp”.

BJP leaders, enthused by some significant defections from TMC are counting big gains. BJP is Trinamool’s main rival today. The Congress and the Left hardly feature as much in this poll despite the Left-Congress alliance. However, most analysts, based on voting in the Lok Sabha poll, rule out any outright win for the BJP, given the hurdles that the Trinamool will put in its way.

In Tami Nadu, unlike past elections where DMK and AIADMK fought each other, electors might not opt for a third term for AIADMK. Though no credible third front is yet in sight, the DMK-led alliance could scrape through but with considerable damage to the Dravidian culture including language and to federalism which has become dysfunctional. In Kerala, as of now, the Left Front looks set to continue. (IPA Service)

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