Tamil Nadu stays a two-front arena; attempts to form a third force fail to impress voters
Some elections are decided on key issues, some on the incumbent’s performance, and others on alliance arithmetic and local factors. The outcome of the Tamil Nadu Assembly election, in which the DMK emerged triumphant and its leader, M.K. Stalin, is set to be sworn in as Chief Minister, seems to be an unequal mix of all these. The DMK’s comeback was a foregone conclusion after the alliance led by it scored a landslide victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and a third successive term for the AIADMK was unlikely. Mr. Stalin has been rewarded for his patience. He has led the party successfully for the second time after the demise of M. Karunanidhi, his father and the party’s towering figure for over four decades. The DMK rode mainly on a popular desire for change, to win 133 seats on its own, including some secured by allies who contested on the DMK symbol. The front ended up with 159 seats. The Congress’s performance is more impressive, as it won 18 of the 25 seats allotted to it. The two Left parties won two seats each, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) won four seats, of which two were in the general category, showing that it draws its appeal from a base wider than the Dalits it represents. Amid expectations that the Tamil Nadu voter would reject the idea of an alliance with the BJP, the AIADMK managed to win 66 seats, while five seats went to its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK); the BJP re-enters the Assembly after 20 years with a tally of four.
The results may be difficult to interpret in terms of whether the voters accepted the DMK’s campaign point that the AIADMK, led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami, surrendered the State’s rights to the Centre, but it may indicate that Mr. Palaniswami managed to mitigate the adverse impact of having a tie-up with the BJP. In the ultimate analysis, the DMK cadre’s fieldwork prevailed over the AIADMK’s mass appeal. The AIADMK has retained much of its vote base, and its bastion in the western region is intact. The outgoing regime’s handling of the COVID-19 situation, farmers’ loan waiver and the 7.5% quota for government school students in medical admissions seem to have stood Mr. Palaniswami in good stead. However, the sub-quota for the Vanniyar community seems to have had only limited impact, as the AIADMK-PMK alliance performed below par in the northern districts, where most of the seats went to the DMK. The entry of the Left parties, the VCK and the MDMK — which were part of an unsuccessful third front in 2016 — to the DMK front has added to the DMK front’s tally. The DMK front’s vote percentage went up from about 39% in the last poll to 45% now. Tamil Nadu remains a two-front arena, with aspirants such as the Naam Tamilar Katchi, whose share has jumped to 6.58%, the Makkal Needhi Maiam and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam consigned to the fringe.