Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) never expected to become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and yet he became one and remained as CM for four years and more. M.K. Stalin was always groomed for the chief minister’s chair and yet his wait has been almost eternal. Tuesday’s election will decide if the Tamil voter would finally anoint Stalin or let EPS spring a surprise.
The DMK had missed a trick in 2016 when it held back from declaring Stalin as its CM candidate. He would have presented a fresh alternative to voters tired of the familiar fight between ailing Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, adversaries since 1989. If only Stalin, who actually spearheaded the DMK’s campaign even five years ago, had been projected for CM, the DMK would have attracted the young voters powering it to a win. But Jayalalithaa just nosed ahead only to die within a year of being elected.
The 2021 election will see Stalin, with a firm grip of the DMK after his father’s demise, finally attempting to end the DMK’s ten-year drought devoid of power in Tamil Nadu. He has prepared carefully and has campaigned tirelessly accusing the EPS government of failing to fuel Tamil Nadu’s growth, sacrificing the state’s interests and autonomy to the BJP at the Centre and not protecting the state’s unique Tamil culture and language from onslaughts of North India based BJP.
Stalin has also sought to woo voters with the promise of goodies for women, abolition of NEET, job reservation for local youth, at least 20 lakh jobs in the coming five years and free houses for all. He has also unveiled a ten-year plan to ensure overall development of the state signaling that the DMK plans to be in power for the next ten years. If that happens it would ideally suit Stalin (68) into anointing his son Udhayanidhi as his successor both in party and government.
This dynastic weakness of the DMK has turned into the biggest weapon in the hands of the AIADMK and BJP who contrast it with how an ordinary farmer like EPS could rise to become Chief Minister. The DMK has also been targeted for its past record of power cuts, land grab and goondaism. His government, EPS has claimed, has made the state power surplus, a leader in water management and farmer friendly by writing off co-operative loans and improving irrigation. The AIADMK has also promised a host of freebies including washing machines for women and Rs.1,500 as monthly allowance for home makers.
While the two manifestos may balance out each other, the DMK has an edge because it has stitched together a formidable alliance with more than half a dozen parties even while contesting 175 seats to improve its strike rate aimed at getting its own majority in the 234 seat assembly. The party also hopes to ride the ten-year anti-incumbency that has formed against the AIADMK plus the persistence of the anti-BJP mood it had whipped up during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The AIADMK has been hobbled by the presence of TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK, which eats into the party’s vote bank in at least 30 seats. The presence of BJP has polarized the minorities completely against the AIADMK even in seats where it commanded goodwill among the Muslims. Similarly, the ten per cent reservation provided in a hurry for Vanniyars might have antagonized other communities leading to counter-consolidation against the AIADMK and PMK. The results will show if this actually happened.
The only positive for the AIADMK has been the assiduous campaign of EPS who has emerged as a doughty fighter. He rightfully markets his government’s handling of the pandemic as an example of good governance and he finds nothing wrong in collaborating with the Centre if that would bring more projects to Tamil Nadu. But that line of argument will be proved right only if the BJP manages to win at least a few seats out of the 20 it is contesting. If the BJP once again draws a blank it could become the deadweight that pulled down the AIADMK, much like the Congress did to the DMK in 2016. So Tuesday’s election will have an equal impact on the BJP’s future plans in Tamil Nadu as much as on the AIADMK’s.