As Tamil Nadu Assembly polls 2021 draw closer, the battlelines are clearly drawn. As of now, it appears that the upcoming elections will be fought largely between the DMK and the AIADMK, the two Dravidian majors. Once again, the battle is being fought not on ideological and developmental agenda but purely on freebies, false, impracticable and unviable tall promises. Now that the field is thrown wide open there is no holds barred, high volatile electioneering which is hotting-up the race between political parties with the soaring mercury level.
In Tamil Nadu Assembly polls are slated to be held on April 6 in a single phase along with a by-poll in Nagercoil Lok Sabha constituency. After hectic and several sessions of seat sharing talks between the allies both the DMK and AIADMK, they have stitched alliance cohesively without any heartburning. As far as the DMK is concerned, it has more or less the same parties which were in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Congress, Vidhuthalai Chiruthaigal, MDMK, CPI, CPI(M), IUML, MMK, KDMK have signed seat sharing pacts with the DMK. IJK walked out of the alliance to join Kamal Haasan’s MNM. In AIADMK camp also the 2019 Lok Sabha alliance is intact barring Vijayakant’s DMDK that opted out of the alliance on ground that lesser number of seats were offered to it.
With 234 Assembly constituencies, Tamil Nadu will have single-phase elections on April 6th. As of now, AIADMK-BJP-PMK alliance, DMK-Congress-left parties coalition, TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK, ex-cine director Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) and Kamal Haasan’s MNM combine will be in the poll race. The DMK, which has been out power since 2011, has been making no stone unturned to capture power from arch rival AIADMK in the absence of two charismatic leaders Jayalalithaa and Karuananidhi. It has engaged poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s IPAC to win the elections. The politics apparently is now centered on how to halt the BJP’s gaining strength and making inroads into their so called ‘Dravidian soil’. It is for this reason that the alliance partners of DMK agreeing for lesser number of seats and even agreeing to contest on DMK’s Rising Sun’ symbol. They are afraid of BJP and openly admitted that they accepted single digit offer from DMK to oppose Sana Dhana Dharma forces from entering in Tamil Nadu.
Jayalalithaa’s confidante V K Sasikala announced that she will ‘step aside from politics and public life’. She asked her nephew TT Dhinakaran to stay away from creating trouble to AIADMK combine to continue the legacy of MGR and Jayalalithaa and to stop ‘evil forces’ represented by the DMK from capturing power. But Dhinakaran is going ahead with his AMMK contesting elections. In his camp, Owasis’s AIMIM, SDPI and VIjayakant’s DMDK (60 seats) and one seat each to four other parties Makkal Arasu Katchi, Vidhuthalai Tamil Puligal, Gokula Makkal Katchi and Marudhu Sena Sangam.
This is going to be first election in absence of AIADMK’s charismatic J Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M Kaunanidhi. This will be first election the incumbent CM Edapadi K Palaniswamy and DMK Chief M K Stalin seeking votes as Chief Ministerial candidates of their respective parties. In 2016 Assembly elections Karunanidhi was the DMK’s CM candidate. This is the first assembly election AIADMK engaged Sunil Kanugolu, who was DMK’s poll adviser, to win the 2021 elections. The rival DMK entered into a Rs.350 crore agreement with poll strategist Prashant Kishore’s I-PAC. CM Palaniswamy and Stalin have to concentrate on their own constituencies. So both will be using modern electioneering techniques like off line meetings. Stalin, who began his campaign last year, took part in Gram Sabha meetings which were later prohibited by the government saying Presidents have the right to convene such meetings. Moreover it was full of DMK workers. Secondly, he launched grievances and Tamilagam Meetpom (Retrieve Tamil Nadu) and lastly ‘Ungal Thoguthiyil Stalin ( Stalin in your Constituency) which had to be aborted in the wake of announcement of election schedule. He also undertook campaign “Vidiyalai Nokki Stalin Kural ( Stalin’s voice for awakening).
BJP’s Yatra to Awaken Hindus
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Palaniswamy toured the entire State in the guise of launching several new projects or to inaugurate pending and completed projects. ‘ Vetri Nadai Podum Tamizhagam’ (TN Marches on successfully) was his campaign name. BJP’s Vel Yatra was a real awakening of Hindus to unit to fight Hindu phobia and anti-God outfits including Dravidar Kazhagam, DMK, VCK, Muslim outfits, Left parties and others who support them. The AIDMK alliance features BJP (20) PMK (23), G K Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress (6). The presence of PMK with a huge chunk of vote share in northern parts of Tamil Nadu will help AIADMK to win more seats. In the wake of Skanda Shasti Kavasam issue, the protests and Vel Yatra of BJP has helped mobilisation of people in favour of it which is an indication of emerging exclusive Hindu vote bank. BJP hopes to cash in on them in the coming poll to enter the Assembly with double digit numbers to play a crucial role in government formation.
In the DMK camp, Congress (25), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal, MDMK, CPI and CPI (M) each six, IUML 3, Jawahirullah’s Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) 2, Tamizhaga Vazhurimai Katch (TVK) 1, All India Forward bloc 1, Aathi Tamizh Peravai and Makkal Vidhuthalai Katchi each one and Kongunadu Makkal katchi (KMDK) 3 seats. Of this smaller parties including MDMK will contest from DMK’s Rising Sun symbol. DMK will contest in 174 constituencies. Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has partnered with Indhiya Jananayaka Katchi (IJK), actor Shard Kumar’s All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi. Seeman’s Namm Tamizhar Katchi has fielded candidates in all 234 constituencies.
AIADMK’s Stand on CAA Embarrasses BJP
The forthcoming Assembly election will be first one to be fought without any developmental and ideological planks but on freebies and impracticable promises as most of them are drains on exchequer. AIADMK’s U-turn on CAA – that it will press the Centre to scrap the Act- has left the BJP embarrassed. Its another promise of Islamic University after Qaide Millet and All Christian Development Board for Christians + Salaries for Christian Church low level Staff, abolition of NEET are not in terms with the line of BJP thinking. It promises include giving Amma washing machines for all, Amma Banking card, loan waiver, MGR green auto scheme, 1,500 cash assistance to woman heads of families with ration cards and doorstep delivery of ration supplies. Meanwhile, DMK, is promising quota to women in government jobs. It has been increased from 30 to 40 per cent. Its poll promises include allocating Rs.1000 crore for temple renovation fund, financial aid of Rs. 1500 to 32 lakh for women without family, single, and above 50, free travel in town buses.
Kamal Haasan is the richest candidate with Rs. 176.9 crore, while M K Stalin has assets worth Rs.8.88 crore. Other figures are Chief Minister Edapadi K Palaniswamy (Rs.6.7 crore), Dy. CM O. Panneerselvam (Rs. 7.82 crore).
Speaking exclusively to Organiser, Sriram Seshadri, political commentator, said that some people are trying to build up an image through Opinion Polls that DMK is poised for a win with comfortable margin. He said, “But I feel chances for a hung Assembly are bright. The next government, in all probabilities, will be a coalition one. In this election, there is no wave. The current AIADMK government has been in power with two successive terms; there is no anti-establishment wave. Its performance will help AIADMK and the strength of alliance partners will give an edge over the DMK, the contester. But there is a strong displeasure against DMK for its anti-Hindu stand and rants. Both DMK and AIADMK announced a slew of freebies. The next government will not be able to implement them due to bad financial position. For BJP, it could not get all winnable seats which is a minus factor. Barring a few, all the candidates are newcomers. It is expected to romp in 10 to 12 seats.”
Senior journalist Senkottai Sri Ram recalled that in 1967 the then DMK president C N Annadurai promised “three seers of rice for one rupee if DMK wins the election. Three seers were promised but one will be a reality”. This was never implemented. He said: “This was the first freebie scheme to woo the electorate was started. The DMK, which had been in political wilderness for over 13 years, after demise of MGR promised in 1989 elections offered 5 kg rice to all PDS card holders.”
In 2011, DMK promised free laptop to students of government and aided colleges, a grinder or a mobile as well as 35 kg rice free to every household. To counter this, AIADMK offered free laptops to students from Class IX to XII of government and government-aided schools, a fan, a mixie and a grinder besides 20 kg rice free to every family. To implement all these, the next government needs a huge chunk of funds. To meet this it will have to raise cost of liquor, increase property taxes, bus fare hike, and electricity charges.