Chennai: Tamil Nadu, which accounts for the maximum number of Lok Sabha seats in south India at 39, went to the polls this time bereft of its two tallest leaders, M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa.
The state also witnessed be-elections to 22 Assembly seats of which 18 constituencies voted simultaneously with the parliamentary election on April 18. The remaining four seats voted in the last phase on May 19. Polling for the high stakes by-election to four constituencies in Tamil Nadu will get underway on Sunday.
The events of the last two years — the split within the AIADMK, the tumultuous revamp of the Edappadi Palaniswamy government with O Panneerselvam as his deputy and the eventual alliance with the BJP — have led to quite a bit of negative sentiment towards the ruling party.
In the 2014 elections, the AIADMK had swept the Lok Sabha election, winning 37 of the 39 seats.
Another name that has frequently cropped up in Tamil Nadu’s politics in the run-up to the election is that of TTV Dhinakaran, aide and companion of the late Jayalalithaa and nephew of jailed party leader Sasikala.
After revolting against the EPS-OPS leadership, Dhinakaran won the by-election to Jayalalithaa's assembly constituency in December 2017. With the win, his supporters boasted that Dhinakaran had established himself as the true heir to Amma’s legacy.
The results on Thursday would be a reflection on who the electorate views as a viable alternative. Polling in the Vellore Lok Sabha constituency was cancelled due to bribery.
Following are the possible scenarios that can emerge on May 23:
Scenario I: AIADMK loses in bypoll, but NDA leads nationally
An interesting situation in Tamil Nadu will emerge should the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) shore up the required numbers nationally and its ally AIADMK faces a drubbing in the bypolls, a make-or-break for the AIADMK to remain in power. The Palaniswami-headed party will lose majority if it wins less than five of the 22 seats that went for by-elections. A flurry of activities will start in the state with the opposition parties urging the governor for a floor test and the AIADMK tapping its national ally for support. The AIADMK, with whatever seats it wins in the Lok Sabha election, will gain a bargaining chip with the BJP to demand support in the Assembly crisis in return for loyalty in the national seat tally.
Scenario II: Serious trouble for Stalin if AIADMK retains its strength
DMK president and one of the most strident anti-BJP voices in the country MK Stalin will face uncomfortable questions if the AIADMK scores a decent number of seats — the party is targeting 12 seats — in the Lok Sabha election. Consistently, since the demise of M Karunanidhi, Stalin has kept up a corrosive anti-Modi rhetoric. He had gone to the extent of calling him a “sadistic” Prime Minister. An intense social media campaign and a series of unfortunate incidents in the state such as the Pollachi sexual assault case could weigh in the DMK’s favour. Despite all that, a strong performance by the AIADMK will pose serious questions on Stalin’s abilities as a vote-puller.
Scenario III: Hung Parliament — Stalin becomes kingmaker
MK Stalin’s first speech after his elevation was both political and poignant. His strong message was that the DMK's only rival in the 2019 elections was the BJP. Karunanidhi’s memorial meeting had also paved way for the DMK’s ‘Opposition United’ pitch wherein in the presence of regional players, he proposed Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s name as the next prime minister. This statement didn’t seem to have gone down well with the other regional satraps. The DMK doesn’t rule out the fact that for the opposition to come together, a prime ministerial candidate may be the point of contention. He, however, played a clever card of siding with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), while continuing to meet non-UPA leaders like N Chandrababu Naidu and K Chandrashekar Rao, thereby leveraging all opportunities of a national play.
Scenario IV: Hung Parliament, but AIADMK wins comfortably in the bypolls
Both the AIADMK and DMK are anxiously waiting for the results of the 22 bypolls more than the Lok Sabha polls. In the absence of the two towering leaders — Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi — the bypolls result will also give an answer to who the people’s leader is. If the AIADMK wins more than eight of the 22 bypolls, the EPS government will survive till 2012 and power in the state will continue to elude Stalin even if the DMK president were to play a significant role in government-formation at the central level.