In Tamil Nadu, the main contest is between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led National Democratic Alliance and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led United Progressive Alliance.
DMK is in an alliance with the Congress, Communist Party of India (CPI), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Indian Union Muslim league (IUML), Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK). AIADMK is in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK).
Actor-politician Kamal Hassan's Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) and the alliance between TTV Dhinakaran's Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) can emerge as dark horses in the Assembly polls.
Here’s a look at the key constituencies and players in this Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, which is scheduled for polls on 6 April.
Key Players to Note
Palamiswami is the caretaker Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the joint-coordinator of the AIADMK. He will be seeking re-election from the Edappaddi constituency, an AIADMK stronghold, where he had polled over 85.5% of the votes in the 2016 Assembly election.
This win is very important for Palaniswami, who took over as the CM after the death of the AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa. EPS has wielded the maximum power in the party and government, enjoying the support of majority of the cabinet members, MLAs and party cadre in all districts.
In the last three months, EPS announced several election sops, such as a caste survey and sub-caste reservation for the Vanniyars within the Most Backward Classes (MBC) category.
Also, Edappadi Palaniswami belongs to the Gounder community, which is among the most numerous and politically powerful communities in Tamil Nadu.
The man, known as ‘the leader in waiting’ believes anti-incumbency will work in favour of DMK, a party that has been out of power for over a decade.
DMK president M K Stalin is the son of former chief minister late M Karunanidhi and has been the head of the DMK youth wing, mayor of Chennai, deputy chief minister and opposition leader in the past. Struggling to fit into the gigantic shoes of his late father, MK Stalin is heading into a make-or-break election that could impact the politics of Tamil Nadu for the foreseeable future.
While Stalin lacks the oratorial skills of a great politician, with the help of poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), he has carefully choreographed all his campaigns to the minutest detail; from consistency of messaging to interactions with journalists, social media posts, grama sabhas and placement of DMK advertisements on Youtube and social media platforms.
This year, he is contesting from Kolathur that has been a DMK bastion. He will face AIADMK's Adhi Rajaram. In 2016, Stalin won by a huge margin as he received 91,303 votes and defeated his nearest rival by 37,730 votes.
Making his debut in politics is Udhayanidhi Stalin, Kollywood actor, son of DMK President MK Stalin and party youth wing secretary.
He is contesting from Chepauk-Thiruvellikeni where his grandfather Kalaignar Karunanidhi had contested from and won for three terms (1996- 2011), before he shifted to Thiruvarur.
Udhayanidhi will face Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) candidate AVA Kasali.
BJP leader Amit Shah had taken a jibe at the party by asking people if they wanted to see development of Tamil Nadu or of Udhayanidhi Stalin, implying that voting for the DMK would mean voting for dynasty politics. Udhayanidhi has been sharp with his counterattack by stating that Shah’s son’s assets have grown exponentially.
Should he win, it will cement the entry of the third generation of the Kalaignar family into electoral politics in the Tamil Nadu.
O Panneerselvam is the Deputy Chief Minister and joint coordinator of AIADMK. He was close to late Jayalalithaa and had stepped in as the CM when she was unwell and unable to head the government. He is contesting from Bodinayakannur constituency in Theni. The leader is expecting a landslide victory as he has not lost the seat since 2011.
Interestingly, he is pitted against DMK’s Thanga Tamilselvan, who was also once a trusted aide of Jayalalithaa.
The wildcard in this Assembly election is definitely TTV Dhinakaran, V K Sasikala’s nephew and Amma Makkal Munettra Kazhagam’s (AMMK) founder.
He had launched the party after he and Sasikala were ousted from the AIADMK following her conviction in a corruption case.
Sasikala’s sudden exit from politics was a huge shock for Dhinakaran, who was relying on her to be an influential factor to woo voters owing to her closeness to Jayalalithaa.
In a big setback to the AIADMK in 2017, Dhinakaran had created history by winning, as an independent candidate, from the Radhakrishnan constituency, where Jayalalithaa had contested from. However, he will not be seeking re-election from the seat but will contest from Kovilpatti against local AIADMK strongman and Cabinet Minister K Raju and CPI(M)'s K Srinivasan.
Dhinakaran has sealed an alliance with AIMIM that is expected to bag a significant vote share of the Muslim population.
Key Constituencies in Tamil Nadu
An interesting battle is unfolding here with BJP fielding actor Khushbu Sundar. Sundar began her political stint in 2010 by joining the DMK. She then quit the party and joined the Congress in 2014, was the party spokesperson and had made strong critical comments against BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, recently she quit the Congress citing insult by the party members and joined the saffron party. This is her electoral debut and she is confident of emerging victorious owing to her ardent fan base in the state.
Interestingly, Thousand Lights was represented by DMK President M K Stalin four times. DMK has floated Dr Ezhilan, who was M Karunanidhi's physician and a vehement opponent of NEET. It was Ezhilan's father, economist M Naganathan, who was the brain behind the DMK’s colour television promise that sealed the election in the party’s favour in 2006. The constituency has been a DMK stronghold as they have had a good resonance with the large Muslim population here.
The actor who wants to be the third front in the state - Kamal Haasan - is contesting from Coimbatore (South). This is the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) President’s electoral debut and it is indeed a smart choice as the actor’s support base is largely urban, upper caste voters.
Haasan is banking on his deputy R Mahendran’s decent show in the constituency during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The MNM vice president had polled over 1.4 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Interestingly, though Haasan has been projecting himself as an alternative to the Dravidian majors, he will face candidates from BJP and Congress and not DMK and AIADMK.
While Coimbatore South has been an AIADMK bastion, this time, it has been given to senior BJP leader Vanathi Sreenivasan. A lawyer by training, she was an active member of ABVP in Coimbatore and is one of the longest serving members of the BJP in Tamil Nadu. She contested in the 2016 Assembly elections but lost to AIADMK’s Amman K Arjunan.
In the DMK front, Congress candidate Mayura S Jayakumar, who lost to AIADMK candidate in 2016, is trying his luck again.
Also giving a tough fight is, TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK)‘s R Doraisamy, who had won here in 2011 when he contested on an AIADMK ticket.
Muslims and Christians constitute around 25 per cent of the electorate and Dalits constitute 20 per cent. A large number of government employees stay in the area, and they could be a deciding factor.
Since former Karnataka-cadre IPS officer K Annamalai joined BJP in Tamil Nadu about eight months back, he has been fiercely campaigning for the saffron party, not missing a single chance to challenge DMK leaders for a debate.
Annamalai will be making his electoral debut from his native constituency, Aravakuruchi, which is presently represented by V Senthil Balaji, who had won the seat in the by-election held in 2019 by a huge margin. Balaji, who was Transport Minister in J Jayalalithaa’s government, joined the DMK in 2018 after being disqualified as a legislator for owing allegiance to T T V Dhinakaran.
The battle is tough for Annamalai as the BJP does not have any base in the constituency and is entirely dependent on the AIADMK. Besides his own reputation as a “no nonsense” police officer, he is also banking on caste votes as he belongs to the dominant Gounder caste.
Other contestants in the fray are DMK’s Elango and MNM’s Mohammed Hanif Saheel and AMMK’s P S N Thangavel. The DMK alliance is also quite influential in some pockets in the constituency, which has a sizeable Muslim population. Political analysts have said that it is this community’s votes that will serve as the deciding factor.
The people of the constituency have demanded better drinking water facility, job opportunities and water for irrigation. Aravakurichi was the first constituency in the state where elections were rescinded in 2016 on allegations of cash-for-votes scam.
Will Minister and AIADMK leader D Jayakumar, contesting for the seventh consecutive time, win from Royapuram?
He has been contesting in the constituency since 1991 — won in 1991 and then in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016. He will be facing DMK’s iDream R Murthy, an entrepreneur who hails from the area and owns a theatre there, MNM’s S Gunasekaran and S Kamali of Naam Tamilar Katchi.
While he is considered to be a local favourite, issues such as indiscriminate dumping of garbage, overflowing sewage, the mosquito menace, lack of piped drinking water supply seem to be haunting the leader’s chances at winning.
The constituency’s long-standing demand has been to establish a museum to highlight the first train in south India that began operating from the Royapuram station in 1856. Residents, who are mostly fisherfolk, have also demanded construction of an underpass or subway at Cemetery Road and better bus connectivity.
The DMK candidate has promised the establishment of an arts and science college, at least one small community hall in each corporation division and renovation of the Raja Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar (RSRM) Hospital.
Will bakery owner Chinnammal outwit Sellur K Raju in Madurai this time?
In 2016, AIADMK’s Raju had promised to turn Madurai into Sydney in 18 months, as part of the Smart City Mission. While the incumbent minister for cooperation is contesting for the third consecutive time from Madurai West constituency, the locals here demand safe roads, clean air, regular supply of clean drinking water, traffic-free roads and pollution-free air.
On the other hand, DMK has fielded C Chinnammal, a long term party member and an ex-councilor, against Raju. She is well known among the locals and she was given the ticket for the first time.
One of the key highlights this election season was the DMK youth wing leader Udhayanidhi Stalin, holding a brick during an election campaign to stress that no progress has been made in the construction of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Madurai.
Who will make an impact this election?
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