For the first time in Tamil Nadu, a state whose politics has revolved around personalities, the upcoming Assembly election is being held without heavyweights DMK's M Karunanidhi or AIADMK's Jayalalithaa, two of the most towering leaders of the state.
Tamil Nadu will vote for all 234 Assembly seats in a single-phase election on 6 April and the counting of votes will take place on 2 May.
This time around, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party (AIADMK) has joined hands with the BJP and Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) to contest the polls.
On the other hand, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party led alliance includes the CPM, CPI, the Dalit party VCK, IUML, another Muslim party MMK, and Vaiko's MDMK.
According to The Indian Express, the polls may be virtually an AIADMK vs DMK battle, with leaders across the political spectrum saying the two parties will together mop up 80 percent of the votes.
Both the rival parties have left no stone unturned to pull each other down while campaigning for the Assembly polls.
A Raja's slipper jibe VS EPS' tears
In the latest controversy in the election campaign trail, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami on Sunday turned teary-eyed while reacting to DMK leader A Raja's alleged disparaging remarks against him and his mother.
Palaniswami, at a rally, said a mother occupied a lofty position in society and anyone who denigrated women would be punished by God.
While trying to draw a comparison between DMK Chief MK Stalin andPalaniswami's leadership, A Raja reportedly said that Stalin's political career is like that of "a fully matured baby born legitimately" while "EPS is like a premature baby born out of an illegitimate relationship".
According to The NewsMinute, Raja's derogatory comments drew widespread criticism from within and outside the DMK. His party chief MK Stalin also released a statement urging everybody associated with the DMK to maintain decorum while campaigning and speaking. A Raja was also booked by the Chennai police for his comment, under three sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Even the AIADMK petitioned the Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu to not allow Raja to campaign for Assembly polls and direct police to file a case against him for his alleged offensive comments against Palaniswami.
A Raja on Monday extended an apology to the chief minister for making the remarks allegedly referring to the latter's deceased mother, but claimed his words were 'misunderstood' and 'manipulated.'
Raja said he clarified in a public meeting in Gudalur in the district on Sunday that he did not intend to defame Palaniswami or his late mother, but was making a comparison between the leadership qualities of his party chief M K Stalin and the CM, using a children's analogy.
"Still, I came across reports that the chief minister turned emotional at my remarks and I am deeply anguished over this. I express regret from the bottom of my heart for lines that were misunderstood," he said.
"In fact, I have no hesitation to apologise to CM Palaniswami if he really felt hurt and (did not do it) for politics (turning emotional)," he read out from a statement before reporters.
He said he had extended the apology since the CM had turned emotional and that he did not want the episode to remain a "black mark" in his public life.
He also did not want to embarrass his party DMK or its chief Stalin, Raja added.
To a question, he said possible electoral gains may be behind the matter becoming controversial.
Raja's alleged vulgar remarks had earlier touched a raw nerve with the ruling AIADMK, with party workers staging state-wide protests demanding his arrest, even as his effigies were burnt in places like Salem, Palaniswami's native district.
AIADMK ally BJP and its 'politics of borrowing'
According to ThePrint.in, sorely lacking a local icon, the BJP is borrowing leaders from not just its ally AIADMK, but also arch-rival, the Congress.
The saffron camp used an image of AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran in a teaser video for a BJP event, there were huge cutouts of MGR as well as K Kamaraj, a veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister, at the venue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally in Coimbatore.
Congress leaders called it shameful, saying that Kamaraj had been subjected to an attack by the RSS, reports The Indian Express. However, an RSS leader denied that the organisation had any role in the attack and said there was nothing wrong with the decision to use a cutout of the leader
On the other hand, aware of its outsider image, the BJP, which is in alliance with the AIADMK, is has pulled out all the stops while campaigning. Both Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in their rallies have expressed their dismay at "not knowing one of the oldest and sweetest languages of India" " Tamil.
Just hours after the prime minister during the 74th edition of 'Mann Ki Baat' radio programme said he regretted not being able to learn the world's oldest language Tamil during his long political innings as a chief minister and prime minister, Home Minister Amit Shah followed suit.
Shah during an election rally said, "I am sad that I cannot talk to you in Tamil that is one of the oldest and sweetest languages of India, I seek your forgiveness."
DMK and AIADMK's populist manifesto
Archrivals DMK and AIADMK's populist agenda for the upcoming elections are loaded with doles and freebies to woo the electorate in their respective manifestos.
The two parties " AIADMK seeking a record third term and the DMK planning a strong comeback after a decade in opposition, have converged not only on such freebies but also on other contentious issues like the repeal of the Citizenship Amendment Act and release of seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
Free washing machine, housing for all, solar cookers, education loan waiver, government jobs to families without anyone in state service etc are AIADMK's promises to the voter while that of DMK includes Rs 4,000 relief to COVID-19 hit rice ration card holders, laws to reserve 75 percent jobs for locals and waiver of various loans and provision of various assistance.
Both have promised phased prohibition in a state whose coffers are largely filled by liquor sales, even as DMK's ally Congress promised to implement the dry regime soon after the 'new government', apparently headed by DMK, is installed post polls.
Besides offering household electronic goods, the parties have also waived loans repeatedly, provided free bus passes to students and women, and provided marriage assistance for girls in the form of gold and cash, cash assistance for pregnant women, subsidy for women buying two-wheelers, and so on.
Allies BJP VS Congress
However, both Congress and BJP have been making efforts to improve their fortunes in the state. In the past two months, Rahul Gandhi has made multiple trips to Tamil Nadu to campaign for the party.
The BJP, too, is actively campaigning in the state with senior leaders Amit Shah and JP Nadda holding rallies in the state and the party also undertook a 'Vetrivel Yatra' (march of the victorious spear) in November 2020, as noted by The Print.
However, it will be a tall order for both parties to make a mark in the upcoming election.
With inputs from PTI