The shifting sands in Tamil Nadu’s electoral politics bode ill for incumbent chief minister J Jayalalithaa. She looked invincible even a month ago but with a week to go for the state polls, the fight between Dravidian rivals DMK and AIADMK is getting fiercer and closer.
Winds of change is discernible across the state have made the contest challenging for psephologists to even hazard a guess.
The emergence of three new political formations – PWF-DMDK-TMC combine, PMK and the BJP – all of them at best spoilers -- has toughened the pollsters’ job as it isn’t clear which Dravidian party they will hurt. When the polls were announced, it was only the AIADMK that seemed well prepared with a strategy in place – no allies. Welfare schemes, freebies and a development agenda appeared to give the edge to Jayalalithaa.
The DMK was still searching for allies, begging Captain Vijayakanth to come over, when he suddenly went over to the Vaiko-led Peoples Welfare Front.
The DMK only got the Congress and a few smaller parties. Political analysts then were sure of the anti-AIADMK vote splitting. And for this reason Vaiko was dubbed Amma’s B-team. But Vaiko’s front failed to take off. Its CM candidate Vijayakanth is facing a tough time in his constituency – Ulundurpet in Villupuram district. Two of its top leaders– Vaiko and GK Vasan – are not even contesting.
The front’s reduced ability to cut votes will help the DMK, said Professor Ramu Manivannan of Madras University. Strong anti-incumbency at the constituency level is also surfacing with many MLAs not allowed to enter villages in western and northern Tamil Nadu. The DMK gained ground, running a successful campaign questioning Jayalalithaa’s inaccessibility, regal style, chopper hopping campaign and her followers’ sycophancy. “It will be an extremely tough battle; DMK may get close to being the largest single party. For sure, a dramatic change from the position a fortnight ago,” said Prof Manivannan. But in rural areas, Amma still holds sway.
Echoing these sentiments is the Tamil Nadu incorporated representative R Ganapathi, leading IT entrepreneur and vice president of SICCI (South Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), said “Tamil Nadu has been voting for change since MGR days. Despite what is being perceived, May 19 may prove that history has the ability to repeat itself.”
“There is no third front or fourth front. We are seeing a DMK government,” said the industrialist willing to stick his neck out. But will Amma’s steady diet of freebies and manifesto promises fail? “Ultimately, it all boils down to cash, which would be distributed between now and the polling date,” said MG Devasahayam, a campaigner for clean elections.