Will a high-octane campaign help BJP enter Dravidian bastion Tamil Nadu? | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Will a high-octane campaign help BJP enter Dravidian bastion Tamil Nadu?

By, Chennai
Apr 19, 2024 08:54 AM IST

Analysts believe that the triangular contest could benefit the DMK.

Not in recent memory has Tamil Nadu seen a triangular contest, but, at least on paper, that is what it will see on Friday when 62.3 million voters decide the fate of 950 candidates for 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

Analysts believe that the triangular contest could benefit the DMK. (HT Photo)
Analysts believe that the triangular contest could benefit the DMK. (HT Photo)

That the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which rules the state, and led the alliance that won 38 seats in 2019, will win most of the seats appears to be the popular opinion. But the big question is whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can translate an intensive, vocal, and energetic campaign into enough votes to pip its erstwhile ally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), to second post, and, if it does, whether these votes will translate into seats.

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Analysts believe that the triangular contest could benefit the DMK. “The division of votes will prove to be an advantage for the DMK. The anti-DMK votes will not entirely go to the AIADMK and the anti-AIADMK votes will not go entirely to the DMK because there is a third option of BJP. And the anti-BJP votes will get divided between the DMK and AIADMK,” political analyst Maalan Narayanan said.

This is backed by most opinion polls. According to News18’s Mega Opinion Poll, the INDIA bloc in the southern state will win 30 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats with a vote share of 51% while the BJP-led NDA will win five, with a vote share of 13%. A pre-poll survey by Thanthi TV also predicted that the INDIA coalition will win more than 30 seats. The Lok Poll predicted a complete sweep for the DMK-led coalition, winning all 39 seats.

In 2019, the DMK won 33.52% of the votes; the AIADMK, 19.39%; and the BJP, 3.66%. But the numbers aren’t representative for the BJP because it was part of the AIADMK-led alliance in the state. This time, the BJP has said that it wants to increase this share significantly.

“BJP will poll 20% on our own and about 30% along with our allies,” state BJP president K Annamalai, who is contesting from Coimbatore, said recently.

Since 1967, Tamil Nadu has swung between the DMK and AIADMK. This election has been made interesting by the BJP-led alliance which includes TTV Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (a breakaway from the AIADMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi, and the Tamil Maanila Congress, Indiya Jananayaga Katchi and Puthiya Needhi Katchi, .

To be sure, the Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) led by Tamil nationalist S Seeman, which emerged as the third largest party in the 2021 assembly elections behind DMK and AIADMK with a close to 7% vote share, is also in the fray.

In its manifesto, the DMK has spoken of the chief minister’s role in the appointment of the governor and restricting the latter’s powers, and scrapping of the National Education Policy, 2020 and the Citizenship Amendment Act. Chief minister M K Stalin has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of controlling non-BJP ruled states by not releasing due central funds and through interfering governors.

The BJP has pushed its development and Hindutva agenda in the state, downplaying the welfare aspect it plays up in the Hindi heartland, perhaps because of Tamil Nadu’s healthy social indicators (the Dravidian parties were pioneers when it came to welfare). It has also targeted the DMK for corruption, dynastic rule, and comments by some of its leaders against Sanatana Dharma.

For the principal opposition AIADMK, this is the first major election after Edappadi Palaniswami emerged as the party general secretary in 2022, ousting O Panneerselvam (OPS) and breaking away from the NDA in September 2023. Interestingly, all parties that were part of the AIADMK-led alliance in 2019 other than the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) have joined the BJP.

AIADMK has mostly fielded middle-level functionaries as candidates with no seniors and heavy weights. “By fielding cadres, they have gone back to the ways in which the AIADMK functioned earlier under MGR (party founder M G Ramachandran) and (his successor) J Jayalalithaa, but especially MGR, where cadres were given tickets,” political analyst Ramu Manivannan said. “The AIADMK considers itself a cadre based party and with no heavy weights contesting, this is one way to inspire cadres.”

All parties sounded confident on the eve of the election.

“There is a huge transformation from 2019 to now for the BJP in Tamil Nadu which is favouring the Prime Minister,” said K S Narendran, state vice president, BJP. “Until 2019, the DMK created an anti-Modi mood but now, people have realised that after MGR, he (Modi) is the poor man’s leader.”

AIADMK organising secretary D Jayakumar said it is the BJP’s illusion that AIADMK is weak. “In the 2021 assembly election, the difference between DMK and the AIADMK was only 2.5%,” Jayakumar said. “People are already fed up with three years of DMK governance . They want the AIADMK back.”

For the ruling DMK, the national election is also a test for three years in power in the state. Chief minister Stalin, has kept his rainbow alliance intact, although some analysts warn of anti-incumbency.

“The anti-incumbency is not against us but against Modi,” said DMK MP TKS Elangovan, comparing the three years of the party’s governance in the state with 10 years of the BJP-led Union government. “The false promises made by Modi are what is going to cost them.”

Political analyst Maalan Narayanan said that for the first time, Tamil Nadu is seeing a triangular contest and added that the margins in various constituencies could be slender.

Ahead of voting on Friday, Tamil Nadu’s chief electoral officer Satyabrata Sahoo said that 44,800 out of 68,321 polling stations in the state will be monitored via a webcam. Election officials have seized more than 1,300 crore worth cash, liquor, drugs and freebies as of April 17 when the campaign came to a close.

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    Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning political and human rights journalist based in Chennai, India. Divya is presently Assistant Editor of the Hindustan Times where she covers Tamil Nadu & Puducherry. She started her career as a broadcast journalist at NDTV-Hindu where she anchored and wrote prime time news bulletins. Later, she covered politics, development, mental health, child and disability rights for The Times of India. Divya has been a journalism fellow for several programs including the Asia Journalism Fellowship at Singapore and the KAS Media Asia- The Caravan for narrative journalism. Divya has a master's in politics and international studies from the University of Warwick, UK. As an independent journalist Divya has written for Indian and foreign publications on domestic and international affairs.

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