The curtains came down on the more than a month-long mercury-rising campaign for the April 24 Lok Sabha elections. The stage is now set for polling, which will decide the fate of over 800 candidates from AIADMK, DMK, BJP, Congress and DMDK besides others.
The high-decibel vote canvassing exercise was dominated by a series of barbs, charges and counter-charges as arch rivals DMK and AIADMK are eyeing the results as a self assessment exercise ahead of assembly polls, just two years away.
Top leaders across the political spectrum — Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, L.K. Advani, Prakash Karat, Jayalalithaa, M. Karunanidhi and M.K. Stalin among others criss-crossed the roads and airspace of Tamil Nadu, lighting up the electoral battle that is poised for a close finish due to a five-cornered contest.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has maintained a low profile during this polls, avoided campaigning in Tamil Nadu where Congress is facing the polls on its own.
If at all there could be an undercurrent of the intense campaign, it was Modi-bashing by all those not part of the BJP-led NDA, a new trend that was not as much visible in the 2009 Lok Sabha and 2011 Assembly elections.
The Gujarat Chief Minister himself addressed a series of rallies in anticipation of his party-led NDA returning a significant number of seats.
Ms. Jayalalithaa, nurturing larger national ambitions, stole a march over her rivals by not only announcing her candidates ahead of others, but also hit the campaign trail much earlier to give her enough room to cover almost all 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu and the lone Puducherry seat.
Initially modelling her campaign strategy on an out-and-out ‘fire Congress and DMK’ strategy, Ms. Jayalalitha later trained her guns on BJP also, following accusations that her AIADMK was the ‘B-Team’ of the saffron party.
From a no-mention to a no-holds barred electoral fight, Ms. Jayalalithaa wound up her campaign by putting herself ahead of BJP’s Modi, who dwells on his Gujarat development claims, seen as a marked turnaround as both the leaders had good personal equations having attended the swearing-in ceremonies of each other in the past.
Ending her campaign in the city on Monday, Ms. Jayalalithaa signed off in style by claiming, “The lady in Tamil Nadu is better than Modi in Gujarat in governance,” as she repeatedly sought to debunk the Gujarat model of development in her last leg of hectic schedule.
Congress and DMK faced Ms. Jayalalithaa’s charges on a number of “betrayals” including in Cauvery and Sri Lankan Tamils issues.
For DMK, this campaign was all about its ‘Rising Son’, with party chief M. Karunanidhi’s offspring Stalin setting off on a whirlwind campaign, as his ageing and wheelchair-bound father seemed to take a back seat in the face of his old age and health.
Stalin’s hectic campaigning came in the backdrop of his brother and expelled Madurai leader M.K. Alagiri’s contention that his sibling’s signature was stamped all over the candidate selection process.
He singled out AIADMK and its chief Jayalalithaa for the problems of people like power shortage, drinking water supply and law and order problems.
Ms. Karunanidhi hit the campaign trail later, Ms. Jayalalithaa, once in a while indicating of a post-poll support to Congress for a ‘secular’ government at Centre.
BJP, a relatively no-player in the Tamil Nadu political space, especially since its nil performance in 2004 and 2009 elections, seemed to ride the ‘Modi’ wave as it pulled off a six-party alliance, overcoming several glitches during the seat sharing talks.
The BJP prime ministerial candidate himself exhibited much expectations from the state as evident in his two-phase polling schedule that was dotted by seven stops, including those in the western industrial belt and fishermen-dominated southern Tamil Nadu.