Assembly by-elections in Tamil Nadu, as a matter of rule, rarely cause any surprise, with the party in power usually emerging victorious. However, principal political parties do not miss the opportunity presented by these polls to demonstrate their strength.
Yet another round of fierce battle between the parties – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – seems to be round the corner in Yercaud where the by-election is scheduled for December 4. Both the parties have announced their nominees and the ruling party, as witnessed in the previous couple of by-elections, assigned poll duty to all Ministers. Some senior leaders, including C. Ponnaiyan, M. Thambidurai, P.H. Pandian and S. Semmalai, have also been roped in.
After the AIADMK made an emphatic return to power in May 2011, the Yercaud by-poll will be the fourth and the ruling party won hands down in all the previous by-elections in Tiruchi (West), Sankarankoil and Pudukottai.
If one were to take into account the Assembly by-elections witnessed in the State since 1980, there were 46 by-elections and the party in power or its ally won in all but eight. When the DMK was in power during 2006-2011, the State saw 11 by-polls, of which the DMK won in eight and its then ally, Congress, in three.
However, one by-poll, held for the Dindigul parliamentary constituency in May 1973, was a defining moment in the contemporary political history of the State. It marked the advent of the AIADMK as a principal political player in the State. In that poll which was conducted within eight months of its formation, the AIADMK won, defeating the now-defunct Congress (Organisation). The DMK, then in power, was reduced to the third slot. In fact, an indication of this trend was evident even a few months later when Coimbatore (West) assembly constituency faced a by-election, which remains less talked about. In February 1974, the AIADMK wrested the Coimbatore (West) constituency from the DMK. The Congress (O) finished second here too.
Asked whether the major parties attach undue importance to by-elections, a senior leader of the ruling party replies that it is only a matter of perception. One would not say so if by-elections take place in many constituencies. What gets generally overlooked is that at the time of general elections, the parties do pay concentration even at the level of booths.
Pointing out that the Lok Sabha elections are going to be held in a matter of six-seven months, a DMK leader says that the major parties would use the by-poll to maintain tempo among its workers. A significant number of new electors had been added in the last two and a half years and this segment generally prefers a change. Echoing his view broadly, Gnani V. Sankaran, a political commentator, says that in electoral politics, parties have to take part in polls, whether they are held to the Lok Sabha or local bodies. Otherwise, this would dampen the spirit of cadre of the parties.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an observer of political parties in the State, who had even worked with the ruling party in various by-elections, says that for both the DMK and the AIADMK, the performance in Yercaud would be used as a reference point to increase their bargaining strength at the time of the Lok Sabha elections if the two parties decided to have tie-up with others.