A tale of three fronts in Tamil Nadu

The BJP-led NDA is banking on Modi’s messaging and a fair share of prominent candidates while the AIADMK-led front is hoping to take advantage of ‘anti-incumbency’; however, with the DMK’s alliance remaining as cohesive as in the past, arithmetic strength should naturally benefit it

April 03, 2024 11:19 pm | Updated 11:37 pm IST - Chennai

DMK Party members’ celebration at Anna Arivalayam.

DMK Party members’ celebration at Anna Arivalayam. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

One constant feature of Tamil Nadu politics is that there is no dearth of excitement and, at times, even sensationalism. The upcoming Lok Sabha election too is no exception.

The indications of the State headed towards at least a three-cornered contest were evident even in late September when the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the principal Opposition party, walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and announced that it would form a “mega alliance.” Initially, it had anticipated a migration from the coalition headed by the ruling DMK, the AIADMK’s bête noire, but the latter has remained as cohesive as in the past. Eventually, the AIADMK entered into electoral understanding with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), founded by actor-politician Vijayakanth, and a few others.

The principal Opposition party has put up candidates in 34 constituencies and this includes nominees of its allies who are contesting on its symbol of “Two Leaves.” The AIADMK, which had earlier raised the issue of an international drug cartel case, and alleged DMK’s involvement in it, is banking on the “factor of anti-incumbency” against the State government on account of inflation, hike in power tariff, property tax rates and prices of many dairy products. It also does not fail to point out the “failure” of the DMK government in getting exemption for the State from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical courses. Citing the examples of Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, the party general secretary Edappadi K. Palaniswami, who is the lead campaigner for his party and coalition, says there is no need to project anyone for the post of Prime Minister beforehand.

For months together, the ruling party has been preparing its members and keeping its machinery ready for the Lok Sabha election. Its opposition to the NEET, three farm laws (since withdrawn) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is all well known. In recent months, it has articulated how Tamil Nadu, like other southern States, is being discriminated against, when it comes to devolution of funds. The ruling party also is extremely upset that the Centre has not provided funds sought by it to tackle the problems caused by floods in parts of the State including Chennai and Thoothukudi. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, the leader of the DMK’s front, has been accusing the Union government of having not provided even a rupee for the purpose. He has also been harping on the theme that no real separation has taken place between the BJP and the AIADMK, as the latter, according to him, does not criticise the national party.

Though there were hitches initially in seat sharing among constituents of the DMK-led coalition, leaders of all the parties in the front, especially Mr. Stalin, remained focused in ensuring that the exercise went off smoothly. While the DMK is contesting in 22 seats, the Congress has been allotted nine, excluding the lone Puducherry constituency; two Left parties and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) got two each, and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) one each. Though the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), floated by veteran actor Kamal Haasan, is now a part of the DMK’s front, it did not get any seat. But it has been assured of one Rajya Sabha seat next year.

The BJP has managed to form a front that includes the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar), Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and the ousted AIADMK leader, O. Panneerselvam. The State president, K. Annamalai, who has made headlines for his firebrand style of functioning in the last two and a half years, is trying his luck in Coimbatore, a prominent western district, even though he hails from Karur in the central region of the State. Union Minister of State L. Murugan is also in the fray, from Nilgiris, despite being an MP through the Rajya Sabha. Former Governor-Lieutenant Governor of Telangana-Puducherry Tamilisai Soundararajan is seeking election from the prestigious South Chennai constituency and former Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan has again been fielded in Kanniyakumari. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited a few times and a couple of more rounds are likely. The BJP leaders, both at the Centre and in the State, heavily come down on the DMK but Mr. Modi, in his election speeches in the State, did not attack or upset the AIADMK, unlike the State unit president. Mr. Panneerselvam is, for the first time, contesting in the Lok Sabha election from Ramanathapuram, a highly caste-conscious and economically backward area, and T.T.V. Dhinakaran of the AMMK is testing his fortunes in Theni, 20 years after his defeat in the now-abolished Periyakulam constituency.

The BJP has lately invoked the issue of “ceding” of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974 as an electoral issue against the DMK and Congress.

As usual, the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), being run by film actor-director Seeman, has fielded his colleagues in all the 40 constituencies including Puducherry, giving 50% of the seats to women.

Arithmetic strength and the divided Opposition should naturally benefit the ruling combination but electors of Tamil Nadu are not unknown for causing surprises.

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