The battle lines are more or less drawn ahead of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections to be held on May 16. The DMDK leader Vijayakanth, popularly known as ‘Captain’ after one of his movie characters, has decided to align with the four-party combine of the People’s Welfare Alliance, as its chief minister candidate.
Much sought after in a multi-cornered scenario which could potentially make margins in the contests for the 234-seat Assembly wafer-thin, ‘Captain’ chose, after much dilly-dallying, to have some allies on his side.
His decision further scatters the BJP-led alliance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The national party, with germinating ambitions in the southern state, is now friendless on the TN poll scene as PMK chose to chart its own course with Dr Anbumani Ramadoss its chief minister candidate and Vaiko’s MDMK pitching for a combine with both Left parties as well as VCK in PWA.
The advantage in the potentially five-cornered contests featuring AIADMK+, DMK+Congress, DMDK+PWA, PMK and BJP, besides the debutant actor-politician Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi which will contest all 234 seats, is with the reigning chief minister J. Jayalalithaa.
The breakaway TMC led by former Congress man GK Vasan, may bolster the ruling party with its share of votes. The scene is set then for the release of manifestos by the major Dravidian parties as well as the finalisation of seat-sharing and nomination of candidates by the three major combinations in the run-up to the polls.
A lack of clarity regarding which way Vijayaanth would go – he had thrown in his lot with AIADMK in the 2011 Assembly polls in which his party emerged as the second largest with 28 seats as Jayalalithaa triumphantly returned to power – had delayed much of pre-poll activity in 2016.
Viewed as the swing factor in tight contests, Vijayakanth held a unique position for a few months as he was unabashedly wooed by most political parties and their coalitions. The challenge ahead for him and his wife Premalatha, who looks after most of the party groundwork, would be to prove they have a vote share that can actually make the difference.
The Tamil Nadu electorate – with its reputation for handing power alternately in successive elections in the last 49 years with the exception once of the late MGR retaining power – is tasked with choosing its leader in a crucial election.
Of course, in Tamil Nadu elections, as well as in the rest of India, the polls have less to do with battles of ideologies than the charisma and vote-gathering prowess of their leaders. In this respect, Jayalalithaa has the greater pan-Tamil Nadu appeal.
Ranged against her is the 93-year-old patriarch of DMK, M. Karunanidhi, whose chief ministerial ambition is still raging after five terms as CM. If it is a given that the vote is more for leaders than candidates, the biggest challenge for the Dravidian majors, one or the other of who have been in power since 1967, is to keep their flock intact besides appealing to the undecided voters as well as the young first-time voters, whose numbers have gained significance.