“They are off and running,” is a phrase that used to catch the attention of everyone as the gates opened and the thoroughbreds jumped out with a purpose. The feeling of frisson, somewhat unique to patrons of the turf, may also have been felt by close to 900 million people as the world’s mega election opened last week. The polls are all set for Tamil Nadu on Thursday when the fate of not only all the Lok Sabha candidates but of the state itself would be sealed.
Tamil Nadu will also be witnessing a two-in-race here with the elections to 18 of 22 vacant Assembly seats, which might prove even more crucial to the State government, being held simultaneously with the elections for the 39+1 (Puducherry) seats to the Lok Sabha. The State government’s hold on power could be tenuous at best as the numerical strength of the Treasury benches has not been of an order to inspire total confidence about its majority to continue to hold court at Fort St George.
With the four other seats going to the polls on May 19 (and the results to be announced on May 23 along with the others?), Edapaddi Palaniswami’s AIADMK would have to win more than 11 seats in order to ensure its hold on power as the current situation is fluid even within the ranks of the 114 MLAs out of 212 who are said to be on its side as the loyalties of some of them is yet to be tested. Certain fluidity in that loyalty is only to be expected as the results come in on the day of reckoning.
In many ways, the fluid situation presents a unique proposition much as the State itself is special in many ways so far as the national general elections are concerned. The definition of Tamil Nadu as a Dravidian state might itself be questioned by some. While arguments about that are hardly relevant to this mega battle, Tamils remain an enigma, their propensity to place governance in the hands of one of the two Dravidian Kazhagams, irrespective of which one of them is carrying which national party on its shoulders, making for a particular political phenomenon.
Party loyalty has often been the deciding factor between the Two-Leaves and the Rising Sun. With the patriarch of one party and the matriarch of the other gone, the coming elections are going to be the definitive test for both sides of what has been a 52-year hegemony of the Dravidian parties. No end is in sight for the duopoly as this hegemony has come to be known as, though it can be assumed that the demise of the great leaders may play differently for the two parties.
The DMK, as a cadre-based party, may be somewhat better off than its rival, which is more likely to miss Jayalalithaa as she was the preeminent, charismatic vote catcher for the party. It was the people’s mandate for her that the AIADMK is still in power three years after she won the election single-handedly, even if she did so by wafer-thin majority in many of the assembly seats. Without her, the party founded by her mentor MGR might just have the appearance of an orphan.
It does not come as a surprise then that many of the opinion polls by media outlets show a distinct bias in the people for the DMK in the Parliamentary polls and even greater traction in the Assembly polls because local issues are invariably seen as more important than national ones. Much water may have flowed down the Cauvery since the days of the distinct antipathy to New Delhi that set Tamil Nadu apart from most States of the Union. In the golden years of governance by alliance and commitments to a coalition dharma, Tamil Nadu political parties and personalities enjoyed the perks of being aligned with people who ran the country from the capital.
The stakes seem high in Tamil Nadu about who gets invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan first because there is much central power can do if the situation inside the Assembly gets even more parlous than it is now. The Speaker will, of course, have the ‘sky high’ powers to dictate the course of events but power equations can change so much as to have an effect on what finally transpires about Tamil Nadu governance. The electorate of the State have a record of casting a decisive vote one way or the other giving at least two-thirds of Lok Sabha seats to one alliance every five years. That record will not be tested in the current round, however crucial the vote may seem....