No Assembly election could ever have been more crucial for a couple of the major players in state politics over the last several decades. The electoral fortunes of these two Chief Ministers, who between them have had at least 8 terms, are so dominant as to have carried the fortunes of all others, including their progeny, lieutenants and party apparatchiks.
The prospects of their still being in the running five years hence cannot be discounted altogether. And yet, suffice it to say 2016 represents a virtual do-or-die battle between the incumbent J. Jayalalithaa and the challenger M. Karunanidhi.
The fortune of so many others are so intricately intertwined with the patriarch and matriarch of Tamil Nadu that it would be an understatement to say today’s ballot box test is the mother of all battles. The confident Karuna may say that he will be a candidate even when he is 103, but then Tamil Nadu would already have set a strange record for the world if it so much as elects a 93-year-old as the chief minister, an incidence that would not take place even in the family businesses of India Inc. In the age stakes, Jaya has plenty in hand as she strives to take office for a fourth term, ignoring the additional swearing-in occasions she had to go through in two interrupted terms.
Tamil Nadu’s 7 crore-plus people have had much to ponder over in the last few months as multiple parties made this a noisy run-up to the poll, but one without any great issues as most of these balance out evenly enough between at least the two Dravidian majors, which have had several contentious moments with regard to corruption, which is of Brazilian proportions.
The current ballot battle might feature so many distinct fronts, including a Third Front that brings together some of the most motley elements, including the communists who battle on to stay relevant in a fading scenario. And yet we know in our heart of hearts that 2016 is a battle line drawn for one man and one woman.
The crystal ball might reveal several more contenders with chief ministerial ambitions in 2021, including MK Stalin, K. Kanimozhi, Vijayakanth, Premalatha Vijayakanth, Anbumani Ramadoss. Right now, it seems like a closed shop, with only those with experience of at least three terms seeming to have a chance. If only one of possible future CM aspirants is from the film world, then maybe there would be something to thank Father Time for. But then we are getting too far ahead here. In the here and now, it is a straight battle.
The 50:50 situation is such it doesn’t lend itself greatly to the pollsters’ imagination as they only have to call it one way or the other. But then, we already have hugely conflicting results from opinion polls pointing to one Dravidian major or the other. The betting market has also been swinging like a pendulum before settling on a pre-poll favourite.
The playing field seems level enough in an election in which there have been no major issues at the hustings. The Sri Lankan Tamil question hung like a huge cloud over the 2014 Lok Sabha poll when every Tamil party put as much distance as possible between itself and the Congress. There is no discernible Tamils question in the Assembly poll, with everyone reconciled to the changed Sri Lankan environment after Maithripila Sirisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe were elected President and Prime Minister respectively. The parties are agreed on most other things like freebies and only the details are different, save with the PMK, which has been consistent in its anti-freebies stand.
The last minute swing factor is something no pollster can foresee or forecast accurately. This is what will determine the outcome, particularly this poll with a huge number of young voters and first time voters. Mercifully, the wait will not to be too long this time out, with TN going to the polls on Monday and the results out by May19 within 72 hours of the last ballot being cast.
The exit polls – allowed to be published after Monday evening – may have more to say on the result, although here too pollsters have been known to get it wrong. Multi-cornered contests there may be aplenty in this poll and yet it is also akin to like flipping a coin as it appears to be a straight contest for a majority in the Assembly between the two Dravidian majors. Now which way will the coin fall?