Chennai: With all the main parties announcing their candidates for the four Assembly by-elections on May 19, the stage is set for the final phase of intense electioneering in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK has focused on winning as many seats as possible out of the total 22 Assembly by-elections so as to ensure stability of the Edappadi Government —- the ruling party would need at least 5-6 seats to stay in power — while the DMK is working overtime to topple the government through these by-polls.
The late Jayalalithaa had won the last Assembly polls in May 2016 but passed away due to illness barely seven months later. The responsibility of keeping the AIADMK flock together — barring for a small segment that revolted under TTV Dhinakaran and his jailed aunt V K Sasikala — and the government going fell upon Edappadi K. Palaniswami, the surprise dark horse handpicked by 'Chinnamma' Sasikala before her Supreme Court conviction in the disproportionate wealth case packed her off to serve a four-year term at the Parappana Agrahara jail at Bengaluru.
Until his unexpected crowning, Edappadi was little known outside the party circles and certainly much less known outside his Gounder-dominated western region of Tamil Nadu. Having served as Chief Minister thrice during the difficult times of party supremo Jayalalithaa, O Panneerselvam was a more familiar face but he fell from Chinnamma's grace soon after Amma Jayalalithaa's death and was forced to make way for the new favourite, Edappadi.
It goes to the credit of this Salem strongman that he quickly consolidated his position by winning over OPS to his side and devising strategy to keep everyone happy by whatever means.
It is this now-formidable EPS-OPS team that the DMK chief M K Stalin hopes to vanquish through these by-elections to 22 Assembly seats. He has been repeatedly stating, throughout his hectic campaign criss-crossing the state, that the AIADMK would be out of power when the by-poll results are announced (May 23). He too has been focusing more on winning the Assembly by-elections than the Parliament polls; hence his decision to contest all the 22 seats in the hope of winning most of them and thereafter toppling the Edappadi Government.
Ditto EPS vis-a-vis contesting the by-polls--he has got his party candidates in all the 22 constituencies, determined not let go of the remaining part of the five-year term that ends only in May 2021. Some in the know of things and have their ears to the ground say that EPS “is managing everyone well, even the political rivals, by taking care of their interests”.
And that's why most observers insist EPS will continue as the Chief Minister even after the votes are counted on May 23. “Stalin is dreaming of becoming CM somehow. He will spend the rest of his life dreaming”, has been the refrain in EPS's poll speeches.
On the other side, Stalin has been injecting enthusiasm in the massive turnout of his followers at his election rallies that EPS's days as CM are numbered and the DMK is sure of coming to power after these by-elections to the 22 Assembly seats.
In these contests of thin victory margins, much will depend on the performance of the other players in the field - TTV's AMMK, Kamal Haasan's MNM and Seeman's NTK - and where they get their votes from: the DMK or the AIADMK.