Chennai: Having won nine of the 22 Assembly seats for which by-elections were held along with Lok Sabha polls in two phases, the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu led by Mr. Edappadi K. Palaniswami will continue in power for now.
This is notwithstanding the DMK's fresh legislative gains in picking up the remaining 13 seats, a sweetener that came with its huge Lok Sabha win.
With the full results of both the Lok Sabha and the by-polls available on Friday, the AIADMK's tally in the Tamil Nadu Assembly has comfortably gone up to 122 from its precarious 113-level, four below the halfway mark in the 234-member House prior to the elections. For the DMK and its allies, including Congress and the IUML, their combined strength has now gone up from 97 to 110, still requiring the support of at least another eight MLAs' to stake any claim post-polls.
If for the DMK president M K Stalin the main plank in the parliamentary elections campaign was the ouster of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, the parallel campaign for the Assembly by-polls was focused on "sending home" the Edappadi K Palaniswami-led AIADMK regime in the State. It meant having to fire from a double-barrel gun.
However, for the AIADMK, particularly for the Chief Minister Palaniswami and the Deputy Chief Minister, O. Pannerselvam, their sustained focus was on the 22 Assembly by-polls, leaving the parliamentary campaign largely to the BJP led by none other than the unflinching high-voltage campaigner in Mr. Narendra Modi.
Initially, the by-polls was to be held for 18 Assembly constituencies flowing from the seats falling vacant after the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs' who were supporters of the dissident leader and RK Nagar MLA, T T V Dhinakaran and who had sought a change in leadership in the AIADMK legislature party.
Four other by-polls were later caused, three of which followed the demise of three sitting MLAs' including the former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi (Thiruvarur), A.K. Bose (Thiruparankundram) and the third being R Kanakaraj, also from ruling AIADMK representing the Sulur constituency near Coimbatore. The second lot of four seats including Aravakurichi, Sulur, Thiruparankundram and Ottapidaram were held on May 19, coinciding with the final phase of LS polls nationwide.
Alongside the Lok Sabha polls, the stakes were thus very high for both the Dravidian majors, more so for the AIADMK which needed to win at least five seats to cross the halfway mark of 117 MLAs' in the house.
The DMK too saw in it a possibility of a regime change should it win all the 22 by-elections, building on the already charged, intense anti-Modi sentiment pervading Tamil Nadu for a year.
Thus, it was no surprise that both DMK and AIADMK made the Assembly bypolls a straight one-to-one contest, without sharing any of those 22 seats; unlike in the Lok Sabha polls when both the regional parties led a large alliance on their own.
The BJP was with the AIADMK even as the Congress had a pact with the DMK.
In this flaring mini-battle within a larger poll battle, barring two constituencies which saw a neck-and-neck fight- Sattur and Thiruparankundram-, the DMK had comfortably won its other seats with good margins for an Assembly segment.
The highest was in Thiruvarur where DMK retained its prestigious seat winning with a huge margin of 64,571 votes. Whereas in the seats won by the AIADMK, except Nilakottai and Pappireddipatti, its victory margins were relatively lower.
It showed extent of anti-incumbency the AIADMK faced in these 22 by-polls, for a major chunk of them was caused by the ruling party's own controversial disqualification decision in the EPS-OPS dispensation's anxiety to completely neutralize the 'Sasikala factor' and keep her nephew T T V Dhinakaran from eroding into the AIADMK's legislature strength at any cost. Hence, the ruling AIADMK campaigners were more geared towards the Assembly by-polls.
While the DMK won the seats of Ambur, Andipatti, Aravakurichi, Gudiyattam, Hosur (for the first time after 1967 polls), Ottapidaram, Perambur, Periyakulam, Poonamallee, Thanjavur, Thiruparankundram, Thiruporur and Thiruvarur, all but the last one were in fact fresh gains for the DMK; for prior to the disqualification they were all basically AIADMK seats won during the 2016 general elections.
On the other hand, for the AIADMK, which won the seats of Harur, Manamadurai, Nilakottai, Pappireddipatti, Paramakudi, Sattur, Sholingur, Sulur and Vilathikulam, eight of them was wresting it from the dissidents who had backed Dhinakaran. Thus, these by-elections and their outcomes continue to be an extension of the internal power struggle within the ruling AIADMK which is still unfolding.
No wonder, the DMK leader Mr Stalin, who has just emerged victorious with a huge popular mandate, does not want any "short cuts" which could even faintly cloud the Constitutional process. With the AIADMK having alleged a 'secret understanding' between Dhinakaran and the DMK, Mr. Stalin is even more circumspect to ensure that any challenge to the stability of the AIADMK does not sully the goodwill of the people that this mandate has conferred on the DMK....