In Tamil Nadu, Anti-BJP Sentiment Helps DMK Secure Lok Sabha Front, But Nobody is Really Happy

Stalin is likely upset that the AIADMK passed the assembly by-poll test, while the Congress’s national loss will overshadow the jackpot it won in the Southern state.

New Delhi: While the odds had slowly piled up against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, there were a number of lingering questions that kept the outcome of the 2019 polls still in question.

Would its ‘mega alliance’ with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and a number of other smaller parties – referred to as a “coup” by more than one right-wing political analyst – overcome a wave of anti-incumbency and the vote-grabbing vacuum left behind by former leader J. Jayalalithaa?

At the same time, many wondered whether rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) had ceded too much space in the form of seats to the Congress and the Left.

“It [the DMK] is somehow not able to convince itself that it can sweep the elections, even though opinion polls say that the party will do exceedingly well… At a time when the AIADMK has done nothing to endear itself to the people and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is at an all-time low in the state, the party should be exuding confidence by contesting more seats,” senior journalist T.N. Gopalan had noted in March 2019.

Also read: Tamil Nadu: DMK-Congress Front Scoops Lok Sabha Seats, While Assembly Battle Hangs in Balance

While a few rounds of counting still remain, as of 5:45 pm on Thursday, the lead positions for all 38 Lok Sabha seats are clear: the DMK front will likely win 37, with the AIADMK  currently leading only in one constituency.

The potential sweep on the Lok Sabha front may surprise the Opposition alliance itself – as one analysis has put it, they may have expected to do well, but perhaps not this well.

In major and important constituencies, the DMK has secured a lead of over 1 lakh votes. This includes Thoothukudi (K. Kanimozhi), Chennai Central (Dayanidhi Maran), Niligiris (A. Raja), Pollachi (K. Shanmugasundaram) and Cuddalore (T.R.V.S Ramesh).

The Left parties – whose capacity to win was not in question, but was far from a sure-fire thing – are also leading in four constituencies. The Communist Party of India’s N. Selvaraj and K. Subbarayan are beating out their AIADMK rivals in Nagapattinam and Tiruppur by decent margins, while the Communist Party of India-Marxist’s candidates are also solidly leading in Coimbatore and Madurai.

AIADMK’s assembly victory

If these results hold, there are three major-takeaways.

Firstly, the DMK isn’t as happy as one might think, even though its vote share is up to a handsome 34%. Why? Primarily because the AIADMK appears set to win 9 or 10 of the 22 assembly seats, elections for which also took place in the last few months.

This means that chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami has not only consolidated his position at the state-level – even though his party was hit badly in the Lok Sabha polls – but that the AIADMK will have a majority of 123-124 seats in the 234-member assembly.

This dashes Stalin’s hopes of forming a new state government, two years ahead of the full Tamil Nadu state elections in 2021.

Palaniswami and the AIADMK, which have had to struggle with in-fighting, anti-incumbency and pressures from the BJP, will be more than satisfied with this for now.

Also read: BJP Experimented With Its Brand of Caste and Religion-based Politics in 2014 and Cemented it in 2019

Congress fortune

The second take-away is that the DMK-front has been able to exploit and ride the anti-BJP wave well.  This includes in transferring votes. Nowhere does this show more prominently in the scale of the Congress’s potential victories in 8 seats in Tamil Nadu.

The current leading margins of the Congress’s candidates are, on average, five-to-six times more than the total votes they polled in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

For instance, in the Krishnagiri seat, the Congress’s A. Chellakumar got just over 38,000 votes in 2014 – he currently is beating his AIADMK rival by over 1.5 lakh votes.

In 2014, the party’s candidate in Arani, MK Vishnu Prasad received just over 27,000 votes. This time around, he is beating his AIADMK opponent by over 3 lakh votes.

But the real shocker is in Karur, where the Congress’s Jothimani S. is not only beating the AIADMK’s heavyweight M. Thambidurai, a five-time MP and former deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, but is currently beating him soundly by a margin of early 4 lakh votes.

If anti-BJP sentiment helped the DMK help the Congress – the opposite is also true.The AIADMK has not been able to transfer its votes effectively to the BJP and other alliance partners.

For example, in 2014, BJP national secretary H. Raja polled 1.33 lakh votes in the Sivaganga constituency, a seat which the AIADMK’s candidate ended up winning that year with a total of 4.75 lakh votes. At the time, the Congress fielded Karti Chidambaram, P. Chidambaram’s son, who came in third place and managed to secure only 1.04 lakh votes.

the line to add after that paragraph is – This time around, in 2019, the AIADMK didn’t field a candidate in Sivaganga. The result is that Karti is projected to win handsomely (4.8 lakh votes so far), while H. Raja has managed to poll only 1.9 lakh votes.

The situation is even worse in a consistency like Ramanathapuram, where the BJP candidate in 2014 polled 1.71 lakh votes. This time around, the candidate fielded has managed to get only 1.05 lakh votes.

Kamal and Dhinakaran

The final take-away is that Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam and T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam both didn’t do much to affect the final results of either the Lok Sabha or by-poll elections.

Dhinakaran is perhaps the bigger disappointment. Over the last year, Sasikala’s nephew and his party (the AMMK) were expected to eat substantially into the AIADMK’s vote-share and help the DMK.

But as of Thursday afternoon, there is no major seat in which the DMK’s lead over the AIADMK is less than what the AMMK managed to get by itself.

The Makkal Needhi Maiam, which had lesser expectations of it, has proven to be a decent surprise. In at least three big seats — Chennai South, Coimbatore and Madurai, the party has achieved a vote share of anywhere between 8% to 12%. Whether this will translate into a bigger role for itself in the 2021 assembly elections remains to be seen.