The elections for all 234 Assembly seats in Tamil Nadu were held in a single phase on April 6, in which 70.72% of registered voters participated.

The incumbent All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which has been in power since 2011, is looking to defend its position in the state. However, this is the first time the party will contest the Assembly polls without J Jayalalithaa, or “Amma”, their former party chief who died in 2016.

In the Opposition is the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, led by MK Stalin, which is seeking to wrest control in the state. Similarly, the DMK will also be contesting the election for the first time without its tallest leader in recent times, MK Karunanidhi, who passed away in 2018.

With the demise of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, who dominated the political space in the state for decades, it is now upto Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami or Stalin to take control and prove their worth.

Palaniswami could only become the chief minister following months-long drama after Jayalalithaa’s death. In December 2016, the party had split up into two groups, which was subsequently followed by the ouster of Jayalalithaa’s close aide, VK Sasikala, leading up to the two factions reconciling.

On the other hand, Stalin had lived in the shadow of his father Karunanidhi for decades. Karunanidhi, even at the age of 82, had claimed the post of chief minister and remained in it till 2011. It was only in 2017, when Karunanidhi’s health deteriorated, that Stalin became the heir apparent and the working president. He was elected the DMK chief following his father’s death in 2018.

Those in contention

The ruling AIADMK is contesting the election in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, the Tamil Maanila Congress (Moopanar) and other smaller parties.

The DMK-led front comprises the Congress, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Indian Union Muslim League, the Left parties and other regional parties.

Another front is led by Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam headed by TTV Dhinakaran, the nephew of Sasikala. It comprises Vijayakanth-led Social Democratic Party of India, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and smaller parties.

The election also witnessed the entry of Makkal Needhi Maiam, led into Tamil Nadu politics by actor-politician Kamal Haasan.

Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan at a campaign rally. (Credits: Makkal Needhi Maiam/Twitter)

As always, even with so many coalitions in the elections, the contest will largely be a direct fight between the AIADMK and the DMK.

Under the leadership of Stalin, the DMK had a stellar performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, with its coalition winning 38 of the 39 seats. The DMK alliance had also bagged 13 of the 22 seats during byepolls, as opposed to AIADMK-led coalition’s nine seats.

The DMK has been cautious this time in its seat allocation and is contesting 173 of the 234 seats. It has given the Congress just 25 seats in view of its poor performance in the last polls, despite protests from the Sonia Gandhi-led party.

Also read: Minority votes, BJP, Vanniyar quota: What will be the deciding factor in the AIADMK vs DMK battle?

Promises, promises

Election promises have always played an important role in Tamil Nadu elections. The two major parties announce a slew of freebies to entice voters ahead of Assembly polls, and this year is no different.

The AIADMK has promised free washing machines and solar cooking stoves to ration card holders and concrete houses for the homeless. For women, the manifesto promised to provide bus concessions, six gas cylinders every year, and Rs 1,500 per month for the heads of households. For students, the party promised to set up more coaching institutes and waive education loans.

The DMK manifesto promised to abolish the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, which has been a bone of contention in the state. It also promised 75% job reservation for local residents and financial assistance of Rs 25,000 to 1 lakh for people going on pilgrimage to major Hindu temples. The party also said it will also give tablets to school and college students, Rs 1,000 for female heads of households, and will construct 20 lakh concrete houses.

Equations at play

A major factor affecting the elections is caste-based politics.

The AIADMK, in order to consolidate votes, granted last moment reservation to the Vanniyar community, a powerful group in the 12 northern districts of the state, within the Most Backward Classes category. It is more than half of the 20% quota reserved for the category.

While the decision was celebrate among the Vanniayrs, a investigation found out that in three northern districts of the state, many members of other backward communities were shocked at the decision.

While announcing the quota, Palaniswami had maintained that it was a temporary measure and that the percentage of reservations for specific communities would be reassessed after a caste census is conducted.

Besides assuring the other communities about the reservations, the AIADMK also had to pacify its Muslim voters more than once in the state. AIADMK’s major alliance partner, the BJP, is looking to make inroads in the state. One of its tactics to achieve this aim has been polarisation.

In February, party MP Tejasvi Surya called the DMK and its ideology “anti-Hindu” in an attempt to paint Dravidian parties “anti-national” that have insulted the Hindu faith. The BJP had launched the “Vetrivel Yatrai” for the same purpose as the party had itself declared.

The yatra began on November 8 even as the AIADMK sought to cancel it, and ended on December 7, a day after the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya.

The AIADMK, in a bid to save itself from losing Muslim votes, had even promised in its manifesto that it would ask the Centre to revoke the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Meanwhile, state opposition parties have accused the BJP of not understanding Tamil culture. The BJP has often promoted Hindi as a unifying language in the country. In contrast, Tamil Nadu history is marked with anti-Hindi agitations.

In March, Kamal Haasan said that people in the state would not be convinced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “sudden love” for the Tamil language. Ahead of the election, Modi had claimed he regretted not learning Tamil.

Similarly, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Tamil Nadu had alleged the BJP wanted to destroy Tamil culture. Stalin had said that casting a vote for the AIADMK meant that voting for the BJP, implying that the former was subservient to the saffron party.

The saffron party, on the other hand, has accused the Congress and the DMK of pretending to be custodians of the Tamil culture. “DMK and Congress have no real agenda to talk about but they should control their lies because people are not foolish,” the prime minister had said a few days before the polls.

The BJP has kept its focus on propagating the Centre’s development work during its campaigning.

Exit polls

The DMK, under the new leadership of Stalin, is likely to fare well in this election too, if exit polls are anything to go by. At least four exit polls have predicted an easy victory for the DMK-led coalition.

The DMK-led alliance is expected to win 160-172 of the states 234 seats this time as compared to the 98 it won in the 2016 state polls, according to the Times Now-CVoter Exit Poll. The AIADMK coalition is expected to bag 58-70 seats, 70 seats below its 2016 tally of 134.

Similarly, the Republic-CNX exit poll projected that the MK Stalin-led party will win 160-170 seats, a two-third majority.

India Today-Axis My India predicted that the DMK will win 175-195 seats and the AIADMK 38-54. The ABP-Cvoter Exit Poll projected a clear majority for the DMK with 160-172 seats, while the AIADMK+BJP alliance is likely to gain around 58-70 seats.

NDTV’s poll of exit polls projected the DMK tally at 174 seats and the AIADMK at 57.

In 2016, former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had created history by winning her second consecutive legislative election – a first in the state in 32 years.