Elections to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry assemblies today will decide the political fortunes of CMs EK Palaniswami and Pinarayi Vijayan, both seeking victory to continue unchallenged at the helm of their respective parties. An unfancied Palaniswami was entrusted the reins of government by VK Sasikala who counted him as a servile loyalist. But she soon landed in prison allowing EPS to prove himself an able administrator and astute politician, deftly taking control of the party too after ousting Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dhinakaran.
Despite EPS’s performance as a competent successor to the redoubtable Jayalalithaa, this is MK Stalin’s election to lose with most opinion polls giving DMK the edge. After two successive terms, many AIADMK legislators are feeling the heat of anti-incumbency: Complaints of inaccessibility, neglect of constituencies and graft are galore. EPS may also have overplayed a populist card in the exclusive 10.5% reservation to Vanniyars within the MBC quota, prompting a backlash and potential reverse consolidation by other MBC groups. Factionalism is another headache for EPS.
Meanwhile, Kerala could potentially go down to the wire. A comfortable victory in local body polls four months ago inspired the “LDF For Sure” campaign theme. But UDF has been energised by good candidate selection as well as a raft of corruption allegations against LDF. Kerala’s floating voter phenomenon, which keeps booting out incumbents, has been thrown into doubt with LDF’s strong welfarist credentials and the coming of the strongman cult to Kerala. Vijayan’s unquestioned grip over government and party is a novel experience for the Malayali even as TN, long governed by larger than life figures, appears to be moving in the opposite direction now.
The tri-state elections are also critical for BJP’s long term plans. It needs to convert AIADMK’s generous offer of 20 seats into a decent number of wins. In adjoining Puducherry, BJP edged out AIADMK as the second largest party in NDA contesting 9 seats against 5 for AIADMK and 16 to NR Congress. With the lieutenant governor’s powers to nominate three MLAs, BJP/ NDA starts 3-0. BJP is in strong reckoning in 6 seats in Kerala, but failure to expand its 15% vote share from last time will hurt. For Congress, the Assam-Kerala outcome will influence the upcoming AICC polls and the next moves of Rahul Gandhi, who has campaigned extensively. Meanwhile, spare a thought for Bengal which must endure five more tiresome, tortuous phases of polling.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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