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Sasikala’s exit may help AIADMK, but Tamil Nadu’s assembly elections remain tight

Tamil Nadu’s forthcoming assembly elections will be the first one in ages without M Karunanidhi or J Jayalalithaa, dominant political personalities of their time. Yet, the run-up has been as riveting as any in the past. First, Rajnikanth made his long anticipated political debut with the promise of an ambiguous “spiritual politics”. It was a mere guest appearance. VK Sasikala, a close associate of Jayalalithaa and a former interim general secretary of AIADMK, came out of jail and appeared to introduce an unfathomable dimension to the contest. She too didn’t stay long and has “stepped aside”.

Where does that leave the state’s politics? DMK and AIADMK continue to be the poles around whom most other players converge. With the poles emerging out of the same Dravidian political ideology, Tamil Nadu is an outlier in Indian politics. For over half a century, the electorate has been impervious to the phases of Congress or BJP dominance elsewhere. Politics has been underpinned by a common thread: Welfarism, prioritising industrial policy in the economic sphere and building cults around personalities. The outcome has been impressive progress in economic and social indicators, but with problems lurking beneath.

A decisive influence on the outcome may be the incumbent AIADMK government’s last minute decision to carve out a sub-quota for the Vanniyar community within the MBC reserved category. Slicing and dicing can have unexpected consequences in tight contests. It’s also a symptom of new challenges that can no longer be solved by old formulae such as reservations. AIADMK goes into the election looking a bit stronger after Sasikala’s exit. DMK, along with its ally Congress, swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But assembly polls are a different ballgame. The intriguing question is whether the coming polls will open up more space for non-Dravidian political formations.

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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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