Tamil Nadu's voter turnout in this election may be exactly the same as 2009. But the 73% polling, not way behind the Election Commission's target of 80%, is likely to be the only similarity between the two polls. For the first time in several years, the two main parties here are pretty much solitary reapers, with the BJP having poached all the allies. Locked in those 60,818 polling booths is the mandate of 73% of Tamil Nadu's 5.5 crore voters. In those Electronic Voting Machines, lie the immediate future of the State's top political leaders. Here's why.
J Jayalalithaa: Lady Better Than Modi
Having made her national ambition clear well ahead of the election, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister who was the first to begin her campaign, will be hoping to collar at least 25 out of the 39 seats to have a substantial shot at the capital. That's almost thrice her 2009 tally. By tactfully jettisoning the Left, the AIADMK supremo was successful in enlisting the support of Mamata Banerjee in her quest for the country's top job. For most part of her electioneering, 'Amma', steered clear of any attack on the BJP. However, in the last leg, she tore into the saffron party and went to the extent of making out a case for her Prime Ministerial candidature over Modi's. On the ground, this punctured theories that the AIADMK was the B-Team of the BJP and that the two leaves would consider supporting the lotus in a post poll scenario. This strategy alone may have won her a portion of the minority votes, which traditionally have been the preserve of the DMK.
MKStalin – My Daddy Strongest!
Quick to latch on to Jayalalithaa's punch line, the DMK heir apparent claimed that his “daddy” was better than Modi and the Lady! The play of semantics aside, the DMK, stung by the ghost of 2G in the 2011 assembly poll probably believes that public memory is proverbially short or that the blame for 2G could be deflected to its erstwhile ally – the Congress. That would explain the party high command's decision to field both its former 'tainted' telecom Ministers - Dayanidhi Maran & A.Raja in the same constituencies - Central Chennai and Nilgiris respectively. DMK patriarch M.Karunanidhi's emotional comment that this may be his last election was more to offset any possible damage that may be caused by his estranged son & Madurai strongman M.K. Alagiri who was shown the door and has been making statements in support of the DMK's rivals. The real test will be just how the minorities vote. Tamil Nadu's 3.4 million Christians who constitute a little over 6% of the electorate can no longer be considered a block vote for the DMK as Jayalalithaa has reached out to the community ever since she came to power. But the 3.4 million Muslims, who interestingly account for more than a lakh voters in at least 10 constituencies, may find favour with the DMK as there were doubts earlier about the possibility of Amma backing the saffron brigade. Even if the DMK notches up 10 seats, that would not be too bad a sign for Karunanidhi two years before assembly elections.
The Lotus Pond
Virtually a non entity in Tamil Nadu in the past, the BJP, riding on its percieved 'Modi Wave', managed to cobble up a reasonably formidable coalition with the DMDK, MDMK, PMK and other smaller outfits. The caste factor – Vaniyars in Northern Tamil Nadu, Naidus and Brahmins in the West and South, will weigh heavily in the BJP's favour. Will this combine be able to eat into the AIADMK's electoral pie is the moot point.
Former Union Ministers
As many as 5 former Union Ministers are in the fray. While 3 of them – Dayanidhi Maran from Central Chennai, A. Raja from Nilgiris and Mani Shankar Aiyar from Mayiladuthurai are fighting from their usual strongholds, T.R.Baalu opted for a new turf in Thanjavur and Anbumani Ramadoss hopes to make his Lok Sabha debut from Dharmapuri. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, may not be contesting from his pocket borough – Sivaganga but his campaign anthem for his Don Bosco and Cambridge educated son Karti P. Chidambaram has been replete with “I am still virtually your candidate”. Chidambaram has joined issue with Modi who called him “Recounting Minister” referring to the controversy over his 2009 victory only to retort with “Encounter Chief Minister”, an indication of the high voltage contest.
This is a high stakes election for Tamil Nadu's top political brass. And the 3 week wait may be agonising.
(Sanjay Pinto is a lawyer, columnist, author & former TV journalist)