In Tamil Nadu, byelections that no party wants

Published : September 26, 2019 13:00 IST

District Collector L. Subramanian inspecting the security arrangements at the counting centre in Vikravandi in Villupuram district. Photo: By Special Arrangement

It is time for yet another round of byelections to the Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly at a time when neither the ruling party nor the main opposition wanted one. This time, two constituencies, Vikravandi, in north Tamil Nadu, and Nanguneri in the south, will go to the polls. The Vikravandi MLA, K. Rathamani, from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had passed away, while Nanguneri fell vacant because the MLA, H. Vasanthakumar from the Congress vacated the seat after he was elected Member of Parliament.

With this, more than a tenth of the seats in the Tamil Nadu (24 out of 234) have had byelections—a record of sorts. While six of these seats had to elect a new MLA because of the death of sitting MLAs, including All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) supremo and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi, as many as 18 were forced to elect new MLAs because of the disqualification of AIADMK MLAs who had shifted loyalties from the AIADMK led by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami to a rebel group led by T.T.V. Dinakaran.

These byelections are being held when the election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly is just over a year and a half away—a new Assembly is due to be constituted by May 2021. This poses peculiar challenges to both the major combines, the ruling AIADMK alliance and the opposition DMK-led alliance, despite the fact that there is no threat to the current government as it won nine of the 22 seats in the last round of byelections.

A victory for the DMK combine in both seats would prove that the momentum that it got in the May 2019 Lok Sabha election is intact. A victory in one or both seats for the AIADMK will mean that the party is gaining ground ahead of the 2021 Assembly election.

For the AIADMK, the challenge is to prove that the DMK combine’s victory in the May 2019 general election was a flash in the pan. The AIADMK is well on its way to proving this, if it manages to keep the momentum that it gained last August in the Vellore parliamentary election. In Vellore, the DMK candidate won by just 8,142 votes. The AIADMK campaign will have renewed vigour because a mere three months after the general election where it lost by massive margins, the party pulled back to nearly snatch a victory from the DMK.

The AIADMK’s next challenge will be to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) away from campaigning for it, as it did in Vellore. Barring Kanyakumari, Coimbatore, Tiruppur and pockets in Dharmapuri, the BJP does not have much of a following in the State. Though it has established units all across the State, its rhetoric is yet to strike a resonance with the people. In both Nanguneri and Vikravandi, the BJP’s presence has the potential to spoil the AIADMK’s chances.

For the DMK, winning Vikravandi is important to show the people that it still commands popularity across Tamil Nadu. Nanguneri might prove a difficult seat for the DMK alliance to retain.

The last general election all but obliterated T.T.V. Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). The party was in alliance with the the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), which is popular in the southern districts of the State. There is a good chance that the AMMK-SDPI votes will be split two ways, with former AIADMK supporters (who crossed over to AMMK) preferring to go back to the parent party and the SDPI’s supporters voting against the AIADMK because it is an ally of the BJP.

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