Tamil Nadu Assembly election: Some surprises and a few heavyweight contests as parties finalise candidates in the battle of the alliances

Published : March 12, 2021 18:27 IST

DMK members who applied for the party ticket for the Assembly election wait for the personal interview at Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters in Chennai. Photo: Raghunathan S.R.

Almost all political parties and alliances in Tamil Nadu have announced their list of candidates for the 2021 Assembly election, and the battle for the State’s 234 constituencies shifts gears as candidates hit the campaign trail ahead of the April 6 election.

After many rounds of negotiations and haggling, the two main alliances in the fray, one led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the other by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), finalised the list of constituencies of the alliance partners, and each party subsequently finalised its list of candidates.

There are two other fronts in the fray – one led by actor Kamal Haasan and another led by T.T.V. Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK). While Kamal Haasan tries hard to dispel the notion that he is the B team of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Dinakaran’s avowed goal is to redeem the AIADMK. In effect, the role of both these formations will be to cut into the anti-incumbency votes just as the Third Front (Makkal Nala Koottani) did in 2016 and propelled the AIADMK to power for a second term.

The Tamil nationalist party Naam Tamilar, which has consistently polled about three per cent votes across the State, and has managed to attract the youth, is fielding candidates in all constituencies.

The DMK has retained its traditional secular allies and the seat allocation among them is as follows: 25 seats for the Congress; six each for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; three for the Indian Union Muslim League; and two for the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi. In all, the DMK will contest in 173 seats. As many as 13 members from other parties will contest on the DMK symbol. The DMK has fielded 13 women candidates. In 2016, the party contested 178 seats.

In the AIADMK-led alliance, the BJP has been allotted 20 seats and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) 23. The Tamil Maanila Congress, led by G.K. Vasan, has been given six seats. The AIADMK is contesting in 171 seats. The remaining seats have been given to smaller allies.

Interesting battles

There are many interesting battles in the making, though Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Leader of the Opposition M.K. Stalin do not face any significant challenge in their respective constituencies of Edappadi and Kolathur. The most important contest is in Bodinayakanur between old rivals O. Panneerselvam, AIADMK’s Deputy Chief Minister, and Thanga Tamilselvan, the loyalist who vacated his seat in 2002 for Jayalalithaa to contest in a byelection but is now the candidate of the DMK. Thanga Tamilselvan was literally ousted from the AIADMK by Panneerselvam, who more than matched Tamilselvan in his humility. Subsequently, Pannerselvam replaced Tamilselvan as Theni district secretary, a slight that did not go down well with Tamilselvan. He left the party to join the AMMK in 2018. On realising that it was a dead-end, he shifted to the DMK in 2019.

The second contest that will be watched keenly is in Karur, between Transport Minister M.R. Vijayabhaskar and the person who once held that portfolio, Senthil Balaji of the DMK. Senthil Balaji too left the AIADMK and joined the AMMK only to get disillusioned and join the DMK.

The one battle that Chennai will look forward is between two former Mayors – M. Subramanium (DMK) and Saidai Duraisamy (AIADMK) in Saidapet. Subramanium is credited with bringing in a lot of improvements in Chennai even when the AIADMK was in power. Duraisamy is rated as an equally capable person, but he has stayed away from taking a side in the internal fights of the AIADMK. It came as a surprise when he was picked overlooking old-time Jayalalithaa faithfuls such as V. Maithreyan and S. Semmalai.

Another interesting battle will be in Kovilpatti (Tuticorin district) between T.T.V. Dinakaran and local ‘heavyweight’ Minister Kadambur Raju of the AIADMK. Dinakaran decided not to return to R.K. Nagar, Jayalalithaa’s constituency which he won in a byelection in December 2017, and preferred the constituency in south Tamil Nadu, a region where his party is said to be strong.

As irony would have it, M. Appavoo, the DMK candidate who claimed that he had won the Radhapuram constituency in 2016 but was shown officially as having lost it by under 50 votes, has been fielded again from the constituency. After the announcement of the election results in 2016, Appavoo approached the Madras High Court, which ordered a recount under its direct supervision. The Supreme Court is yet to lift the stay on announcing the result of the recount.

Another keen battle on the cards is in Thondamuthur between S.P. Velumani, a powerful Minister of the AIADMK, and Karthikeya Sivasenathipathi, the local environmental activist who is the DMK nominee. There is also considerable interest in Stalin’s son Udayanidhi Stalin’s decision to contest from Chepauk-Triplicane.

Actor Kamal Haasan has chosen to contest from south Coimbatore, a constituency where there is a fight between the Congress and the BJP. The national parties face off only in five constituencies – Colachel, Vilavancode (Kanyakumari), Udhagamandalam (The Nilgiris), Karaikudi and south Coimbatore. It is also Congress versus BJP in the byelection to the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha constituency.