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TN Local body elections

DMK’s winning spree in Tamil Nadu continues

Print edition : Mar 25, 2022 T+T-
M.K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK party president, after the party won the local body elections, in Chennai on February 22, 2022.

M.K. Stalin, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK party president, after the party won the local body elections, in Chennai on February 22, 2022.

DMK party workers  celebrating the victory in the local body elections, in Chennai on February 22, 2022.

DMK party workers celebrating the victory in the local body elections, in Chennai on February 22, 2022.

The ruling party in Tamil Nadu and its allies romp home to a massive victory in the local body elections, while the BJP makes exaggerated claims of having emerged as the third largest party in the State despite winning fewer seats than the Congress. The results have intensified the faction feud within the AIADMK.

T he ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which came to power after the May 2021 Assembly elections, swept the urban local body elections in Tamil Nadu in February 2022. The DMK won 952 out of 1,374 corporation ward councillor seats, 2,360 out of 3,843 municipal ward member seats and 4,388 out of 7,621 town panchayat ward member seats. The party won a majority in all the 21 corporations, garnering a 43.59 per cent vote share. It won 43.49 per cent of the votes in municipalities and 41.91 per cent in town panchayats, according to the State Election Commission. The DMK also sprang a surprise by sweeping the elections in the Coimbatore region. Speaking to mediapersons on February 22, an elated Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said: “We have breached the AIADMK [All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] bastion, the Kongu region, today because of the good work our government has been doing in the last few months.”

BJP’s claims

When the ruling party and its allies were celebrating their victory, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made a feeble attempt, supported by some of its media allies, to change the narrative with the claim that it had emerged as the “third largest party in the State”, even though the saffron party won fewer seats than the Congress and stood third only in overall vote share, winning 5.41 per cent of the votes.

The Congress secured 3.31 per cent. Its leaders pointed out that the party had won 73 seats in corporations compared with the BJP’s 22; 151 ward member seats in municipalities against the BJP’s 56; and 368 ward member posts in town panchayats compared with the BJP’s 230. Also, the Congress contested only 1,370 seats while the BJP fielded candidates in 5,594 seats. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.S. Alagiri said: “The claim that the BJP emerged as the third largest party after the local body elections is unsubstantiated and not based on facts.”

The AIADMK secured 164 seats in corporation councils, 638 in municipalities and 1,206 in town panchayats. In contrast to this, the BJP won 308 seats across urban local bodies. The AIADMK’s vote share was 24 per cent in corporations, 26.86 per cent in municipalities and 25.56 per cent in town panchayats.

Barely a week after the dismal performance, differences in the AIADMK came out in the open over who was to be blamed for the party’s poor performance. As for the BJP, as many as 200 of its 308 seats came from just one district, Kanyakumari, which lies in the southernmost tip of Tamil Nadu. The district is also where the party won its first Assembly seat in 1996. In 2011, when local body elections were last held in the State, the BJP won a total of 175 seats.

Also read: Chennai gets its first Mayor from the Scheduled Castes even as DMK sweeps Mayor elections in Tamil Nadu

This time, the party won one seat in Chennai, with Uma Anandan elected from Ward 134. She had courted controversy by hailing Nathuram Godse in a few interviews. TNCC working president Mohan Kumaramangalam said on Twitter: “Celebrating Godse is a reflection of your true character.” BJP State president K. Annamalai said on Twitter on February 22: “We are officially the 3rd largest party after DMK & AIADMK in TN.”

In another tweet the same day, he said: “The unprecedented victory for @BJP4TamilNadu in today’s urban local body election shows us the love Tamil makkal [people] have for our Hon.PM Shri @narendramodi avl. We dedicate our people’s love to him.”

Union Minister G. Kishan Reddy and BJP Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya also said that it was an “unprecedented victory”, while Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said in a tweet on February 23 that “the Lotus starts to bloom in Tamil Nadu with a spectacular performance in local body election”.

Other BJP leaders who harped on the same theme of the party’s growth in Tamil Nadu included Goa unit president Sadanand Shet Tanavade and national general secretaries B.L. Santhosh and C.T. Ravi.

Congress MP Manickam Tagore tweeted: “BJP lost deposit in 84 out of the 100 seats in Coimbatore….They are not growing but dying in Tamil Nadu. They are celebrating because Mr.Santhosh [B.L. Santhosh] wants to show that Mr.Annamalai had succeeded.”

In Tiruchi, where the BJP contested in 60 wards, it lost the deposit in 56 wards.

The DMK fought the election in the company of its allies from the State Assembly elections—the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxists), the CPI, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). The AIADMK alliance broke up ahead of the elections, and the party’s former allies, the BJP and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), contested on their own.

Rumblings in DMK alliance

On March 4, indirect elections were held to the post of heads of all urban local bodies. There were rumbles within the DMK alliance, with some DMK councillors acting in a high-handed manner and refusing to follow the high command’s orders. This led to VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan openly appealing to Stalin to make sure that the allies were not hurt.

Stalin ordered all DMK candidates who had won in seats allotted to alliance partners to resign from their posts and ensure the victory of the alliance partner. This unprecedented step shocked those who had gone against the party order, but many complied with the dikat from the top, a DMK leader said. Stalin went one step further and sacked Suresh Rajan, a former Minister, from the post of Kanyakumari district secretary. This was reportedly after word got around that Rajan had not worked hard to retain many seats in the district.

Among the opposition parties, the BJP claimed that the AIADMK’s poor show was because it did not enter into an alliance with it. Annoyed over this claim being repeatedly put out by right-wingers, many AIADMK leaders took on the BJP, stating that it was nothing in the State without the AIADMK.

Sasikala for AIADMK unity

On February 24, former AIADMK general secretary V.K. Sasikala said that she wanted the party to unite at a time when it “suffered its worst defeat in 50 years”. She added: “People should understand the reality that the party can win only if everyone comes together.”

Almost a week later, a representative from the O. Panneerselvam faction in the AIADMK said that Sasikala should be allowed to rejoin the party. On March 4, Panneerselvam’s brother called on Sasikala. While the Panneerselvam group wants her back, former Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami is opposed to the idea.

Also read: Election farce within AIADMK for party leadership

There may be a lot of talk within the AIADMK on the Sasikala question over the next few months. There are no easy guesses on which way a decision on her would go. Even today, Sasikala remains popular in the party, but she does not enjoy the same kind of affection among the people of the State.

Since she was convicted in the disproportionate assets case, she cannot hold an elected government office for a total of 10 years. The AIADMK, now divided between the OPS and EPS factions, will have to decide whether it is more important to rebuild the party by including Sasikala in it, regardless of how the public perceives it, or resort to image management techniques using external advisers and hoping that the advisers will win an election for them.