Sometimes an electoral defeat has more repercussions than even a huge win for an opponent. In the Erode East byelection, Congress candidate EVKS Elangovan, backed by the Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA, comprising the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the MDMK, the VCK, and the two Left parties besides the Congress), won by a margin of over 66,000 votes. But the defeat has more implications for the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu.
Despite all the luck that smiled on former Chief Minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) ahead of the byelection, his party suffered a rout, and recouping from it will take some doing.
The Congress secured a record 1,10,556 votes, while the AIADMK secured 43,981, much less than what the candidate of the Tamil Maanila Congress, its ally, got in the 2021 Assembly election. At that time, the margin was less than 10,000. The 66,000-plus vote difference this time, despite all the AIADMK heavyweights spending considerable time, energy, and resources in the constituency, is a blow to EPS at a personal level and will force a rethink in the BJP’s 2024 Lok Sabha calculations in Tamil Nadu.
EPS could not have asked for more ahead of the election: a constituency that is in a region where he wields influence; the party’s two leaves symbol, which a Supreme Court interim order awarded to his faction for this election; and legal validation of his selection as the party’s interim general secretary in terms of a Supreme Court order. He was effectively the head of the AIADMK, with all the other claimants—former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, Jayalalithaa’s close aide Sasikala, and her relative T.T.V. Dinakaran—out of the picture.
For EPS, this election was a struggle to maintain the status quo that he managed to create with liberal help from the BJP. Though byelections in Tamil Nadu do not reflect the true picture of the state of mind of the people, from the early 2000s people have voted for the ruling party. The byelections during the AIADMK regime of 2016-21 were an exception because they took place soon after the death of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. However, a crushing defeat such as this one is not easy to explain. EPS will be under pressure to cede part of the leadership space in the AIADMK alliance to the other claimants, primarily the BJP.
At no point in the counting, beginning with the first round, was the AIADMK candidate anywhere close to the Congress candidate. When the count at the end of the first round was officially declared, the Congress had polled just over 68 per cent of the votes, while the AIADMK had just over 23 per cent. The lead held almost at the same range, and by the sixth round, the Congress had polled 46,322 votes to the AIADMK’s 17,011. The AIADMK candidate required just over 28,000 votes to hold on to his deposit. By 2.30 pm, he inched towards that mark by securing 24,985 votes, while the Congress candidate had crossed the 70,000 vote mark—a lead of 45,000 plus. Candidates of both Naam Tamilar Katchi and the Desiya Murpokku Dravidar Kazhagam forfeited their deposits. When the trend was clear, K.S. Thennarasu, the AIADMK candidate, said: “Money power has won. Democracy has lost.” EPS made a lengthy statement, endorsing the sentiment. E.V.K.S. Elangovan credited the victory to the efforts of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin and said that the victory was an expected one. He attributed the scale of the victory to the DMK delivering on multiple fronts and its responsiveness to the needs of the people.
‘Vote of confidence’
Stalin called the victory historic and thanked the people of Erode East. He said: “During the campaign, I repeatedly requested the people to support the Dravida model of governance [that we are implementing in the State]. On their part, the people want the Dravida model of governance to go ahead with even more vigour.” He criticised EPS for stooping to the level of a “fourth grade platform speaker”. “The people have taught him a good lesson,” he said.
Asked about his reaction to the invitation to national politics, Stalin said that he was already in national politics, which was reflected in his speech on his birthday. On March 1, Stalin, in a meeting, stated that any alternative to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election will need the Congress as a main partner. All other efforts, he said, would not bear fruit.
- In the Erode East byelection, Congress candidate EVKS Elangovan, backed by the Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA, comprising the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the MDMK, the VCK, and the two Left parties besides the Congress), won by a margin of over 66,000 votes.
- At no point in the counting, beginning with the first round, was the AIADMK candidate anywhere close to the Congress candidate.
- EPS could not have asked for more ahead of the election but his party suffered a drubbing.
- Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin called the victory historic and showed people’s support for the Dravida model of governance.