Campaign ended on Tuesday in Tamil Nadu where the voters will decide on Thursday whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi should rule on or should be replaced by Congress president Rahul Gandhi or someone else.
Up for grabs are 39 seats though the two broad alliances led by the DMK and the AIADMK also include the lone Puducherry seat in the tally. What sets apart Tamil Nadu from the rest of India is the fact that as many 22 by-elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly are being held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls and the outcome may well decide whether Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisami, whose government has only a working majority, will continue or not.
Though all seats are facing multi-cornered contests, breakaway AIADMK leader and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam T T V Dinakaran, and actor Kaman Hasan’s Makkal Nedhi Maiyam may become irrelevant after this poll.
The fight is mainly between the DMK-Congress led secular alliance and the AIADMK-BJP front. While DMK president M K Stalin has projected Congress president Rahul Gandhi as the prime minister face of the alliance even before other non-BJP opposition parties are willing to accept him as an alternative, Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisami has pitched on “strong leader, stable government” as the main reason for seeking a second term for Modi.
Edappadi Palanisami touts as achievement the formation of the Cauvery Management Board by the Modi government at the urging of the State Government and its approval for his ambitious Rs 60,000 crore Godavari-Cauvery link project.
On the minus side is the aggressive push given to the Chennai-Salem expressway in the face of resistance of local farmers and despite stay on the project by the High Court and the assertion by Union Surface Minister Nitin Gadkari that it will be implemented by paying substantial compensation to farmers willing to give their land.
Another sensitive issue NEET examination for admission to medical courses, test rural students from Tamil Nadu is not able to crack because of their rote learning in the State board examination. It has assumed emotional overtones with the death by hanging of a rural student Anita when she failed to get medical seat despite getting high marks in State board.
The DMK pitches for abolition of NEET and Congress president Rahul Gandhi has said it will not be thrust on unwilling States. On the other hand, BJP Minister Piyush Goyal has said NEET will continue this year also and Tamil Nadu will be persuaded to come on board, an embarrassment for the ruling AIADMK .
Stalin as well as Edappadi Palanisami focuses equally on by-elections. Stalin openly proclaims that AIADMK Government will fall once Rahul Gandhi becomes Prime Minister. Edapppadi says its Stalin’s pipe dream.
Both the AIADMK and the DMK are facing the elections for the first time without their charismatic leaders, J Jayalalitha who died in December 2016 and M Karunanidhi who died in August 2018. Unlike Edappadi and his Deputy O Pannerselvam who were in the shadows when Jayalalitha was around, Stalin had led the DMK campaign in 2016 when his father and party chief M Karunanidhi was around and won 89 out of 234 seats and its allies Congress seven seats and IUML one.
The DMK and the AIADMK are contesting 20 seats each and have left the remaining to allies. With the DMK are the Congress, the two communist parties, the IUML , MDMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. With the AIADMK are the BJP, the PMK and the DMDK of actor Vijayakanth, besides other sundry parties.
Prominent DMK candidates are late DMK president M Karunanidhi’s daughter and former Union Ministers A Raja( Nilgiris), Dayanidhi Maran( Central Chennai) and T R Baalu( Sriperumpudur). The only national leader for the AIADMK in the field is Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambithurai( Karur).
For the BJP, prominent faces are Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan( Kanyakumari), Start BJP president Tamilisai Soundararajan, former BJP State president C P Radhakrishann( Coimbatore) and national secretary H Raja( Sivaganga).
Prominent among Congress candidates, are senior president P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram( Sivaganga) , former TNCC presidents S Thirunavukkarasar (Tiruchi) and E V K Elangovan( Theni). Another former Union Minister is PMK’s sitting MP from Dharmapuri Anbumani Ramadoss.
Opinion surveys say the DMK may 30 out of 39 and Congress 2. The AIADMK is expected to win four and the BJP three. The trend may change as there is severe double incumbency against both Palanisamy and Modi and like elsewhere in the country, GST, demonetisation, jobs loss and farm distress are major issues which will decide the outcome.
The seats from Tamil Nadu may not decide who should rule in Delhi, Modi or Rahul Gandhi. National surveys say the BJP-led NDA may end up with a tally of 270 seats, the Congress and its allies with around 145 and other non-BJP, non-Congress formations another 115. UNI