When AIADMK decided to contest in most of the parliamentary constituencies in the western region, it was seen as a wise decision. The party was certain of winning at least a handful of constituencies, counting on the support of the dominant Vellala Gounders, the community to which CM Palaniswami belongs.
Also, several of the ministers holding coveted portfolios like local administration, public works, higher education and animal husbandry were from the Kongu region following the party’s stupendous performance in the 2016 assembly polls.
AIADMK won 41 out of 47 assembly seats in 2016 assembly polls and also swept the region in parliamentary polls under former CM Jayalalithaa. Belying the expectations of AIADMK, the voters in the Kongu region handed out a clear mandate to the DMK.
The AIADMK chose to contest in seven out of the nine constituencies – Krishnagiri, Salem, Namakkal, Erode, Tirupur, Pollachi and The Nilgiris, while its alliance parties PMK and BJP contested from Dharmapuri and Coimbatore respectively. The DMK has made a clean sweep with a comfortable vote margin in most of the constituencies.
Particularly, the loss in Salem, CM Palaniswami’s home turf, is seen as a serious setback to the party’s leadership. The AIADMK was confident of a win after multiple visits by the CM to the region, giving boost to infrastructure projects in the district. But the DMK ended the winning streak of AIADMK with its dramatic triumph in Salem parliamentary constituency after about 39 years.
The party last won the polls in 1980 elections. Besides the slow industrial growth, loss of jobs, poor infrastructure and dismal performance of AIADMK MP’s in the last five years, the failure of the party to gauge the mood of people had also cost it dearer. What also worked out against the AIADMK in its own traditional stronghold region was the wave of protests by people against some major projects implemented by the government.
Several projects including Chennai-Salem expressway, GAIL pipeline and installation of power transformers had forced the Kongu belt to switch loyalty. Also, the absence of charismatic J Jayalalithaa and an anti-incumbency wave against AIADMK and its national ally of BJP have contributed to the defeat.
Political observers say that the results have clearly indicated that the EPS-led government does not enjoy the goodwill of the people. “Lack of credibility combined with the anti-Modi factor, which is strong in Tamil Nadu, has been revealed in the polls. It is an overall erosion of the party,” said Professor Ramu Manivannan, head, Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Madras. He also added that in other parts of Tamil Nadu, the depleting votes of AIADMK were compensated by its allies, which however didn’t happen in western region.
“This is evident with the huge vote margin among parties that came third in other parts of Tamil Nadu, while this difference is narrower in Western Tamil Nadu alone. So, the allies haven’t contributed to the declining vote share of AIADMK,” he said.