As per pollsters, the DMK headed by MK Stalin and its allies, are predicted to bag as many as 175-195 seats while the ruling party, the AIADMK, and its allies might have to contend with 38-54 seats. The result of the exit polls is an indicator that bipolar politics is set to continue in TN at least in the near future despite the growing significance of MNM, AMMK and other fledgeling parties. The verdict on May 2 would reveal which party would rule the state for the next five years. Unlike past Assembly elections, the loser on this occasion will not just have to contend with sitting in the Opposition benches as the outcome of this poll could significantly alter the future course of the losing party and even threaten the relevance of leaders who led their party to polls.
For the AIADMK, a failure to secure a majority would take the party back to the late-2016 period and initiate a fresh struggle for the party’s top post. Edappadi K Palaniswami, whose performance as Chief Minister had surpassed the expectations of many in TN and has even won hearts, would find out how many of his party cadre are truly with him and who worked against him in the polls. Four years ago, when OPS and EPS joined hands to keep VK Sasikala and her family out of the party, the division was clear: Panneerselvam would run the party while Palaniswami would head the government. As we await results, EPS and his supporters have clearly overshadowed the party’s top leader from the south.
The AIADMK, which has been dominated by leaders from the southern parts of the state belonging to the Mukkulathor community under the stewardship of VK Sasikala for the past several years, has now transformed into a party where leaders from the Kongu region call the shots. A drubbing for AIADMK in the Assembly elections would give enough reason for the sidelined leaders from the southern parts of the state to take back control of the party. Besides, the situation would be ripe for Sasikala, who announced her decision to stay away from politics ahead of the elections, to make a serious pitch for party leadership as her ‘staunch’ opponent in the past, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam appears to have reconciled with her and might not be averse to handing over the AIADMK general-secretary’s post to Sasikala in exchange for a ‘Leader of Opposition’ position.
Despite losing polls, if EPS did manage to transform his clout over western TN into votes and pulls off a few surprises in the delta region and northern districts with the support of PMK, he would want to head the party and strengthen his base as an effective ‘Leader of Opposition’. Either way, leadership struggle would once again raise its ugly head in the AIADMK and could turn out to be a brutal, no-holds-barred contest if the party loses polls. In such a scenario, the AIADMK’s chief ally – the BJP might also have to put to rest, or at least temporarily retire its long-standing dream of making a dent in the Dravidian heartland.
For MK Stalin, a defeat or even a close contest – as unlikely as it seems, - would mean a serious review of the party’s choice of allies, and the likelihood that the DMK president’s strategic decisions would come under scrutiny. On the off chance that the AIADMK sweeps the polls, the DMK, which has been out of power for over 10 years now, could even struggle to keep its cadre and voter base intact. A victorious AIADMK under Palaniswami would be a far more formidable political rival than it has ever been in the past four years.
For the party that picks the shorter straw come counting day on May 2, a bleak future in Tamil Nadu’s political scene might be on the anvil. Whoever loses this election, better come up with a solid contingency plan – for it would be a question of staying relevant in the evolving milieu of change in TN’s political scene.