Will Tamil Nadu elections be a virtual war?

Ahead of the May 16 Assembly elections two political analysts weigh in the coalition conundrum, national players and social media outreach by political parties
Will Tamil Nadu elections be a virtual war?
Illustration by Varghese Kallada

Chennai

The 2016 election in Tamil Nadu is going to be a multi-cornered contest with major and minor political parties entering into (or moving out of) alliances. There is also a big possibility of post-poll alliance, if there is going to be hung assembly.  It’s all about picking the right partner. Political parties are yet to decide on alliances.  
The only prepoll alliance sealed clearly so far is that of DMK and Congress.  Other parties such as AIADMK, DMDK, PMK and BJP are all yet to find an alliance partner.  In the case of AIADMK, the party may not require support from other parties and they might go it alone.  
History has shown one clear disadvantage for the ruling party both in Kerala and Tamil Nadu is the anti-incumbency factor. Another issue on which the ruling and the other parties differ is prohibition.  
The People’s Welfare Front (PWF) has launched their website and social media confirming their alliance and their seriousness to fight the forthcoming assembly election.  The parliamentary election NDA alliance (BJP, DMDK and PMK) is a non-starter.  
PMK has gone ahead in announcing the CM candidate and the issues in which they will be interested in and do for Tamil Nadu.  Their newspaper campaign much ahead of the announcement of the election date and on social media is a new trend in Tamil Nadu.  
Knowing fully well their presence is not significant in Tamil Nadu and being a party that is ruling the country, the BJP may play it safe this election because they need support in the parliament particularly in the Rajya Sabha from all parties. 
Smaller and new to the game parties such as Naam Tamilar Katchi led by Seeman and Tamil Desiya Munnani of P. Nedumaran and the Pachai Tamizhagam (Green Tamil Nadu Party) of SP Udayakumar all of them have not tested their strength in the elections but their issue oriented politics is something new to Tamil Nadu and their articulation of issues (other than Sri Lanka) affecting Tamil Nadu and its growth is worth reflecting.  
In Europe no party can form government without the support of the green party and in itself the party cannot come to power.  This shows the importance of environmental issues. SP Udayakumar may attract the youth whose increasing concern is issues relating to environment.  
So far only the DMK and Congress alliance and the four party alliance of People’s Welfare Front (PWF) are concrete and all other major parties look like going it alone to the voters in this election.  The DMDK is the only party which is yet to decide on its partner and alliance. 
Last time in 2011 they sprang the surprise of being the second largest party and thereby becoming the opposition party in alliance with AIADMK.  The political condition was totally different in the last election in TN. 
The anti-incumbency factor, Sri Lankan issue and corruption were the major issues which ousted the DMK from power.  
The political climate of 2016 is different and the DMDK has to kill its suspense sooner; otherwise it may not get a partner, as well as the number of constituencies it wants, as other political parties have started receiving applications from the candidates and almost deciding the constituencies.
Poll promises galore: 
Political parties such as DMK and PMK have very clearly indicated their choice for prohibition.  An issue that every political party will try and get mileage on is the Sri Lankan issue.   
Release of those involved in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and the rights of the fishermen to fish in the Katchathivu area without being arrested and imprisoned by the Sri Lankan authorities may constitute as an election issue. 
The earlier stand of parties on Tamil Eelam, speedy rehabilitation of Tamils in the places of civil war which displaced huge number of people, may not be the issues of major political parties but Naam Tamilar Katchi led by Seeman and Tamil Desiya Munnani of P. Nedumaran may highlight the ‘Sri Lankan Tamil’ issue.  
Overseas Tamils issue is not going to affect the parties in Tamil Nadu who are in the fray. Sri Lanka is not going to be a serious issue even for People’s Welfare Front (PWF) whose leaders were once known for championing the Sri Lankan Tamils cause. Cauvery and Mullai Periyar may be highlighted by the political parties as a major issue during this election.  
‘Freebies’ are not going to be questioned by the political parties.  The parties and alliances may scale down the items for ‘freebies’ but still political parties would like to woo the voters from the marginalized sections of the society with some promises of ‘freebies’.  
Virtual presence, real results: 
Social media plays an important role in the 21st century elections.  Social media needs new items every day so that the news or input doesn’t get stale.  It is the newness that keeps social media interesting and alive, so political parties need professionals to handle this. 
And even with professional help, the content for social media has to come from the party.  So the parties have to get creative; otherwise they won’t be able to keep the interest of the youth alive.  As the election gets closer, social media can play a major role in getting the youth for rallies and meetings through messages on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook. 
This is one segment in the election that could attract the youth and the tech-savvy, but how many have access to all this is another concern.  Not all the youth who have access to social media may be educated and employed. So traditional methods of electioneering - such as meetings, rallies, door to door campaign, meeting the voters in public places - are all needed.  
A good combination of traditional methods and an effective use of social media will give an edge for a political party to come to power. 
The writer is a political analyst

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