he by-election result of two Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu sprang a surprise to both the ruling and opposition fronts. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was jubilant on wresting the seats from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress. The AIADMK secured 60.29% and 55.88% votes in Vikiravandi and Nanguneri constituencies, while the DMK and Congress were restricted to 36.48% and 36.29% votes in these constituencies.
The DMK camp was highly confident of the outcomes, but the results have forced the party and the alliance back to the drawing board. The victory of the AIADMK has overshadowed some infighting among the camps of chief minister and his deputy.
CANDIDATE SELECTION GONE WRONG
The loss was partially attributed to the candidate selection of both DMK and Congress. The DMK fielded a relatively lesser known face in Vikiravandi where the party lost badly to AIADMK. The influential Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in the district, supported by the dominant vanniyar community, tilted the arithmetic in favour of the AIADMK candidate. The Congress’s choice of outsider in Nanguneri backfired unlike the Assembly election held in 2016. The candidate here, Ruby R Manoharan, a Chennai-based builder was in contention for the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat but was denied the seat then and Nanguneri legislator H Vasantha Kumar was allotted the seat and won from there. The allocation of seat to Manoharan was seen as a compromise formula and the local party members were not satisfied with the second outsider in two elections.
Also read: By-elections Conclude in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, DMK Set to Take on AIADMK in TN
However, the selection of candidates are not the only causes for the loss. The DMK and its allies have alleged the use of state machinery and cash distribution by the ruling front to snatch victory. Large-scale money distribution is not new to the state, particularly in by-elections.
With the Assembly election due in another 20 months, it’s time for DMK to work on its strategy. The DMK secured more than 50% votes in 10 of the 13 constituencies it won in the by-elections held to 22 Assembly constituencies along with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The victory margins of the DMK candidates were high compared to the margins of the AIADMK candidates. The absence of Bharatiya Janata Party in the campaign, too, has favoured the AIADMK since it had to defend itself alone.
The double anti-incumbency factor against the BJP-led union government and the state government handed a glorious victory to the DMK-led front in the general elections and the Assembly by-elections but the reduction of victory margin to about 8,000 votes in the deferred Vellore LS constituency sounded the first warning to the DMK camp. However, the recent bypoll results show that the similar pattern has been repeated.
Banking only on anti-incumbency may not pay dividends for long, while focussing more on providing effective governance if elected to power could turn the fortunes for DMK.
The preference to family members of the top and second level leaders of the party has jolted the aspirations of several members of the party. The elevation of Udhayandhi Stalin to the post of DMK youth wing secretary and the tickets to the family members of the former ministers and party strongmen were proved favourable for the opposition. Incidentally, Stalin himself was holding the post for 34 years till 2017. In the 2019 LS election, six family members of DMK leaders were allotted seats and eventually they all won the mandate. The AIADMK, too. has followed suit by selecting four family members of the party leaders, with only the son of the deputy chief minister winning the election.
The pace at which the family members of the DMK leaders are rising up in ranks of leadership has brought the spotlight of criticism on it. Even though reactions from party members were not loud, the opposition led by the AIADMK and BJP left no stone unturned to make it into a big issue.
WHAT IS IN STORE FOR DMK?
The DMK should take into consideration that the upcoming election to the state Assembly is not going to be an easy task. The over dependence on its president and over projection of his son, a film star, along with their inability to impress the voters with their oratory skills are adding to the party’s problems. The AIADMK leaders, even though, they fall under the same category, but their ability to hold on to their traditional vote bank is helping their cause. The party managed to win the numbers required for majority in the Assembly, even though it was decimated in LS elections.
Also read: DMK May Have Upper Hand in Vellore Lok Sabha Seat Elections
The AIADMK still needs the support of the union government since the case against 11 legislators including the deputy chief minister is pending while the legislators who defected later to the TTV Dhinakaran camp were disqualified.
The alliance arithmetic and the anti-incumbency of 10 years’ rule of AIADMK still favours the DMK camp, but the over dependence on anti incumbency alone and not concentrating on the issues to be addressed can cause a hurdle in DMK’s path.
The growing influence of BJP on AIADMK is also major a concern as the AIADMK lacks charismatic leadership. The traditional route of taking over another party has been the reason behind the success story of the BJP. The AIADMK needs to tread carefully, while DMK allies have to strategise better to overcome this threat.