BJP, AIADMK take stock of their prospects going separately in Tamil Nadu

BJP hopes the NDA surpasses the 2014 mark of 18.8 per cent vote share in Tamil Nadu with a clutch of seats, which AIADMK dismisses.

ByR Rangaraj

Published Apr 22, 2024 | 11:00 AMUpdatedApr 22, 2024 | 11:00 AM

BJP supporters in Tamil Nadu on polling day (X).

The BJP hopes to do well in about a dozen constituencies of the 39 Lok Sabha seats that are up for grabs in Tamil Nadu, although the rival AIADMK and DMK pooh-pooh the party’s claims.

The AIADMK, which parted ways with the saffron party, has invited trouble by fielding weak candidates in several constituencies in the State, in sharp contrast to the high-profile candidates of the BJP in several seats.

Thus, Union minister L Murugan (Nilgiris), former Union minister Pon Radhakrishnan (Kanyakumari), former Governor Tamizhisai Soundararajan (Chennai South), and BJP state chief K Annamalai (Coimbatore) have worked relentlessly in the last fortnight to emerge as leading contenders.

Similarly, the alliance with the Vanniyar-dominated Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) has given the BJP-led alliance a significant boost in northern Tamil Nadu. One such is Dharmapuri, where Sowmiya Anbumani Ramadoss, wife of former Union minister and PMK president Anbumani Ramadoss, has stolen the show. Arakkonam, Arani, Vellore, Cuddalore, Villupuram, Krishnagiri, Salem and Kallakurichi are other seats.

Just as in 2014, when Anbumani won the Dharmapuri seat, defeating both DMK and AIADMK, PMK believes Sowmiya has done enough to regain the seat for the PMK. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even sent a message congratulating Sowmya Anbumani, almost declaring her the winner, though counting is 4 June.

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Mukkalathors, Gounders targets of BJP, AIADMK

Besides, two other allies—the leaders of splinter AIADMK groups, former chief minister O Panneerselvam (Ramanathapuram), and TTV Dhinakaran (Theni)—have made massive efforts to win the support of the dominant Mukkalathor community for the NDA.

Their support could spill over to other Lok Sabha constituencies in southern Tamil Nadu, where the Mukkalathor community is robust. BJP sources believe that O Panneerselvam and TTV Dhinakaran could be close second, if not winners, pushing the AIADMK to the background.

Two high-profile candidates of the New Justice Party (AC Shanmugham from Vellore) and IJK (Parivendhar from Perambalur) in the NDA camp have pumped enormous resources into the campaign. Both are educationists whose institutions generate enough cash to sustain their political activities.

Nainar Nagendran (Tirunelveli) and K P Ramalingam (Namakkal) are well-known former AIADMK leaders now in the BJP. In contrast, many of the AIADMK candidates are new faces.

This situation led to a crisis for AIADMK, which struggled to retain its cadres and voters in the face of the aggressive NDA campaign led by PM Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

The BJP hopes that the NDA will surpass the 2014 mark of 18.8 percent vote share in Tamil Nadu and grab a clutch of seats, higher than the two seats it won in 2014.

However, the AIADMK has dismissed such calculations of the BJP, referring to the party’s weak base in the State and the lack of organized poll machinery. AIADMK sources confirm that the BJP could emerge second in some seats, pushing the AIADMK to third position, as in Kanniyakumari and Dharmapuri.

In fact, AIADMK fancies its chances in Kallakurichi, Salem, Coimbatore, Erode, Pollachi, and Tiruppur in the western belt, where it banks on the support of the Gounders.

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Dalits, minorities factors

However, its prospects have dimmed in the South, once the party’s stronghold. The Mukkalothor community resents the Gounder’s dominance and the expulsion of leaders like Panneerselvam, Dhinakaran, and his aunt Sasikala Natarajan, a close confidante of former chief minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa.

Party insiders concede that in the North, too, the PMK could strengthen the NDA and weaken the AIADMK. Still, they hope to reach out to the Dalits, who, by and large, went against the party for forging an alliance with the PMK in 2019 and also the 10.5 per cent reservation quota for the backward Vanniyar community, the Dalits’ traditional rival, just before the 2021 Assembly polls.

The AIADMK also believes that severing ties with the BJP could dent the minority vote bank of the INDIA Bloc. However, the AIADMK’s move has not cut much ice with the minorities, who seem to be solidly behind the DMK-Congress alliance.

The strategy of fielding Christian candidates and obtaining the support of the AIMIM looks like a desperate move to regain the confidence of the minorities. The reluctance of AIADMK leaders to criticise PM Modi and call for a vote out of his government has given fodder to the DMK charge that the AIADMK and the BJP have a secret understanding.

All these factors have ensured that the DMK-led alliance is at a pole position. That is why the INDIA Bloc could be ahead of the NDA in the first phase of polling on April 19, even at the national level.

(R Rangaraj is a senior journalist based in Chennai. He has covered elections since 1977. Views are personal.)