Tamil Nadu Assembly Election 2016: A high-octane contest in southern state

The Tamil Nadu is all set for the high-octane contest in the forthcoming Assembly polls scheduled on May 16 this year. Voting will be held in a single phase for the total 234 Assembly seats in the state. 

By Deepak Nagpal | By Biplob Ghosal | By Satya Prakash | Last Updated: May 17, 2016, 08:50 AM IST
Tamil Nadu Assembly Election 2016: A high-octane contest in southern state

The Tamil Nadu is all set for the high-octane contest in the forthcoming Assembly polls scheduled on May 16 this year. Voting will be held in a single phase for the total 234 Assembly seats in the state. 

The main fight is likely to be between two arch-rivals DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) – the current ruling party in the state. However, the other parties like Congress, BJP, Vijaykanth's DMDK and People's Welfare Front (PWF) will play a major role.

The parties and alliances in the fray for the forthcoming Assembly polls have almost sealed the seat-sharing deals with their respective allies. 

DMK, the main opposition party, has announced that it will fight the elections together with the Congress. Ruling party AIADMK has allied with smaller regional parties and given up seven of the 234 seats for them to contest. Vijaykanth's DMDK has forged an alliance with the People's Welfare Front (PWF). If latest developments are to be believed, former Union minister GK Vasan's Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) has also agreed to come under the umbrella of PWF. 

DMK has allotted its key ally - Congress 41 seats for the May 16 Assembly polls. Totally, the DMK has allotted 54 seats to its allies out of the total 234 assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu. 

With the present allotment to Congress, DMK has so far allotted 54 seats to its allies. 

After its efforts to cobble up a formidable alliance by roping in actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth-led DMDK into its fold did not materialise, DMK began the exercise of speeding up work to seal ties with smaller outfits and conclude seat-sharing talks with all partners. DMK allotted IUML, its long-time ally, five seats followed by five seats to MMK, another Muslim party. Also, it allotted one seat each to former IAS-officer led Dalit party Samuga Samathuva Padai, Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal-Thozhilalargan Katchi and Perunthalaivar Makkal Katchi. 

The DMK-Congress split had come against the backdrop of the arrests of former Union Minister A Raja and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP, in the alleged spectrum allocation scam. Differences over the Sri Lankan Tamils was also said to a prominent reason behind the break-up years ago.

Congress had contested the last Lok Sabha elections on its own and had drawn a blank. It had contested the last Assembly elections along with DMK but secured just five seats.

Key Candidates:

J Jayalalithaa

Iron Lady and political giant of Tamil Nadu and AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa, who has seen many ups and downs in her political career, will be trying her luck to bring her party back in power in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections.

With DMK star Karunanidhi on the wane and Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress almost a non-player in the southern state, 'Amma' led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has a strong chance of sweeping the high-voltage polls. It may be noted that the actor-turned politician practically reduced the opposition to a non-entity at the centre by winning 37 out of 39 seats in the 2015 Lok Sabha polls, when the NaMo wave was sweeping almost the entire country.

The AIADMK which has decided to go alone in the Assembly elections, might be a bit worried front as the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa is still going on. However, the party leaders have immense confidence in their charismatic leader, who has the calibre to deliver on governance.

Such is the persona of Jayalalithaa that her party leaders are literally at her feet. The mere sight of a helicopter carrying the AIADMK supremo is enough for her cabinet ministers to bow.

Well, it's just a matter of time now. On May 19, it will be clear whether the AIADMK juggernaut could roll down on the opposition in the upcoming Assembly elections.

Karunanidhi

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M Karunanidhi, who couldn't turn the tide in his favour in 2011, has an uphill task ahead of improving party's prospects in the state in the run-up to Tamil Assembly polls on May 16.

The poll-scarred veteran, who has not lost a single battle ever since his debut in 1957, has a huge responsibility of steering the DMK back to power after humiliating loss in the last Assembly elections and 2014 parliamentary polls.

The wheel-chair bound DMK chief's most daunting task is to boost the morale of the cadre, in the wake of successive loses at the Centre and in several states.

2016 polls would be his last elections in his political career and the DMK patriarch would like to repeat the 1989 victory when his party rose like a phoenix from the ashes in 1989 with him leading it to an impressive victory. But the corruption charges against his family and his confidantes like A Raja is a big worry for the party.

As part of measures to strengthen the party, the administrative structure of the party at the district level has been revamped. District secretaries are powerful in the DMK and the structure was revamped to make it broad based and more accountable.

For Karunanidhi, it's not just a a tight rope wall, but a do-or-die for the DMK, and the poll veteran and his supporters would be relying on the disproportionate assets case against Jayalalithaa, to turn the wave on their side.

Vijaykanth

Vijaykanth, fondly called as 'Captain', is a key player in the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections. The actor-turned politician has forged an alliance with People’s Welfare Front that comprises Vaiko’s MDMK the CPM, the CPI, and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).

The Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) chief is known for switching sides. He had aligned with the NDA in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, however, just two weeks ahead of the crucial parliamentary elections he announced to go alone. In 2011 Tamil Nadu polls, Vijaykanth had contested in alliance with Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and won 24 Assembly seats.

With 'Captain' joining hands with the four political parties and deciding to contest agaisnt the two gigiantic parties DMK, AIADMK, he could very well change the arithmetic of the upcoming polls.

Issues in Tamil Nadu Elections

With Tamil Nadu moving closer to May 16 - the date when the state's electorate will elect the new Assembly, some issues have taken centre stage and may decide the outcome of the elections, notwithstanding emotional factor attached with the pressing of the button on the electronic voting machine.

Corruption remains one of the hotly-debated topics in Tamil Nadu politics. And the person grabbing the most limelight is none other than incumbent Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. A special court in Bengaluru had found Jayalalithaa guilty of amassing assets disproportionate to her income while she was the Tamil Nadu chief minister during 1991-1996. Though the High Court had later acquitted the AIADMK chief, an appeal against her acquittal filed by the Karnataka government in the Supreme Court is still pending.

The main opposition DMK, meanwhile, continues to suffer from the consequences of the multi-crore 2G spectrum allocation scam. While senior state leader Vaiko has accused MK Stalin, the number two in DMK, of being behind the high-profile 2G scam, the case hearing underway in New Delhi may cast a shadow on DMK's poll campaign in Tamil Nadu. It may be remembered that the DMK has not managed to recover politically as well as electorally since the 2011 Assembly Election defeat that came in the backdrop of the 2G scam. To fight that image, the DMK has this time promised to set up a Lokayukta that will cover the chief minister and as well all his ministers.

And the corruption allegations facing the two main parties may help the DMDK-PWF alliance in the state which is projecting itself as a 'clean alternative' to the two parties that have ruled the state for decades.

Governance: Many allege, especially those in the Opposition, that governance has taken a back seat in Tamil Nadu politics. The state's economy has been marred by slow growth and development is happening at a snail's pace. Further, erosion in reputation of Tamil Nadu as an investor-friendly state has its image hard. The Nokia plant closure is a case in point.

Further, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has been accused of keeping a distance not just from Opposition leaders but also Union ministers and business leaders, that has further dented the image of the current leadership.

Freebies: Intertwined with the issue of governance (or misgovernance) is the issue of doling out freebies. Like the DMK government in the past which gave out among other things free TVs, the incumbent Jayalalithaa government has also been accused of seeking to win votes by doling out freebies and launching highly-subsidised schemes. While this may help the AIADMK win support, the state government has been accused of selling Central schemes as its own.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar recently said, "They are doing petty politics and fooling ‎voters by labelling their name on schemes that are essentially financed 90 percent by the Central government." The minister listed the rice distribution scheme for the poor as one example. "They are putting their own names and calling it as Amma rice while people say it should be called prime minister rice," he added.

Not long ago, the Supreme Court had observed that the announcement of freebies “influences all people” and “shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree”.

Prohibition: Another issue that has taken centre stage this election is the ban on liquor, amid the wave of implementation of similar measures across the country. Almost all parties in the state have made prohibition a poll promise.

The DMK has listed prohibition as its first promise in the poll manifesto. Jayalalithaa, on her part, has said liquor prohibition would be introduced in the state in phases if AIADMK is voted back to power.

Banning the sale and consumption of liquor is never an easy decision as it affects the revenue collections of a state. In Tamil Nadu, liquor is retailed by state owned outlets and is a major revenue source. With a slowing economy, it remains to be seen how the measure will be implemented in the state and how soon.

Among some other issues that could influence the voters in the current elections include social justice, state of industries, workers’ rights and education.