Chennai: Corruption and quality of governance are major campaign themes in the five states going to the polls starting Monday, but nowhere is it more evident than in Tamil Nadu.
Even as political parties sharpen their attacks on one another, the Congress and its ally-cum-Tamil Nadu`s ruling DMK are facing most of the heat over corruption.
Political activists and pundits say this is but natural, considering the involvement of DMK veterans in the mind-boggling spectrum allocation scam that has also dented the image of the Congress-led coalition.
While DMK leader and former communications minister A Raja is in jail, investigators have raided the offices of a TV station linked to the family of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi as well as an NGO which counts Karunanidhi`s daughter and DMK MP Kanimozhi as a patron.
Karunanidhi, one of India`s most experienced politicians, continues to deny the involvement of his family, party and colleagues in any corruption and says no one can be deemed guilty until proved in a court of law.
Tamil Nadu`s political theme will cast a shadow on nearby Puducherry, which too boasts of the same actors as in Tamil Nadu: DMK, AIADMK, PMK and Congress.
"The outcome in Tamil Nadu will tell us how potent an issue like corruption can be in elections," political analyst and election watcher GVL Narasimha Rao said.
Added Yogesh Vajpeyi, another analyst: "Corruption coupled with bad governance is an issue in these elections. This time it is likely to be combined with nepotism.
"To some extent, (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh has lost his image. Although he is considered personally clean, many feel he failed to control corruption right under his nose."
The DMK is overtly confident but insiders admit that the going on April 13 will be tough. Pre-election surveys say the rival coalition led by the AIADMK has an edge in the battle for the 234-member Tamil Nadu Assembly.
At her election rallies, AIADMK supremo and former chief minister J Jayalalithaa has been hitting out at Karunanidhi and the DMK on corruption. AIADMK members also distribute MMS and video clips of Raja`s arrest.
The spectrum scam is not the only corruption issue worrying the Congress that has propped up the DMK in Tamil Nadu since 2006.
A snowballing crisis related to the myriad corruption charges in the conduct of last year`s Commonwealth Games -- and the money wasted in supposedly sprucing up Delhi.
While the DMK is a potent force only in Tamil Nadu, the Congress has vital stakes in all five states. It is in power in Puducherry and Assam while it is aiming to form government in Kerala. It hopes to be on the winner`s side in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
"The Congress will have to explain the actions of not only (its leader) Suresh Kalmadi regarding the Commonwealth Games but also what the DMK did (vis-a-vis the spectrum saga)," said a Congress insider.
"Corruption till now has not been such a potent issue; it is rather governance which people look at. Now corruption has come up as the factor which proves bad governance," said analyst Rao.
"Ultimately Tamil Nadu will be the key factor," he added. "We have to see if corruption can be a salient issue in the electoral scene."
But corruption, poor governance and inflation are talking points in the other states also, including Kerala and West Bengal where the Left is a target of the Opposition.
Not everyone, however, feels that concerns over corruption will lead to loss of significant electoral support -- and votes. Some argue that only urban voters are bothered about corruption.