Barely five months ahead of the 2021 assembly poll in Tamil Nadu, there is the usual pre-election buzz. While political grandstanding, posturing and raucous campaigns would be the order of the day, the two key parties in the fray, the incumbent AIADMK and opposition DMK appear to have worked out the rough arithmetic of seat-sharing.
Before allies assess their equity and approach them with their shopping bags, alliance leaders have completed their analysis and made an estimate of how many seats they would need to contest for a decent strike rate. While the DMK is keen to contest close to 200 seats, while acknowledging the need to cobble together a strong alliance, the challenge for AIADMK would be to appease tough allies the PMK and the BJP with equitable distribution.
In the final tally, allies, big or small, would count. In the DMK-led alliance, for instance, the Congress is the second largest constituent. “Our allies have to understand the DMK has the strength to defeat the AIADMK-led alliance and they need to be accommodative,” said a senior DMK leader, seeking anonymity. In the 2011 assembly election, M Karunanidhi was generous enough to part with 63 seats to ally Congress which won a mere five seats in the wake of the 2G scam.
In the 2016 state election too, the Congress fared poorly. They won just eight of the 41 seats. “The AIADMK gained by opting for constituencies where the Congress contested,” said the DMK leader, adding that his party would contest at least 185 seats this time.
“The Congress should understand that to develop their party in Tamil Nadu, they need the DMK to be in power,” said the senior leader. The DMK hopes for a 70% strike rate and victory in 125 to 130 constituencies.
DMK president M K Stalin is expected to play hardball. But the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee is unfazed. “The DMK and Congress have a great understanding,” said TNCC chief K S Alagiri. The DMK is likely to restrict the Congress to 25 seats or less with the VCK being allotted 10 or thereabouts. The VCK whose strength lies in the dalit pockets in the northern districts may be expected to contest a few seats in its kitty in the DMK’s rising sun symbol. The CPI, CPM, Vaiko’s MDMK, the Muslim party IUML, PT, educationist T R Pachamuthu’s IJK and smaller communal and caste outfits may be allocated around 20 in all, with many of them having to contest on a DMK symbol.
In the AIADMK camp, senior leaders say the party is likely to follow the 2011 seat-sharing formula when it contested 160 seats under J Jayalalithaa’s leadership. It’s ally the BJP is proving to be more than an irritant.
A belligerent Tamil Nadu unit of the party has launched an intense Hindutva programme, including the ‘Vetrivel Yatra’, in the hope of quickly shoveling people’s goodwill and strengthening its pro-Hindu vote bank before firming up its alliance strategy with the AIADMK.
The BJP is unlikely to be happy with the AIADMK’s offer of 20 seats. Sources say if Rajinikanth takes the political plunge, the BJP would opt for an alliance with the actor’s Rajini Makkal Mandram, otherwise, it would settle for the AIADMK. There are whispers of actor Kamal Haasan teaming up with a saffron combination. “MNM chief Kamal Haasan has always indicated that we should be prepared to face elections alone,” said a senior MNM leader. “But we are not ruling out other options.
”As for the PMK, which has been building its vanniyar bloc, the party could prove to be a tough negotiator. Pushing for a coalition set-up, the senior leader said, “The AIADMK should propose power sharing and start a new ‘coalition’ trend in the state.”
Faced with a resurgent DMK-led alliance, the erstwhile spoilers or the ‘3% to 5% 2019 vote share club’ — the AMMK-led T T V Dhinakaran, the MNM, if it opts to set out on its own and Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi — may be defanged this election.
With the poll battle slated to be a tough one with focus more on powerful alliances and caste arithmetic rather than leadership dynamism, strategists have been working overtime, feeling the pulse of voters and assessing not just the strengths and weaknesses of rivals, but that of allies too.
Then there is the Rajinikanth factor that may well turn the arithmetic upside down.