In a first in two decades, T.N. sees multiple alliances

Chennai: Tamil Nadu, which has traditionally seen two-sided contests involving rainbow alliances headed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, is poised for a multi-cornered contest in the Assembly elections in 2016. Voters in the southern State are facing such a political option for only the third time in electoral history, the previous instances being in 1989 and 1996.

Tamil Nadu, which has traditionally seen two-sided contests involving rainbow alliances headed by the AIADMK and the DMK, is poised for a multi-cornered contest in the Assembly elections in 2016. File photo: R. Ashok

As things stand, half-a-dozen formations are in the fray. While the ruling AIADMK is set to go to the people in the company of several minor parties, the DMK has forged an alliance with the Congress and a couple of Muslim outfits. A five-party alliance headed by the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam, led by actor Vijayakant, which took shape on Wednesday, would have the two Left parties, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Vaiko and a Dalit party, Viduthualai Chiruthaigal Katchi, as constituents.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), projecting former Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss as its chief ministerial candidate, is trying its luck alone after a gap of 20 years. The BJP is expected to rope in a few insignificant parties. A pro-Tamil outfit, Naam Tamilar, headed by film director Seeman, has announced candidates for all 234 constituencies, but its voter base remains untested.

With too many aspirants for the Chief Minister’s post, it is going to be difficult for pollsters to predict the winner and the neutral voters in a predicament. In any election, it is the neutral and undecided voters and first-timer voters who could tilt the balance in favour of a candidate as the popular vote share of individual parties alone is inadequate to win a tough contest.

Limited choice in the past

In the past, this segment of neutral voters had a limited choice ever since the Congress ceased to be a serious contender for power in the State in 1971, after being dislodged by the DMK four years earlier. The subsequent emergence of the AIADMK had made it a two-cornered contest with the Congress aligning with either of the Dravidian parties. In 1989, when a divided AIADMK entered the fray as Jayalalithaa and Janaki factions, the Congress went alone making those Assembly elections a four-cornered contest. With diehard loyalists of the AIADMK split, it could be safely assumed that the undecided voters favoured the DMK helping it form the government after a 13-year gap. This inference could be drawn from the jump in the DMK’s vote share from 29.34 per cent in 1984 to 33.18 per cent in 1989, though the number of seats it contested was higher by 35.

However, this time it may not be easy for the undecided/unaffiliated voters to make a similar decisive choice on the polling day as more than one regional player is seeking to be a credible alternative to the Dravidian parties. Of them, the DMDK, which is now heading the third front called “Captain Vijayakant Front”, is the only party that has been significantly tested as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK.

The actor’s party had garnered 8.38 per cent of the total votes polled in his 2006 debut election taking on two powerful alliances led by the DMK and AIADMK. As a result, the DMK was able to form only a “minority” government for the first time in the post-Independence history of the State.

The MDMK, which had contested the 1996 elections in the company of the CPI(M) in a bid to challenge the DMK, could manage only 5.78 per cent of the votes polled. In 2001, the party as a lone ranger polled just 4.65 per cent of the votes.

The PMK had twice contested independent of the Dravidian parties — 1991 and 1996 and polled 5.89 per cent and 3.84 per cent of the total votes polled, respectively. The BJP’s highest vote share without the Dravidian parties’ support has been 2.22 per cent in 2011. Its independent popularity in the Modi era is yet to be ascertained.

Important segments

The non-Dravidian parties and alliances are banking on the support of two segments — the neutral and first-time voters, apart from their respective limited dedicated voter base. While it is true that a strong element of “voter fatigue” has set in due to the nearly half-a-century rule of the DMK and AIADMK, it is unclear to whose advantage this would work out to.

In a fragmented contest, a section of neutral and first-time voters might end up voting for a party/alliance which it deems would have a higher chance of winning rather than “wasting” their vote on a losing alliance. Also when there is more than one alternative to existing players, some voters could be confused about which to choose, more so when all of them share the same objective of rooting out corruption, shutting down liquor trade and ushering in development. Tamil Nadu has never had a coalition government and voters have generally been wary of throwing up a hung Assembly. But elections are all about surprises and dark horses.