Chennai: A high-voltage campaign for the crucial April 6 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry in the midst of the global novel coronavirus pandemic drew to a close on Sunday evening with leaders of various parties ending their electioneering either in their native towns or constituencies.
While AIADMK leader and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami wound up his campaign in his native Salem appealing to the electorate to vote on his performance, DMK leader M K Stalin at a public meeting in Chennai appealed to people to give him one chance to serve the people.
This is the first Tamil Nadu Assembly election in the absence of towering leaders such as former Chief Ministers J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi. The State is witnessing is a five cornered contest to elect 234 legislators.
While the AIADMK front comprises the BJP, PMK and smaller parties; the DMK is heading a rainbow alliance of the Congress, MDMK, two Left parties, two Muslim parties, MDMK and others. Actor Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) is in alliance with a few smaller parties. TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam has joined hands with Vijayakant’s DMDK, Owaisi’s AIMIM and the SDPI. Film director Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi has fielded an equal number of male and female candidates across the State.
By and large though, this election is seen as a straight contest between the AIADMK, which has ruled the State for the last 10 years, and the DMK, which is keen on returning to power. The other three players are expected to play spoilsport depending on their strengths in urban and rural areas or on the basis of support from caste influenced voters.
Unusually campaigning by the DMK, AIADMK and MNM had commenced last year itself. While DMK president M K Stalin began meeting the people though his Makkal Gram Sabha and Ungal Thogudhiyil Stalin (Stalin in your constituency) outreach programmes; AIADMK leader and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had gone campaigning during his official tours. Months before the Election Commission notified the schedule, the AIADMK had launched a campaign blitzkrieg under the theme ‘Vetri Nadai Podum Tamilagame’ (TN marching ahead victoriously).
Once the schedule was notified on February 26, political parties were taken aback by the short duration of less than a month available for finalising alliances and conducting the campaign.
While initially the campaign was focussed on voter fatigue and anti-incumbency, as days progressed, the AIADMK and DMK camps were caught in below the belt attacks and barbs. Half way through, the battle changed track with the DMK and its allies taking on the BJP, more than the AIADMK giving it the colour of a national election.
“Never has an Assembly election in Tamil Nadu in the recent past seen national leaders and Union Ministers hitting the campaign trails with such intensity,” pointed out analyst Mani. The BJP lineup included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, several union ministers, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, party president J P Nadda and an assortment of other leaders.
“If you had noticed carefully, the DMK and its allies began targetting the BJP accusing it of trying to communalise Tamil Nadu. Its leaders said that every vote for the AIADMK was akin to voting for the BJP as it alleged the ruling party in Tamil Nadu was subservient to the Centre,” said Mani.
The AIADMK and BJP began targetting the DMK as a party of rowdies. “This was a constant attack, to an extent that full-page advertisements were released in leading newspapers on Sunday in the form of news reports about the DMK’s excesses 10 years ago. Obviously, the AIADMK is trying its best to retain power projecting the DMK as an undesirable party,” he added.
The campaign also saw the Election Commission banning former Telecom Minister A Raja from campaigning for 48 hours after he made undesirable remarks about the Chief Minister. Quite a few leaders and candidates including DMK MP Kanimozhi also contracted COVID-19 during the campaign.