Across districts in southern and central Tamil Nadu, the Edappadi Palaniswami government does not seem to be facing significant anti-incumbency. However, what appears set to cost the CM is his perceived “subservience” before the “Modi-Shah” duo of the BJP.
In the AIADMK-led alliance, the BJP has been given 20 seats. In the 2016 Assembly polls, the BJP had got 2.84% of the votes contesting on 188 seats, forfeiting deposits in 180 and winning none.
The BJP’s spectre also hangs heavy because, while EPS is seen as efficient and praised for holding the AIADMK together after J Jayalalithaa’s death, there doesn’t seem to be much recall value about his government’s achievements. Lacking both the charisma of Jayalalithaa and the oratory of M Karunanidhi, EPS is failing to put this across.
The minorities — Christians at 6.12% of the population, and Muslims at 5.86% are the largest groups — are also upset over the AIADMK’s alliance with the BJP.
Rajeshwari, who runs a shop in Melur near Madurai, and hails from neighbouring Sivaganga district, says, “My family has always supported Amma (Jayalalithaa), but this time, let’s see.”
A woman at the next shop who doesn’t want to be identified says, “The AIADMK should not have tied up with the BJP… What has Modi done for Tamil Nadu?”
At Valayapatti village in Virudhunagar, Eshwari says she will vote for Two Leaves (the AIADMK symbol), as for her it will always be Amma’s party.
Barring a few constituencies, the third players — be it the Makkal Needhi Maiam of Kamal Haasan or T T V Dinakaran’s AMMK — don’t seem to be in the fight. However, the AMMK could cut into AIADMK votes at places.
In Thirumangalam near Madurai, Vijay, a lorry driver, believes EPS has “prostrated” before Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Incidentally, one defining image of EPS is him paying his respects to Jayalalithaa’s confidante Sasikala in this manner.) Belonging to Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam’s village, he has always voted for the AIADMK, Vijay says, but not now. “I drive my lorry to many states. None has surrendered before the Centre like our government.”
A few days ago, in a curious clarification, the AIADMK said its alliance with the BJP was only “electoral”, that there was no “mingling of ideologies”. Says Shaktivel, a local AIADMK functionary in Tirunelveli, “The BJP has been given only 20 seats. The BJP issue will not come up outside these 20 seats.”
But in Tenkasi, Aziz Kani, an electrician, says the AIADMK should not think its association with the BJP is not being noticed elsewhere. He says that this is “the only reason” the Muslims will vote for the DMK this time.
Aziz adds that for Muslims, it is not even a factor that the AMMK has put up a Muslim candidate in Tenkasi.
“This time the vote is to defeat the AIADMK because it is with the BJP. There is no community decision as such… everyone knows all these things,” Aziz’s friend Shahul Hameed says.
Senior DMK leader Tiruchi Siva says there is huge disenchantment with the AIADMK. “People are disgusted.”
Unsure of the minority vote, the AIADMK is watching closely the women voters, for long Jayalalithaa’s mainstay. The party has promised free washing machines and travel concessions to women.
Meanwhile, there is another rumour building up about the government as voting day, April 1, nears. Voters talk about distribution of money, and that there could be a lockdown post-voting to do some “gol maal (irregularities)” since counting day is a month away.