Tamil Nadu

What is MK Stalin’s calculation in Tamil Nadu?

It is a given that the DMK would like to win most of the Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu for its voice to be heard in New Delhi. But in the context of the state’s politics, MK Stalin will be more excited about the results of the byelections to the 22 assembly seats (18 of them voted on 18 April, the remaining four will vote on 19 May). This is a virtual mini-assembly election as a hundred percent strike rate will anoint Stalin as Tamil Nadu’s chief minister.

In the 234-member House, the AIADMK has 113 members now, excluding the speaker while DMK-led alliance has 97 MLAs. TTV Dhinakaran is an independent lawmaker in the Assembly. With the half-way mark at 117, the AIADMK needs to win at least five of the 22 seats to be technically in a majority. Though a slender majority of one MLA will hardly give chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami a peaceful night’s sleep. 

The DMK on the other hand will have to win 21/22 seats in order to the reach the 118 mark. Extremely tough, say DMK leaders, given that barring Tiruvarur where the byelection was caused due to the demise of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, the others are largely AIADMK strongholds. 

“Anything we gain is actually a plus for us,” said a member of the DMK leadership team. 

Interestingly, MK Stalin’s calculation will depend not just on the results that will emerge but also on the picture that unfolds in Delhi post 23 May and the sentiment of seniors in the party. 

With a split in the traditional AIADMK vote between the AIADMK and Dhinakaran’s party, the DMK is looking to gain. Also since most of the MLAs whose disqualification caused the bypolls are now with Dhinakaran, it is expected that some of them too may win. If Dhinakaran puts up a strong showing in terms of vote share, even if they don’t convert into seats, it will compel many in the ruling camp to shift loyalties and create tremors in the EPS tent. 

If the DMK wins up to 16 of the 22 seats, it will be a case of so near and yet so far for Stalin. Insiders in the DMK point out that the party has been out of power for eight years and may not want to wait till 2021 for the next assembly election. At the moment, both options are on Stalin’s table – either the government crumbles allowing him an opportunity to form the government with his own members or fresh assembly elections. 

Here, the role of Delhi is crucial. If the BJP returns to power, the DMK is unsure if it will allow the EPS government to fall. Unless Narendra Modi himself is short of numbers in the Lok Sabha and may want to keep the DMK in good humour. EPS in that case could be the sacrificial lamb.

Also the DMK will want assembly elections immediately if the EPS regime falls. If a BJP government takes over in Delhi, it  may put Tamil Nadu under a spell of President’s rule for six months, robbing the DMK of momentum. 

In the short-term, Stalin gets to test the opposition numbers if the no-confidence motion the DMK has moved against the Assembly speaker is admitted. If EPS is not able to save Speaker Dhanapal, his government will go automatically. 

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