Tamil Nadu is one of the most fascinating electoral contests this general election. It was a contest between two formidable fronts. The BJP stitched together an alliance with the AIADMK, bringing other smaller parties like the PMK and DMDK into the fold while the DMK worked with the Congress, MDMK, VCK and the Left. The X-factor at least in some constituencies was TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK and to a lesser extent, Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam.
Most pollsters have put their money on the DMK front doing exceedingly well, picking up close to 32 seats out of 39 in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The election in Vellore was cancelled.
However, psephologist Arun Krishnamurthy who spent an enormous amount of time on the field, collecting data, both pre-poll and doing an exit poll for Thanthi TV, has a different take from the rest. He got the return of Jayalalithaa in 2016 spot on and this time predicts, the NDA won’t do as badly as most people are predicting. Arun calls this election a seat-by-seat election with local factors coming into play. So the question is whether Tamil Nadu will spring a surprise like the way pollsters are saying Bengal could. 23 May will reveal that.
Meanwhile Arun Krishnamurthy analysed every seat in this elaborate interview with T S Sudhir for FilterKaapiLive.com.
Sudhir : This is the first big election with the two big leaders, Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi not there on the scene. Do you think it was a one-sided election largely with the DMK gaining from the anti-incumbency both against the BJP at the Centre and the AIADMK in the state or was there a keen contest?
Arun : At the beginning of the year, almost everybody believed that Tamil Nadu was a one-sided match and the DMK front would win all 40 seats. However, opinion started changing once the AIADMK alliance took shape. The cadre in the AIADMK front was hopeful that there were a few seats where they could stop the DMK victory run. This election has definitely been a contest like never before in Tamil Nadu as the players are completely different from past elections. Especially with new leadership in every party, this has been a keen contest.
Sudhir : Let us go seat by seat, starting with the constituencies in Chennai.
Arun : Chennai has three constituencies plus Sriperumbudur on the outskirts. North and Central Chennai and Sriperumbudur look likely to go to the DMK alliance while in South Chennai which has some of the largest assembly constituencies in the state like IT hub Sholinganallur, there is a good contest. There is a sharp BJP votebank and fishing community vote here. Fisheries minister D Jayakumar’s son Jayavardhan is the sitting MP from here against well-known Tamil poet Thamizhachi Thangapandian of the DMK. The Makkal Needhi Maiam could take away about 5-6 per cent vote share here. Whose vote they eat into – the DMK or the AIADMK, will decide the winner. TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK is also playing the role of a minor spoiler in this seat.
Sudhir : Next comes Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram on the outskirts of Chennai.
Arun : Thiruvallur is a contest between AIADMK and the Congress. The two-time sitting MP Dr P Venugopal gains from the alliance factor of the AIADMK, PMK, DMDK which has a big votebank here. I see it going to AIADMK. Kanchipuram is a AIADMK vs DMK battle where the DMK has a clear edge.
Sudhir : Let us move to Arakkonam, Arani and Tiruvannamalai constituencies next.
Arun : Arakkonam has a DMK vs PMK contest. Here the PMK has done well for itself. Whoever wins will not win by a large margin. It could be about 10000 votes margin victory for PMK because they have done well in three assembly constituencies under Arakkonam Lok Sabha seat.
Arani is a Congress vs AIADMK. Here the caste arithmetic and the PMK-AIADMK alliance is making the difference and giving an advantage to the AIADMK.
In Tiruvannamalai, the DMK had a clear edge at the beginning but that was brought down. It is going down to the wire mainly because the AIADMK candidate Agri SS Krishnamoorthy is extremely popular, he has made all the difference though there are cases including a murder case against him.
Sudhir : Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri in the north-western part of Tamil Nadu come next.
Arun : Dharmapuri is where we are seeing a very tough contest. The AMMK candidate is splitting the vote in a big way. Dr Anbumani Ramadoss is seeking a second term from this seat as the NDA candidate. The DMK candidate has a strong family background in the constituency. There could be a slight edge to Ramadoss given his popularity and caste arithmetic but there is a definite tight fight.
Krishnagiri is a Congress vs AIADMK fight. KP Munusamy, the AIADMK strongman is contesting so he seems to have the edge but it won’t be a big margin victory.
Sudhir : Let us look at Salem, the chief minister’s home district next.
Arun : Edappadi Palaniswami has done a lot of work in Salem, his last day of campaign was in Salem. The AIADMK is doing well. The DMK candidate is someone who has come from the DMDK so probably they did not work too well for him. As on the dates when we did the exit poll, the AIADMK had the edge.
Sudhir : Erode and Namakkal next.
Arun : Both these seats are slipping away from the AIADMK despite being in the Kongu belt. That is primarily because the MDMK candidate who is contesting on the DMK symbol in Erode is a local strongman, a simple ordinary person and people seem to have preferred him over the AIADMK candidate. Namakkal again is an alliance partner of the DMK contesting on the rising sun symbol. He has done better than the AIADMK candidate but Namakkal is a tighter contest than Erode.
Sudhir : Now let us come to the western part to the industrial areas of Tiruppur and Coimbatore and Nilgiris where A Raja is the DMK candidate.
Arun : Tiruppur is one seat the AIADMK is definitely winning. The AIADMK-BJP alliance has worked its magic in the seat. Nilgiris is going to DMK but the victory margin is not going to be as impressive as expected. It will be a slender margin. Coimbatore will go down to the wire in the contest between the BJP and the CPI(M). The BJP might just scrape through in Coimbatore but it is to the last vote kind of contest in Coimbatore.
Sudhir : Pollachi and Madurai next.
Arun : Pollachi seems to be going to the AIADMK despite the recent sex scandal controversy. That is because of the candidate and the party’s strength. The candidate Mahendran is the local strongman, the sitting MP, he has performed well, is well-respected so he seems to have done the magic for the AIADMK. But the victory margin is definitely going to come down. It won’t be very high for them to gloat over.
Madurai is a very tight contest. The DMK alliance candidate from the Left might scrape through and it completely depends on how much the AMMK eats into the AIADMK vote share.
Sudhir : Let us now look at Dindigul, Viruddhunagar, Trichy and Karur.
Arun : Dindigul is a clear DMK victory in this contest against the PMK.
Both Viruddhunagar and Trichy are going to the Congress. There is not much of a contest also because in both constituencies, it is the Congress vs the DMDK.
In Karur, the sitting MP is the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, M Thambidurai. He is against Jothimani of the Congress and she has done better than what the initial opinion polls suggested. The AIADMK is trailing here.
Sudhir : Let us now look at Sivaganga where Karti Chidambaram of the Congress was up against H Raja of the BJP. Both parties were depending also on DMK and AIADMK to do an efficient vote transfer. And the AMMK was the X-factor.
Arun : In Sivaganga, the AMMK candidate has done immense damage to the AIADMK vote. Karti Chidambaram might scrape through here.
Sudhir : Tenkasi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari next.
Arun : In Tenkasi, Puthiya Tamizhagam’s Dr Krishnasamy is on the backfoot, he might lose the election. The DMK candidate is seen as young and vibrant and seems to be on the victory path.
Both Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari are extremely tough to predict. The AMMK is splitting the vote in Tirunelveli causing damage to the AIADMK but the DMK candidate too is not so strong. It is too close to call. Kanyakumari might be a BJP seat where its candidate is the Union minister of state Pon Radhakrishnan. The voting has been a bit controversial and the only reason he could lose could be because of communal reasons.
Sudhir : Tuticorin saw a high-profile contest between Kanimozhi and Tamilisai Sounderarajan of the BJP.
Arun : Tuticorin is a definite DMK seat with Kanimozhi leading comfortably but the margin may be less than what the party expected because of the Hindu vote polarisation.
Sudhir : Ramanathapuram is a seat that has been on the BJP radar that they hope to do well in and perhaps even win. What do your field reports tell you?
Arun : Ramanathapuram is a contest between BJP and a Muslim candidate from the DMK front. The AMMK is playing a huge spoiler but despite that the BJP may just scrape through because of the religious equation, the candidate and the caste equation.
Sudhir : The other seats in the delta region, from Thanjavur onwards.
Arun : Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Mayiladuturai all three seats are going the DMK way.
Pondicherry is an interesting contest between the All India NR Congress (NDA) and the Congress. The former has the edge.
Cuddalore is a tough contest again with an edge to the DMK.
Sudhir : When we last spoke, we discussed specifically about the two seats the VCK is contesting in. And you said there could be a surprise in store.
Arun : Chidambaram could see a surprise where Thirumavalavan of the VCK is the DMK front candidate. He might lose because of the upper caste consolidation against him. Plus he was contesting on the pot symbol, an unfamiliar symbol as against the AIADMK whose two leaves is well-known to the rural voters in this reserved constituency.
Villupuram has the PMK candidate in the fray against Ravikumar of the VCK. Here too the caste factor will play a role that could upset the applecart.
Kallakurichi and Perambular will go the DMK way.
Sudhir : You mentioned a few seats where the TTV Dhinakaran factor played the role of a spoiler. Has that been his only role this election?
Arun : TTV and his AMMK have a firm following among sections of the voters. He comes across as a charismatic leader who tours the length and breadth of the state. The corruption allegations or family tag don’t seem to hold any value among the section of voters who prefer him over other leaders. The grassroot support that AMMK has built in pockets of the state in a short time is impressive.
Sudhir : Do you see Kamal Haasan as a washout except in pockets in Chennai constituencies?
Arun : There was a considerable urban and youth vote that was taking note of Kamal Haasan and MNM. Winning seats might be tough in the current situation but a moderate opening vote share in a few urban pockets cannot be ruled out.
Sudhir : Will the same pattern repeat in the 22 assembly seats as well where there were byelections. The life of the AIADMK government depends on the verdict in the 22 constituencies.
Arun : No, it doesn’t seem to be so. There have been instances where people chose stark opposite parties, one for the Lok Sabha and another for the bypoll. They did take note of this as two different elections.
Sudhir : If your numbers hold, what will it mean for EPS. Can he be sure his supporters won’t desert him and move to AMMK?
Arun : If he wins enough seats in the byelections, it will stabilise his government. From the mood on the ground, it would seem this government will survive by picking a few seats. However, if the results are otherwise then there sure would be a prolonged period of instability in Tamil Nadu politics as every party and leader will try to establish himself.
Sudhir : As per your projections, the PMK could win upto 3 seats and that will be like oxygen for the party.
Arun : PMK has always been an active front specially with Dr Anbumani on the field. If the PMK wins 3 of the 7 seats they contested it would definitely boost their stakes for the assembly election.
Sudhir : Looking at your figures, it would seem that the DMK front is certain to win 20, the NDA 10 while the remaining nine are tough to call, where the victories will come with small margins. So what is the final tally we are looking at.
Arun : We are predicting a tally of 23-26 seats out of 39 (Vellore election was cancelled) for the DMK front and 12-14 for the NDA.
Categories: Tamil Nadu