Tamil Nadu

With two stunning bypoll victories, EPS blows victory bigil

Even as all eyes were on the BJP-Shiv Sena’s fairly comfortable victory in Maharashtra and the cliffhanger in Haryana, Tamil Nadu decided to surprise. Both the byelection results went in favour of the AIADMK. A significant comeback after the rout the AIADMK-BJP-PMK combine suffered in the Lok Sabha elections when it won just one seat out of 39 and triumphed in just nine of the 22 assembly seats that went for bypolls. A majority of those seats had been won by the AIADMK in 2016. 

The argument could be that bypolls see the ruling party win. May 2019 showed that is not always the case. But in Thursday’s case, the victory margin would give the DMK sleepless nights. Vikravandi was won by a margin of 44000 votes while Nanguneri saw a lead of 33000 votes. Both seats were held by the DMK-Congress combine. 

What are the takeaways from this verdict?

1. Chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami cannot be treated as a pushover. He has demonstrated his tenacity by staying on in power despite dissent from O Panneerselvam and TTV Dhinakaran and has neutralised both of them. The two wins will ensure the AIADMK cadre will now see him as someone who can guarantee electoral success as well. It will also result in further sidelining of OPS by the EPS camp. 

2. The DMK that has so far been looking at 2021 as a certain return to Fort St George, will now have to rethink its strategy. While the Lok Sabha verdict was seen as a clear vote against the NDA, MK Stalin would have to ponder over what went wrong in the two seats. Did local constituency factors impact the result or is the verdict a red flag for his  leadership? 

3. There are reports that VK Sasikala could come out of Bengaluru prison sometime in 2020, close to a year ahead of schedule. That could shake Palaniswami’s position, was the feeling so far. Not any more. 

4. The BJP too has been looking at effecting changes in Tamil Nadu as part of the NDA strategy for 2021. The whisper campaign suggested that OPS could be made to replace EPS. Or to bring in Rajinikanth as the face of the NDA campaign. There will be second thoughts on both fronts.

5. But does 2019 secure 2021 for the AIADMK? No. The real thing will be quite different from the byelections. But what is clear is that the field is wide open. 

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