The countdown at Chennai’s Anna Arivalayam has ended. What began as a neck-and-neck contest at the start of counting turned into a decisive win with 150+ seats in a House of 234 for the MK Stalin-led DMK. The DMK-led secular coalition, which includes Congress, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), the Left and others, looked set to sweep Chennai and neighbouring districts Tiruvallur and Chengalpattu, and had established a major lead across most seats in central Tamil Nadu at the time of writing. DMK is not just ascending the throne after a decade in the opposition, but it is all set to do so with a clear majority for the first time since 1996.
The Edappadi K Palaniswami-led incumbent AIADMK government, which had been summarily dismissed in many exit polls, has emerged as a fighter despite its 10-year anti-incumbency and held its own in the western districts partly on account of its alliance with PMK and the Vanniyar reservation Bill. In a bipolar contest that has seen Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) and Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) come a cropper, DMK’s coalition partners Congress and VCK have had a surprisingly good strike rate—the latter may bag four of six seats it was allotted, including two general category seats, while Congress was leading in 17 of the 25 seats it contested. AIADMK’s coalition partners, too, have pulled their weight. While an alliance with BJP seems to have hurt the party’s prospects in several constituencies, 2021 will go down in history as the year the national party made an entry into the so-far-impenetrable Dravidian fortress with three seats—it contested 20—under its belt. While MR Gandhi, a veteran campaigner and party worker, has won Nagercoil by a margin of over 14,000 votes, BJP state vice president Nainar Nagendran has wrested Tirunelveli and BJP women’s wing president Vanathi Srinivasan gained a slender lead in Coimbatore South over Kamal Haasan in a nail-biting finish that dragged into the final round of counting. Senior BJP leader and former Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan trailed by over 1 lakh votes against his rival Vijay Vasanth of Congress in the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha constituency. Other star candidates, including BJP state president L Murugan, actor Khushbu Sundar and former IPS officer K Annamalai were trailing at the time of writing.
The big winners for DMK so far include party Youth Wing Secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin, who, upon winning from Chepauk-Triplicane by a margin of 68,133, presented to his father the symbolic brick which is all that remains of the medical sciences institution promised to the people of Madurai; I Periyasamy, who beat his rival from PMK with an enormous margin of 1,34,082 votes in Athoor; and DMK sitting MLA from Tiruvannamalai AV Velu, who defeated S Thanigaivel, the BJP contestant, by 94,673 votes. In Chennai, ministers Mafoi K Pandiarajan, contesting from Avadi, and D Jayakumar, from Royapuram, were staring at embarrassing defeats, while DMK’s PK Sekar Babu retained Harbour constituency, warding off BJP’s Vinoj P Selvam.
The single-phase polling in Tamil Nadu, held on April 6th, recorded a voter turnout of 72.81 per cent, as against 73.76 per cent in the 2016 Assembly elections that saw AIADMK retaining power, and 71.62 per cent in the 2019 General Election where the DMK coalition swept 38 of 39 seats. Most exit polls gave the DMK-led alliance between 166 and 185 seats, with opinion polls conducted earlier in March indicating AIADMK’s alliance with BJP was seen by voters as opportunistic. While supporters of MK Stalin are interpreting DMK’s victory as a verdict for freedom, Tamil identity and social justice, AIADMK is looking for answers to how so many ministers—KC Veeramani, CV Shanmugam, MC Sampath, KT Rajenthra Balaji, Vellamandi Natarajan, among others—lost despite the lack of a ‘wave’.
In the neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry, which is under President’s Rule after the collapse of the V Narayanasamy-led Congress government, N Rangaswamy’s All India NR Congress (AINRC) has won eight seats and BJP, with whom it is in alliance, has won four. With 14 of the 30 Assembly seats declared, the Congress-DMK alliance has bagged just three so far. The AINRC-BJP alliance, leading in 15 seats as of publishing this story, is all set to form the government in Puducherry.