NEW DELHI: The DMK-led opposition seems to have pulled off a strong anti-Modi campaign, which neither BJP nor its principal ally, AIADMK, have been able to counter effectively. Much water has flown in Chennai’s Cooum since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in which Congress, contesting alone, forfeited deposits in 38 out of 39 seats in the state and DMK and its allies came a cropper. With the opposition remaining divided, AIADMK had won 37 seats and NDA bagged two in 2014.

Now, DMK and Congress are united again, hoping for a reversal of fortunes. Going by the number and strength of the allies, NDA, led by AIADMK, presents a strong picture. But the death of a charismatic leader like J Jayalalithaa and the emergence of TTV Dhinakaran as a challenger, have eroded AIADMK’s stock. The powerful Thevar vote bank, which constitutes about 8% of the electorate, has shifted allegiance to Dhinakaran, whose AMMK is the de facto third front. NDA could take some solace as Dhinakaran has made huge inroads into Muslim-dominated regions, which had so far remained DMK citadels. Actor Kamal Haasan’s MNM, another party in the fray, could also eat into the DMK vote base.
Caste remains a major factor in a state that has seen bloody clashes across its length and breadth. NDA is banking on the Gounder-Vanniyar consolidation in the western and northern parts of the state while DMK is targeting primarily central and southern Tamil Nadu. A barrage of issues like farmers’ unrest and anti-Sterlite sentiments pose challenges to NDA.
But the Lok Sabha polls rank second in priority compared to bypolls to 22 assembly seats. Eighteen of these are going to the polls on April 18 while elections in the remaining four segments will be held on May 19. The fate of the AIADMK government, headed by Edappadi K Palaniswami, hinges on the outcome of these bypolls. Considering the rebels still in the fold, AIADMK needs to win at least 11 seats to secure the government. For Stalin, a sweep in the bypolls means replacing Palaniswami as CM. But alliance and caste calculations notwithstanding, one can’t discount the M-factor in Tamil Nadu. Going by the outcome of general elections and by-elections held in the state since 2009, money distribution on the eve of the polling day could well be a deciding factor.