Tamil Nadu: Amma, Kalaignar and the alternative

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Chennai, May 15: In battlefield Tamil Nadu this poll season, the stakes are high not just for J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, but also for those offering an alternative to the two main Dravidian outfits.

Balloting for the 234-member assembly scheduled on Monday -- polling in one constituency, Aravakuruchi, has been postponed to May 23 -- would show whether the Tamil Nadu electorate move beyond the usual choices.

Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi

One alternative is in the shape of an alliance comprising actor Vijaykanth's DMDK, which has aligned with the People's Welfare Front (PWF) and the Tamil Maanila Congress. The PWF includes the Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Vaiko's MDMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also in the fray. And so is the PMK. The BJP has an alliance with some smaller parties. But political observers feel it may not be enough for it to make a mark.

The BJP is, however, banking on its high-profile candidates like state president Tamilisai Soundararajan (Virugambakkam in Chennai) and H. Raja (T Nagar in Chennai) besides Vanathi Srinivasan (Coimbatore).

The PMK is going all alone. It is trying to shed its Vanniyar caste identity by fielding candidates from other communities too.

"We are growing at a fast pace and we have to broaden the base," party leader Anbumani Ramadoss told IANS.

The two main Dravidian parties are sounding upbeat about their prospects. They don't seem to believe that the DMDK and its allies will have any impact. And they don't even mention the smaller parties in their campaign.

Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa is seeking a mandate for another term, saying her government has implemented several welfare schemes like subsidised canteen, cement, bottled water, medicines among others. Add to that the freebies doled out - from mixer grinder, laptops to cattle.

The AIADMK has fielded 227 candidates, leaving seven seats for its allies. But all of them will contest with the AIADMK symbol of two leaves.

The party has come under sharp criticism on a range of issues -- from the government's alleged inaction during the December 2015 floods, lack of industrial development as well as price rise and corruption.

But Amma -- as the chief minister is popularly known -- is banking on her "track record" and has opted to announce freebies again.

She has promised free mobile phones for all ration card holders, 50 percent subsidy for purchase of scooters by women, free power up to 100 units and the like.

She is cautioning the voters about the "dynasty politics of DMK", and how a single family (Karunanidhi and his relatives) dominated the movie, cricket, media and television world between 2006 and 2011.

But the DMK hopes that Karunanidhi's name will help it sail through. The appeal of the 91-year-old patriarch, who has contested assembly elections successfully since 1957, can't fade out so easily. On the streets of Chennai the DMK cadres are confident that the "Kalaignar" will become the chief minister for a sixth time.

The DMK has aligned with the Congress, two Muslim parties and smaller outfits. Piggybacking on the DMK, the Congress is hoping to improve its tally.

Karunanidhi has said the DMDK and its allies may eat up the vote share of the AIADMK but in the end will be humbled. These parties, he said, will not impact the DMK's prospects.

Around 5.82 crore voters will be eligible to decide the fortunes of 3,776 candidates on Monday. The votes will be counted on May 19.

IANS

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