Despite Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) winning Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, AIADMK has something to cheer, as a natural leader – Edappadi K Palaniswamy – seems to have emerged out of the ashes when the counting of votes concluded on 3 May.
Contrary to exit poll projections, the Kongu belt of Tamil Nadu or the western region of the state, from where Palaniswamy hails, held fort for All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the party the region has supported traditionally.
The western region, with the exception of Karur district, strongly stood by AIADMK, electing 36 MLAs of the party in Tamil Nadu Assembly elections 2021. The AIADMK has won 66 seats this election, results of which were released on 2 and 3 May. Meaning, the Kongu has elected more than half of AIADMK’s legislators in the state.
But, will faction fights within the AIADMK allow Palaniswamy to be leader of the Opposition?
Kongu Pumps Up AIADMK
In the 2021 Assembly elections the 'western faction' of the AIADMK has performed better than the 'southern faction'.
Going by the final tallies of Election Commission of India (EC), in Coimbatore and Salem districts of the Kongu belt, AIADMK won nine out of ten seats and nine out of 11 seats, respectively.
The seats won by AIADMK in Coimbatore were Thondamuthur, Singallur, Coimbatore North, Pollachi, Valparai, Mettupalayam and Kinathukadavu. In Salem the seats won by the party were Gangavalli, Attur, Yercaud, Omalur, Edappadi, Sankari, Salem West, SalemSouth and Veerapandi.
In Erode AIADMK won four out of the seven seats and in Tiruppur the party won five out of eight seats. In Dharmapuri AIADMK won three out of five seats and in Krishnagiri district the party won three out of six seats.
The only dampener for the party was its performance in the Nilgiris district where it won one out of three seats, Namakkal where it won two out of six, and Karur where it won none out of four.
Out of all the seats, Edappadi Palaniswamy’s performance was the most lauded as he won by a margin of 92,849 votes in Edappadi. He polled 1,60,931 votes against DMK candidate T Sambathkumar’s tally of 68,082 votes.
West Elects its Leader, South in Trouble
Palaniswamy’s victory could be read in contrast with the performance of O Panneerselvam, who won the Bodinayakanur seat by 12,154 votes. “It was a tough fight for OPS because southern Tamil Nadu, from where he contested, has supported DMK this year,” a political observer close to AIADMK told The Quint
In south Tamil Nadu, the DMK’s tally increased from 26 seats which it had won in the 2016 Assembly election to 39 seats this year. Meanwhile, the AIADMK’s performance dipped from 32 seats in 2016, to just 19 this year.
The emergence of Palaniswamy as a likely party chief from among the leaders of the AIADMK has come as a relief for the party which has been marred by faction fights ever since the demise of the party’s leader and former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2016.
The factionalism started with the rise of Jayalalithaa’s close aide VK Sasikala to the rank of AIADMK general secretary. While Sasikala had to step down from this role in 2017, Edappadi Palaniswamy (EPS) and O Panneerselvam (OPS) had continued to lead the western and the southern Gounder caste factions of AIADMK.
The faction war between them, however, saw an amicable temporary truce, after EPS, the deputy general secretary of AIADMK became the Chief Minister of the state and OPS, the general secretary of the party became deputy CM in 2017.
“AIADMK balanced the power equation within the party when the general secretary became the deputy-CM and the deputy-general secretary of the party became the CM. This tightrope walk will not be possible when the party is forced to choose a leader of Opposition,” a senior journalist based in TN said.
If the opinion of MLAs alone was to be considered, EPS could emerge the leader of Opposition. However, if the party were to consider the voice of its general body, both OPS and EPS have an equal chance. “There are more MLAs from the west this time. But the south has power in the general body,” the journalist pointed out.
Alliance with the BJP at Stake
The AIADMK, however, will not be able to keep its leadership tussle unresolved for long, if it hopes to come back to power in the state.
“The Dravidian party should put its internal troubles aside and work towards building a strong front against the DMK,” a senior BJP leader told The Quint. The leader who has been governing the affairs of the party in TN, however, did not confirm whether the BJP will continue to maintain ties with the AIADMK. In the 2021 election, the BJP, in alliance with AIADMK has won four Assembly seats.
During the campaign phase, the AIADMK, however, had tried to distance itself from the BJP to win votes. The party had claimed in February that its ethos is Dravidian and that the alliance with the BJP has not influenced its ideology. The party also opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill which is the BJP’s brainchild.
“If the AIADMK wants to prevent its cadre and supporters from joining the BJP, it should not just revive its history of Dravidian politics, but also revive its tradition of strong central leadership. It should find one leader and rally behind the person,” a political observer close to AIADMK said. In both western and southern Tamil Nadu which are the turfs of EPS and OPS respectively, the BJP has won two seats each, the observer noted.
Forming a united opposition that has a strong leadership will help the party survive its rout in Tamil Nadu. Will EPS be up to the task?