Tamil Nadu, as a state has often been seen as a political exception among its counterparts. In 2014, when much of India shifted to the right ideologue BJP– the deep south state remained a bastion of indifferent continuity. The Dravidian party of AIDMK emerged as the third-largest party in the parliament with 37 out of 39 seats in the state of Tamil Nadu- it was a historic moment. Despite such a stunning demonstration of resolve, a lot has changed since then.
In this profile of Tamil Nadu, we commence the narrative from the 2016 legislative assembly elections. We will look at the stir created by the demise of the state’s tallest statesman and stateswoman, closely follow the impact of the 2019 General Elections, AIADMK’s ebb, the emergence of new challengers and ends with the 2021 elections.
2016 Electoral Results
The results of the 2016 elections reflect the growing popularity and significance of J. Jayalalitha. Prohibition and corruption are the two major issues highly propagated during the campaign for the elections. Liquidation of agricultural and educational loans is also promised by several parties. Besides, developing infrastructure, creating jobs, widening health services, women’s welfare, and quality education are also promised in the election manifesto.
or 234 constituencies, a total of 3785 candidates were in the contest. Elections were held on the 16th of May 2016. The voter turnout was 74.26% for the 232 constituencies. Elections were not held in two constituencies; Thanjavur and Aravakurichi due to high incidents of voter bribing. Votes were counted and final results were declared in the late evening on the 19th of May 2016. The ADMK won 134 seats securing 40.8% of valid votes. The DMK front got 98 seats securing a 39% vote-share. The third front- Makkal Nala Kootani got none and secured much less than what was expected. The other political parties also won none of the seats. Both the BJP and the PMK got the predictable share of votes without securing any seats. The debutant, Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK) secured 1.07% of valid votes without securing a seat.
Perceptions: The result of the elections brought surprise and shock to the failed fronts. Several opinion polls predicted a favourable scenario for the DMK. Few polls confirmed the return of the ADMK. Much shock was to the performance of the six-party front which won no seat and the voting percentage was lower than predicted by the media. The third and the other remaining fronts attacked both the ADMK and the DMK and challenged to overthrow the two Dravidian parties that ruled for fifty years in Tamil Nadu. The ADMK, though it won the majority, its performance in terms of seats is lower than in the previous elections. The percentage of votes is not increased correspondingly in terms of the number of seats contested. Plainly speaking, the success rate is higher for the DMK compared with its performance in the previous elections in 2011.
The 2016 Election was also the last time when the two leaders considered innate to the Tamil politics fought their last elections. Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha passed away the same year on 5th December 2016 due to Cardiac Arrest at the age of 68 and the DMK Patriarch K. Karunanidhi passed away on 7th August 2018 at the age of 94. These two stalwarts of the state had an undeniable impact on shaping Modern Tamil Nadu.
Re-organisation of the Dravidian Parties
The main Tamil parties were compelled to undergo a transition when both M. Karunanidhi and J. Jayalalitha passed away within 2 years of each other. Both AIADMK and DMK had to re-establish their credibility with the new set of leaders- though how it was completely different.
DMK- Post Leader’s Death
The party chief M. Karunanidhi died on 7 August 2018 at the ripe age of 94. He had appointed his son M.K Stalin as the working president in January 2017 due to his declining health. On his death, the party’s old guards took up the responsibility of overseeing the transition. Duraimurugan, an MLA and close confidant of Karunanidhi took the position of DMK’s General Secretary, and T. R Baalu, the party’s Lok Sabha chief and Karunanidhi’s confidant took over the role of Party Treasurer. Both are considered loyalists with the inception of their membership going back to the 60s.
AIADMK Post Leaders’ death
On 5 June 2016, 68-year-old J Jayalalithaa passed away after spending 75 days in the hospital with no known succession plans. Immediately, O Panneerselvam, popularly known as OPS, who was finance minister in the Jayalalithaa cabinet was swiftly sworn in as Chief Minister and by late December the General Secretary post vacated by the late J. Jayalalitha was handed over to her friend and confidant- Sasikala. By early February, it seemed like she will be elevated to the role of the Chief Minister, as OPS resigned his position. The decision was unanimous, or so everyone thought.
Within the next fortnight, a drama of epic proportions unfolds. First, OPS revolted against Sasikala in a very dramatic fashion from the former CM’s burial place, and within the next week, Sasikala was convicted in a 19-year-old disproportionate asset case. The entire AIADMK split into two camps- K Palaniswami led AIADMK (Amma) and OPS led AIADMK (Puratchithalaivi Amma). As expected, both were vying for J. Jayalalitha’s legacy and the party symbol (Twin leaves). In response, the Election Commission issued an interim order freezing the ‘twin leaves’ election symbol of AIADMK; disallowing the two rival camps from using the party symbol as well as its name. Palaniswami’s faction is allotted a ‘Hat’ and the second faction an ‘Electric Pole’ as a party symbol for the upcoming by-poll election. The election is scarred by accusations of bribing the voters flying from both the factions only to be blindsided by Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V Dhinakaran who wins the constituency.
The stalemate is finally broken after months of chaos when both the factions come to an agreement. K. Palaniswami is acknowledged as the Chief Minister and OPS is accommodated as the deputy Chief minister. On 21st August 2017, after being leaderless for 8 months, AIADMK, the governing party of Tamil Nadu finds its Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister.
The 2019 elections in Tamil Nadu were a game-changer in many ways. It was the first major election not led by the two tall leaders – DMK’s M. Karunanidhi and AIADMK’s J. Jayalalithaa.
The election also saw a realignment of forces. In 2014, AIADMK contested on its own while the DMK led an alliance that predominantly had Dalit and Muslim parties. The AIADMK won 37 seats, sparing one for the BJP and one for the PMK. By 2019 things had changed, this time, the DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance front won 38 constituencies, leaving one for .P Raveendranath (AIADMK) – son of deputy chief minister O. Paneerselvam – who contested from Theni.
The 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu had an average of 1.51 million voters in each one.
Then the alliance went ahead to win 13 out of 22 constituencies in the Assembly by-poll elections held in mid-May.
The emergence of the small parties-
The two titans of Tamil Nādu politics were known to encourage smaller parties for their ability to strategically connect with voter bases with narrow and specific aspirations- be it caste or linguistic.
Over the years, smaller parties like Ramadoss’ PMK, the MDMK led by Vaiko and film star Vijaykanth’s DMDK attempted to challenge the dominance of the two Dravidian parties, only to join the stables. In 2019, PMK and DMDK were contesting along with AIADMK and the NDA, while MDMK was with DMK and UPA. Then there are smaller parties like VCK and the Left Front parties which enjoy decent support in some pockets of the state and a cordial relationship with DMK.
Longstanding DMK partners like VCK, CPI (M), IUML are known to serve strategic purposes. In the 2019 elections, DMK was able to consolidate BJP leaning Coimbatore through Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate PR Natarajan who defeated two-time BJP MP CP Radhakrishnan with a margin of 2,216 votes.
A party that greatly benefited by the end of J. Jayalalitha’s era was T.T.V. Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) won RK Nagar, the constituency vacated by the late J. Jayalalitha.
Prominent actor Kamal Haasan launched his own party- Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) on 21 February 2018, which surprisingly garnered nearly 4% votes – and 10% in some urban pockets – in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A former AIADMK heavyweight and MLA Pala Karuppiah moved to MNM to test his fortunes.
Another major actor turned politician in the arena is R Sarathkumar, whose party, the All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) has been both DMK & AIADMK’s. Ally. In the list of actor-turned-politician, one cannot ignore Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK’s) Seeman. His Tamil nationalist ideology made heads turn, however, his passionate appeals for ethnic solidarity did not convert to seats.
Electors & Voters
The Election Commission of India (ECI) states that over 6.2 crore citizens are eligible to vote in Tamil Nadu, with the Sholinganallur assembly constituency home to the highest number of electors- 6,94,845 voters.
Tamil Nadu has about 3,09,95,440 male voters, 3,19,40,880 female voters and 7,192 voters from the third gender category.
- Date for Nominations, 12 March 2021
- Last Date for filing Nominations, 19 March 2021
- Date for scrutiny of nominations, 20 March 2021
- Last date for withdrawal of candidatures, 22 March 2021
- Date of poll, 6 April 2021
- Date of counting, 2 May 2021
- Date before which the election shall be completed, 24 May 2021
Key pre-poll formations for the 2021 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu include:
- The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and including S Ramadoss’s Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and others;
- The Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and including the Indian National Congress (INC), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]), the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Kongunadu Makkal Desia Katchi (KMDK), and others;
- The alliance between T T V Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and others.
- The Makkalin Mudhal Kootani led by Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) and including Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK), All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK), and others;
V. The only unallied parties to fight the elections were Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
The DMK went on a campaign tour titled Vidiyalai Nokki Stalinin Kural, which began on 20 December 2020 at Thirukkuvalai, the birthplace of M. Karunanidhi. Palaniswami started the AIADMK’s campaign in his hometown, Edappadi, on 19 December 2020.
BJP politician and the 22nd Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, addressed a public rally in Coimbatore to support Vanathi Srinivasan on March 31, 2021. The BJP and affiliated organization Hindu Munnani organized a bike rally which made news for reportedly communal sloganeering and pelting stones at Muslim shops on the route. Later in a press meet, the BJP candidate Vanathi Srinivasan expressed her opinion that the stone-pelting incident was a minor incident while MNM president Kamal Haasan maintained that “riot specialists must be defeated through unity”.
Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were also present in the state to campaign for their parties.
Most issues that gained traction from voters were centred around education, corruption, environment, administration and economy. NEET exams, govt corruption, Sterlite protests and government mismanagement during the flood and the ongoing- pandemic were issues that were discussed by the voters.
At the same time, several tried and tested caste-based issues were planted. The AIADMK-led government approved a sub-quota in MBC of 10.5% for the Vanniyars, who are particularly dominant in northern Tamil Nadu and championed by PMK. The AIADMK & BJP combine also highlighted the fulfilment of the Devendrakula Vellalar community’s demand of grouping 7 castes under their nomenclature.
2021 Legislative Assembly Elections
At the close of polling, the Election Commission declared the turnout to be 72.78%. Out of 234 constituencies, 37 constituencies registered over 80% voter turnout. Constituencies of interest with political heavyweights attracted varying interests from their voters. In Kolathur, where DMK president M.K. Stalin contested, the turnout was 60.52%. Coimbatore South, where Makkal Needhi Maiam leader and prominent actor Kamal Haasan took on the BJP’s Vanathi Srinivasan and the Congress’s Mayura Jayakumar, registered 60.72%. On the other hand, K. Palanisami’s Edapadi constituency clocked 85.6% voter turnout.
In Chennai, 13 constituencies registered less than 60%, with Villivakkam coming at the bottom of the table for the State with 55.52%.
At the district level, Karur topped the chart with an impressive 83.92% turnout. Ariyalur, Dharmapuri and Kallakurichi districts also recorded more than 80% turnout. The Nilgiris, Ramanathapuram, Sivaganga, Coimbatore, Kanniyakumari, Chengalpattu and Tirunelveli registered between the range of 65% -69%. Chennai was the only district that recorded a turnout beneath the above-mentioned figures, at 59.06%.
DMK’s victory was anticipated. AIADMK after all was battling anti-incumbency, the loss of their charismatic leader and the party’s association with the BJP was largely considered against the interest of the state.
The results were announced by the Election Commission of India on 2 May 2021, starting at 9 AM IST. The DMK won 133 constituencies on its own, receiving an absolute majority in the sixteenth Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, whereas its SPA alliance saw victory in a total of 159 constituencies. The DMK’s alliance was more effective than in 2016. The case in point would be DMK’s ally INC’s revival with 18 victories from 25 contested constituencies. The SPA alliance did well across the State, its members VCK, CPI (M) and CPI scored 6 seats each and IUML gained 3 seats. The SPA alliance crushed its opponents across the rural/ urban divide.
Meanwhile, the AIADMK led NDA coalition captured 75 constituencies, out of which the AIADMK secured 66. PMK fared better compared to its earlier performance in 2016 and 2019 by garnering 5 seats. BJP managed to get the lowest vote share among the parties in both the coalitions, with just 2.62% vote share, while at the same time gained 4 seats. The AIADMK results displayed significant improvement relative to its poor performance over the 2019 election, by regaining its West Tamil Nadu strongholds in the West and was bolstered by its allies’ performance in the north-central region.
Among the non-allied parties, Seeman’s Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) got a 6.5% vote share, trumping T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s AMMK (3.4%) and Kamal Haasan’s MNM (2.9%). However, they were unable to win a single seat.
After spending a decade as the opposition party, the DMK won Tamil Nadu from the AIADMK, which reigned the state for two consecutive terms (2011-2021). The AIADMK assumed the position of the opposition party at the sixteenth Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.
Each of the prominent parties displayed areas of dominance and weak victories.
DMK’s J. Karunanithi gained Thiyagarayanagar with a mere 0.01% advantage, just 137 votes. On the other hand, the party won Athoor with a 1,35,571-vote advantage.
AIADMK’s biggest winner was the former Chief Minister K. Palaniswami who secured Edappadi with 93,802 votes and AIADMK’s weakest winner was Krishnagiri’s K. Ashokumar with 794 votes.
The elections saw candidates swapping party allegiance. At the onset of the elections over 11 prominent political aspirants jumped ship. 4 of the Lota candidates were from Vaiko’s MDMK, 3 formerly independent candidates and a single candidate from BJP, DMK, KDMK and TMC (M) each.
Of the 11 lota candidates, 4 gained victory and the remaining 11 faced defeat.
Former MDMK members, M.Boominathan from Madurai South and Sattur’s A.R.R Raghuraman shifted to DMK and earned their victories. Former Independent candidate A. Venkateshan secured victory in Sholavandan under DMK’s flag. K.S Moorthy who relinquished his independent status to join AIADMK secured his victory in the Paramathi Velur constituency.
Palaniswami and his ministers submitted their resignations on 3 May 2021 to Banwarilal Purohit, the Governor of Tamil Nadu. The DMK formed the government for the sixth time in Tamil Nadu.
After the resignation of K. Palanisami’s administration, officials of the Public Works Department began resetting the Tamil Nadu Secretariat to prepare the campus for the new government under the new Chief Minister. The Chief Minister’s Office returned all the files to the departments concerned, with the office quarters white-washed and the name-boards of former ministers taken down.
The out-going Chief Minister K. Palanisami congratulated via a tweet: “My best wishes to M.K. Stalin who is going to take oath as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister”. In another tweet, M.K Stalin thanked Palanisami and sought his cooperation for “building the best Tamil Nadu”. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, tweeted that he will work with Stalin to enhance the nation’s progress, fulfil the regional interests of Tamil Nadu, and fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 10 May 2021, the newly elected AIADMK MLAs convened to choose the new Leader of the Opposition, an important post equivalent to a cabinet minister. The meeting was inconclusive, with both Panneerselvam and Palaniswami staking claims to the post, while their supporters hurled charges against each other. This included a prolonged quarrel between the two sections of the party outside the party’s head office, causing unrest. Supporters of Palaniswami believed that he should be the Leader of the Opposition due to the party’s good performance in the election in western Tamil Nadu, the region he hails from; whereas, Panneerselvam’s supporters felt that the party fared poorly in other regions of the state due to Palaniswami’s wrong policies during his Chief Ministerial tenure. Eventually, Palaniswami was elected as the Leader of the Opposition.
After MNM performed unfavourably in its first-ever election, many officials and candidates resigned from the party, such as its vice president Dr Mahendran, Muruganandam, and C K Kumaravel.
Data analyzed and visualized by Harleen and Akanksha Gakhar