The TN result shows anti-incumbency in the state is not always a roaring wave, it could be a silent undercurrent. AIADMK’s apparent deference to BJP added swirls to the current while DMK president M K Stalin rode expectations that outweighed allegations of dynasty politics.
Both sides broadly played to their strengths. DMK’s tally was boosted by its performance in urban segments where it won 40 of its 156 seats while AIADMK had a better score in the rural parts, which elected 61 of its 78 MLAs. In seats with a minority electorate of over 20%, AIADMK surprisingly did not concede much ground despite the BJP being its alliance partner. It won 7 out of 27 such constituencies while the rest went to the DMK.
EPS government’s poll-eve order allocating a 10.5% sub-quota within the most backward caste category to vanniyars—apparently to keep the PMK on its side—seems to have resulted in a backlash from AIADMK’s thevar base in southern TN. The western region where gounders (the community the CM belongs to) are predominant still gave it its biggest chunk of seats.
All in all, the DMK alliance’s efforts to paint AIADMK as one taking orders from the ‘outsider’ BJP paid dividends. On the other hand, AIADMK’s charges of the DMK being a family-controlled party did not matter, what with Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi winning his electoral debut from Thousand Lights in Chennai with a record margin.
AIADMK, which forged an uneasy peace among factions following J Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, will now face another challenge if her former aide V K Sasikala tries to fish in troubled waters.
For Modi-Shah, the result is a double blow. Besides the failure to get a strong foothold in the heart of the South, it is also the loss of a friendly, even pliable, state government.
AIADMK MPs, who were in good numbers in both houses before 2019, have been a supportive bunch, backing crucial bills such as CAA and farm laws notwithstanding the protests some of them registered in Parliament to play to their home audiences.
Congress has fared somewhat better, winning 18 seats in DMK’s company. Having contested 25 this time (a climb down from 41 in 2016), the party remains a minor ally. The 2021 assembly election results have thus cemented Tamil Nadu’s image as a Dravidian fort impregnable for national parties.