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4-min read

Battle of Salem is Litmus Test That Would Determine EPS’s Future in Tamil Nadu Politics

If AIADMK loses the Salem constituency, it would mean a complete rout for the party in the state and will mark the beginning of the end of the E Palaniswamy government.

Veeraraghav T M | TMVraghav

Updated:April 15, 2019, 1:14 PM IST
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Battle of Salem is Litmus Test That Would Determine EPS’s Future in Tamil Nadu Politics
File photo of Tamil Nadu CM Edappadi Palaniswamy.
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Chennai: Wide roads and bustling traffic welcome you as soon as you enter Tamil Nadu’s Salem city. Newly-built flyovers take you past the busy junctions and the growing infrastructure activities are for all to observe.

On one of these city junctions is a small tea shop run by 62-year-old Arulmadhivanan. A small calendar with DMK president M.K.Stalin’s photo hangs nonchalantly in the shop, revealing that he is a staunch DMK loyalist. And yet, Arulmadhivanan admits that it is AIADMK leader and chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) who has ensured developmental work and delivered several infrastructure projects in Salem.

Arulmadhivanan claims that even former chief minister J.Jayalalithaa could not deliver the amount of growth the present government has ensured for the city.

Most shopkeepers in Salem, irrespective of their political affiliations, echo a similar sentiment. But will this sentiment translate to electoral dividends on April 18 when Tamil Nadu votes to choose 39 members to the Lok Sabha?

For the ruling AIADMK, there are both negative and positive political factors at play and which party Salem chooses to favour would have strong repercussions on the overall electoral battle. The constituency would also serve as the perfect indicator of the political realities and on May 23, when the results are announced, the seat could be looked at to understand the emerging trends in Tamil Nadu.

Firstly, Salem is a prestige battle for the chief minister who represents the Edappadi assembly constituency which falls in the Salem parliamentary constituency. A defeat here would demolish his standing in the party and his ability to control it.

Secondly, the city is in an area of influence of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which enjoys a strong Vanniyar caste base in about four districts of the state and has forged an alliance with the AIADMK and the BJP.

Thirdly, there are internal divisions within the DMK over candidate selection. The party chose to field fresh candidate SR Parthiban, overlooking claims by party strongman and former minister, Veerapandi. S Arumugam’s son. Veerapandi Arumugam is from the Vanniyar community and the fact there is an internal rift in the party could mean further consolidation of Vanniyar votes behind the AIADMK-PMK alliance.
Given these advantages, apart from the fact that the constituency has the Palaniswami’s stature at stake, it must make it a bastion or a safe seat for the ruling party.

However, some key factors at play have made Salem a tough battle for the AIADMK.

The first big issue for the party is a split in its vote base by the TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. In fact, Dhinakaran’s announcement of his first list of candidates was made in Salem and the party has fielded a former AIADMK MLA, SK Selvam, as its candidate.

Selvam may not have the winning odds in his favour, but he is seen as one who can give a tough fight. Dhinakaran’s main goal is to defeat the Palaniswami government and there is no better place for him to do it than in Salem. This is a major cause for concern for the AIADMK as it is facing two opponents – the DMK, which wants to win and the AMMK, whose only objective is to defeat the AIADMK.

Dhinakaran has fielded strong candidates in all important seats. For instance, in Theni district from where deputy chief minster O.Pannerselvam’s son is contesting, the AMMK has fielded Thanga Tamizhchelvan, a disqualified MLA who has strong presence in the constituency.

But despite Theni being a strong AIADMK seat, political pundits are of the view that the AIADMK candidate could even end up being third. Such a strong split of the party vote only makes the battle easy for Congress candidate EVKS Elangovan, despite Elangovan being lightweight in Theni.

So the AMMK candidate is working hard in Salem to ensure a sizeable chunk of the votes. This is also a battle that the TTV faction is keen to win. In simple words, the TTV factor is the biggest negative for the chief minister’s candidate and this may hold true for several AIADMK strongholds.

Another major problem for the AIADMK are issues that have given it a poor image, despite a reasonable administrative performance in terms of infrastructure projects and development.

For instance, the Pollachi sex scandal affected the image of the state government, especially in the western regions, and the deaths of 13 people during the peaceful Sterlite protests has had a major impact on the politics of southern Tamil Nadu.

In effect, the appreciation that the administration received for the developmental work got negated by the controversies it has faced. Further, the BJP is less than a marginal player in most seats, like it is in Salem. It only adds to a double anti-incumbency – in both Centre and state – against the ruling party candidate.

Together, these factors would make the Salem test a broad indicator for the road ahead in the State.

The AIADMK’s win in this constituency would establish party’s strong hold in these pockets and also translate to a personal victory for the chief minister. While this may or may not give him a fresh lease of life in power, it will certainly bolster his ability to fight it out.

But if the party loses Salem, it would mean a complete rout for the party in the state and will certainly mark the beginning of the end of the E Palaniswamy government.
| Edited by: Divya Kapoor
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