Chennai: While all of India waits to know the results of who will win the Lok Sabha elections, in Tamil Nadu, the stakes are higher for all the Dravidian parties as they face a 'mini-assembly election' of sorts.
The ongoing polling will also see by-elections to 22 Assembly segments — 18 in phase 2 on April 18, and four others in the last phase on May 19.
This would make it the first political test for the ruling AIADMK, for whom winning well is a question of government's survival in the state.
It has been surviving in power on a thin majority, existing on the fact that they could disqualify MLAs who rebelled against the leadership and hence there are a large number of vacancies in the Assembly currently. And the results of the by-elections could make or break this government — not just because it will show whether the voters accept the leadership of Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisami and his deputy O Panneerselvam as the true 'heirs' of former CM J Jayalalithaa, but also because they would lose in the number game.
If it fails to win at least four of the Assembly seats, it may end up losing its majority status in the Assembly — and in effect losing its government too. For the DMK, this is the opportunity to wrest power in the state after having languished in the Opposition for more than eight years.
DMK president MK Stalin is upbeat about his own prospects, after series of public protests against government projects in many districts like Tuticorin and Edappadi's home-district Salem.
"They will not even win five seats. Once they are swept out of Parliament, the AIADMK will be voted out and there will be changes (in Tamil Nadu government). He (Edappadi Palanisami) will not become the CM again," Stalin said.
By-elections to the 22 Assembly segments have been delayed time and again, because of the disqualification of so many MLAs by the Speaker for rebelling against the CM and being dragged in the courts.
Even when the polls were notified in March, the Election Commission only notified by-elections to 18 Assembly seats — and it was the DMK's persistent legal battle that has now forced the Election Commission to notify bypolls to four more seats — including one seat that fell vacant recently after an MLA's death. The Opposition knows well that it has to get its arithmetic right.
Here is how the numbers stack up:
There are 234 seats in all in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The halfway mark is 117, but halfway +1 (to get majority) is 118. With 22 seats vacant, the number required for majority was just 106.
The ruling AIADMK has 114 MLAs, while the DMK, combined with its allies, has 97 MLAs. There is also one Independent MLA — TTV Dinakaran, the nephew of Jaya's close aide VK Sasikala who was thrown out of the AIADMK and then fought and won the bypoll in Jaya's home constituency RK Nagar.
The AIADMK needs at least four MLAs to stay in power, and ideally eight to nine seats to have a comfortable majority till 2021 — a number the Chief Minister says he is confident of.
“No one can dissolve a government so easily. The court is here to decide and give justice. If the state government doesn't have the majority, then there is a chance to get dissolved. But AIADMK is in power with absolute majority," says Palanisami, who is also the co-coordinator of the party.
But he is not just fighting against the DMK. He is also fighting against Dinakaran, who has since launched his own party, the Amma Makkal Munnertra Kazhagam, and has fielded candidates in all Assembly segments for the by-elections.
He is hoping to prevail in many of these Assembly seats, and later stake claim to be the original inheritor of Jaya and the 'two-leaves' symbol of the AIADMK — he wants to assert himself as the real heir to Jaya's legacy.
"It's a mini Assembly election. The ruling party has to win at least eight of these seats. Else, the government will go. The AIADMK will not win even a single Assembly seat in the election. It is going to be a sweep for the AMMK in the bypolls as well," Dinakaran told News18.
Usually, the ruling party has an advantage in any by-election, but this time it is not going to be that easy for the AIADMK.
Already seeing a lot of factionalism, there are a lot of other factors too that are kicking in this time — the party has already seen an upset in December 2017 in RK Nagar, where it lost to Dinakaran.
And it is not merely about winning at least four seats in the by-elections this time. As Dinakaran says, "They may need eight to nine wins to survive." The loyalty of a few others of its existing MLAs is also under question. These are Dinakaran's 'sleeper-cell MLAs' who have been with the AIADMK thus far, but, he claims, will rebel against the party once he has better numbers on his side.
The by-elections could end up being a greater thriller this poll season than the Lok Sabha elections in the 39 Parliamentary constituencies.