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Tamil Nadu State Assembly Elections 2021: DMK Defeats Incumbent Party

The political battle in Tamil Nadu came to rest with DMK President M.K. Stalin being sworn in as the state’s Chief Minister on the 7th of May. As dust settled in the aftermath of a sweeping victory by the DMK-led alliance in the State Legislative Assembly Elections of 2021, the incumbent government of AIADMK was successfully dethroned after a decade.

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The Contenders

The major contenders this time around were the National Democratic Alliance led by AIADMK, and the Secular Progressive Alliance led by DMK. They tussled over a total of 234 seats, of which 118 were required to secure a majority. Other minor alliances included TTV Dhinkaran’s ‘Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam’ (AMMK), and actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan’s ‘Makkal Needhi Maiam’ (MNM), both of which failed to register any significant votes.

The Seat Share

The DMK-led coalition was blessed with people's verdict and an electoral score of 159 seats, where DMK alone grabbed 133 seats followed by its allies - Congress with 18 seats; VCK with 4 seats; and CPI and CPI(M) with 2 seats each. The AIADMK-led coalition gave a tough fight under the leadership of the incumbent C.M. Edappadi K. Palanswami, but its dream to resume power for the third time in a row got shattered with its electoral score getting restricted to 75 seats, where AIADMK alone possessed 66, followed by its allies - PMK and BJP which secured 5 and 4 seats, respectively. These results weren’t entirely unexpected: they tallied with most of the exit polls, and the defeat of AIADMK was long prophesied post a terrible performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.

The Missing Charisma

This election was conducted in a very peculiar ‘Place’ and ‘Time’ set. ‘Place’ refers to the political arena of Tamil Nadu that has always been decisively impacted by the ‘leadership factor’; for the last five decades, the Dravidian politics of the state had revolved around the personality cult of stalwarts like C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran, and Jayalalitha. Also, ‘Time’ can be termed peculiar in this context as this was Tamil Nadu’s first State Assembly Elections post a ‘Void’ left by the sad demise of two towering leaders - DMK President M. Karunanidhi and AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa. This led to a serious leadership crisis in both the parties as leaders from 2nd and 3rd rungs came and even contested within themselves to acquire the topmost positions. AIADMK thus lost its older allies and suffered internal feuds that led to a section of Sasikala’s supporters breaking away and grouping under the banner of AMMK.

The electoral verdict reflects the masses’ acceptance of M.K. Stalin as the successor of M. Karunanidhi, but there is surely a long way to go before they accept E.K. Palaniswami as Jayalalithaa’s successor.

The ‘Void’ certainly seems to have led to the rise of newer issues and leaders, leading to interesting twists in the state’s politics.

The last-minute SOPs

The incumbent AIADMK government rolled out a series of freebies and populist announcements to garner support across the state. The major ones included - 10.5% reservation for Vanniyar community in education, and jobs within 20% quota for the most backward communities, all of which helped the alliance gain significant votes in northern and western Tamil Nadu. But such a move upset other backward caste communities who were bereft of these affirmative measures. Other benefits promised included increasing the age of retirement to 60 years for government sector employees, and wooing the farming community with waivers for standing crop loans. These aided the party in softening its defeat in comparison to the 2019 Lok Sabha Election. Analysts believe that although AIADMK may have lost, it was a win for Palanswami who secured a substantive position for the party in the State Assembly in form of a powerful opposition, despite a strong anti-incumbency drive and the absence of Jayalalithaa.

Countering the Challenges

Stalin successfully countered the caste and religion card played by AIADMK-BJP Alliance as he appealed to the Dravidian commonsense in putting forth the Dravidian-Tamil identity in contrast to the Hindu-Tamil narrative presented by BJP. DMK also presented this election as a referendum between ‘State Autonomy’ or ‘Interference by Centre’. DMK’s anti-incumbency drive, secular nature, and a ‘10 years vision document’ comprising of - promises of jobs, economic development, implementation of Right to Services Act, MSP, Organic Farming, and water resource conservation and management- coupled with AIADMK’s failures and immediate factors like economic slowdown and loss of jobs due to the Pandemic, all contributed to DMK’s victory. Further, the Thoothukudi Protest against Sterlite Copper plant and the current agitation by fishermen against the expansion of Adani port sealed the electoral verdict.

The Road Ahead

This election reinforced the bipolar nature of Dravidian politics and reaffirmed the idea of an India whose core is made up of plurality, federalism, secularism, and regional diversity. It also lay down some crucial responsibilities on Stalin’s shoulders: guarding the State’s unique trajectory of development and mitigating a huge fiscal burden at the same time. Furthermore, Stalin will be held accountable by the populace for his promise of ‘Social Justice’ which is what ultimately assisted him in acceding the throne of Tamil Nadu.


By Sonalika Rani

Sonalika is a first year student of Political Science from Hindu College. Politics has always fascinated her and she tries to find power dynamics in everything happening around her. She is eveready to pick a debate or deliberate on socio-political issues.

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