Politics of Tamil Nadu is undergoing a severe churn as the icons who carried the Dravidian legacy — J Jayalaithaa and M Karunanidhi — and inherited the ethos from founding fathers of the movement right from the days of Periyar, Anna and MGR are no more.
After the passing away of the two of the bitterest of political adversaries, coming from the same stock within a short span, the state of Dravidian politics is in a new crucible. It is a new leadership of both the Dravidian majors, the ruling AIADMK and DMK, that is trying to establish itself at a time when there are "outsiders" wanting to fill in a leadership vacuum in the state.
Superstars, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have already thrown their hat into the ring and should they actually enter electoral politics, they would introduce an element of suspense and tense moments for the Dravidian majors, but essentially Tamil Nadu continues to be a two-horse race state.
The BJP is also keen on trying its luck in a that sends 39 members to the Lok Sabha. Sentiments, however, are not favourable for the "party of the North".
In Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami has emerged as the tallest leader from the powerful Gounder community, TTV Dinakaran of Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam from Thevar community and Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK from Vanniyar community, dominant in Northern Tamil Nadu
Cut to current day political situation, the ruling AIADMK is barely hanging on after it got a temporary relief from the Madras High Court which held valid the disqualification of 18 AIADMK MLAs for anti-party activities. In fact this act by Speaker P Dhanpal saved the government in the numbers game in the assembly by bringing down the magic number in the assembly to 108.
Now there are 20 vacancies to the state assembly, after including the two vacancies caused by the death of two sitting MLAs. DMK supremo M Karuanidhi's seat is one of them.
Although the election commission has not yet announced the by-elections, all the political parties in the state are gearing up. Ruling AIADMK has already deployed ministers and senior MLAs to each of the 20 constituencies to ensure all the 18 seats that were won under Jayalalithaa's leadership in 2016 general elections are retained. If AIADMK manages to win most of these seats it would get past the magic figure of 117 in the 234 member house, which still has nearly three years of life left.
The going will sure be tough for the ruling AIADMK with a resurgent DMK already on a campaign trail. The bye polls to the 20 assembly constituencies, that could be announced if the disqualified MLAs owing allegiance to rebel AIADMK leader and chief of Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam TTV Dinakaran, do not challenge the Madras High Court order in the Supreme Court are very significant and can lead to political turmoil.
Regardless, the political parties are preparing for the by-elections that will also be show of real strength ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It may be recalled that the DMK lost out to AIADMK led by Jayalalithaa in the 2016 general elections to TN assembly with a margin of less than 3 per cent votes. Had it managed to rope in a few more allies, the result may well have been different.
Jayalalithaa's death and the division in AIADMK coupled with the negative perception about the TN Government due to its seeming capitulation on a host of issues pertaining to Tamil Nadu - common entrance NEET to mention just one - the DMK seems to be most favorably positioned to gain from this aspect.
Another reason why the by-elections may become important is the possibility that DMK may win most of the 20 seats. It can then upset apple cart of the ruling AIADMK. The DMK and its allies have a strength of 97 at present, just 20 short of majority.
Most of the constituencies that could go for by-elections form part of the dominant Thevar and Vanniayar community regions where TTV Dinakaran and Pattali Makkal Katchi is also powerful. Then there is superstar Kamal Haasan, an upper caste, who is also looking at a debut in electoral politics.
The opposition DMK has successfully managed to fan the perception that the AIADMK government is a proxy of the BJP. Which is why, Deputy Speaker in Lok Sabha and senior AIADMK leader M Thambi Durai keeps talking about DMK's "hidden agenda and understanding with the BJP" to repair his party's perceived image in the state.
"I don't think it is going to be easier for ruling AIADMK Govt to sustain beyond the Lok Shaba elections if the bye polls for 20 constituencies are held before LS elections or along with Lok Sabha elections as if DMK wins more than 12 seats it can unseat the government," said perception strategist and political analyst John Arokiasamy. But for general elections, if Rajinikanth enters electoral politics, then the DMK would sure need to shore up its alliances.
At best, both the superstars can be disrupters. If DMK manages to rope in smaller parties and entice Kamal Haasan, along with its traditional allies, the Congress and the IUML, it stands in with a greater chance in the 2019 general elections too.
"There is a strong perception that the ruling AIADMK is a proxy of BJP. Even Rajinikanth suffers the same perception that BJP is behind the superstar for a Rajinikanth. In fact Rajinikanth could lose out on this count due to anti-BJP sentiments in the state," Arokiasamy said. But his entry will surely disrupt the present political scenario provided he has a formidable strategy to take on the two Dravidian majors.
The DMK and Congress combine appear to have an edge in Lok Sabha polls, but it will not be a walk in the park. Both the parties will have to sweat a lot and also have to work with newer allies.
Then there are the caste calculations will have to be just right, Tamil Nadu politics is also driven by caste polarisations just like in neighboring states of AP and Karnataka between Jagan Mohan from Reddy community, Chandrababu from Kamma Pawan Kalyan from Kappu, Sidaramaiah from Kurbah, Eddiyurapah from Lingayat, Kumaraswamy from Vokkaliga community.
In Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Edapaddi Palaniswami has emerged as the tallest leader from the powerful Gounder community, TTV Dinakaran of Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam from Thevar community and Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK from Vanniyar community, dominant in Northern Tamil Nadu.
In summation, though it does appear that the opposition DMK is ahead in the race, but AIADMK cannot be completely written off. The two national parties may gain only by default.