Like in a cricket match, the final score line often does not tell the full story of an electoral battle, certainly not in the case of the Tamil Nadu Assembly election 2021. MK Stalin is the undisputed winner with the alliance led by him, winning 159 of the 234 seats in the state, but Edappadi K Palaniswami and the AIADMK did not go down without a fight.
The following are five key takeaways / predictions for the twists that are likely in Dravidian politics based on the results.
EPS holds the â€˜two leavesâ€™, but will face a challenge
With 65 seats in the house, the AIADMK can play a formidable opposition, but there are challenges that it will face. The party has swept the western regions of the state, it won all except one seat in Salem district and all seats in Coimbatore district.
Ministers close to Edappadi Palaniswami, like SP Velumani, P Thangamani, have won with huge margins and the western district MLAs will dominate the legislative party. However, O Panneerselvam and some southern, Thevar caste heavy weights have also won, though with narrow margins.
There will be friction between the west and south and it will be interesting to see how things will play out. EPS has the most credible claim to be Leader of Opposition, but even if that is the case, over a period of time he will face an internal challenge.
This challenge may not come from TTV Dhinakaran as his credibility has taken a huge dent after a poor showing in the polls. Except in four or five constituencies, the two leaves vote and the Thevar caste vote has remained with the official party and even Sasikala may not be able to challenge that.
The challenge for EPS may actually come from unexpected quarters and may also depend on how long and how much the BJP is willing to back the outgoing Chief Minister.
Tamil Nadu remains a two-horse race and Stalin has a role in keeping it that way
These results are an extraordinary reiteration that Tamil Nadu remains a battle between the rising sun symbol and the two leaves symbol and any party that hopes to have a seat winning chance in the state will have to ally with one of the two. There will be distant thirds, but the big two dominate the battle.
As long as it is a battle between these two, other ideologies and forces have little room in the state and Stalin may have to play a proactive role in keeping the AIADMK as the strong and only opposition. This is the only way he can ensure the perpetuation of the Dravidian legacy.
While this cannot be an overt role, given the internal friction in the AIADMK the Chief Minister could either conspire to foment a meltdown or help ensure consolidation in the AIADMK. It will be interesting to see whether Stalin is the maverick to script the opposition and have the farsightedness to make it a strong one.
Chennai and northern sweep for DMK
MK Stalin has swept through Chennai and the northern districts of the state. Not a single seat went to the AIADMK in Chennai, including the late J Jayalalithaaâ€™s RK Nagar seat. This shows there was massive anti- incumbency against EPS in the city and his inability to connect with the urban voter.
The AIADMK has been deserted by the urban voter in Madurai and Trichy as well, but the bigger issue is the results in the northern part of the state, which is the PMKâ€™s belt of influence. Here, the PMK Vanniyar vote has gone to AIADMK Vanniyar caste candidates in many cases, but other caste votes from the AIADMK have not gone to PMK candidates.
This only proves that at the grass roots, the animosity of non-Vanniyar castes against the PMK remains intense. This explains why while PMK Vanniyar votes may go to an allyâ€™s candidate from that caste the PMK candidates will not get votes from other castes.
The PMK seems to have a bleak future and will have to learn to remain a small sub-regional outfit and not a decisive ally. Its stock and credibility has certainly hit rock bottom and it is paying the price for being abrasive and abusive at the grass roots.
The rise of the radical and the fall of Kamal
While the space for the third force is very limited, the rise of the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) vote shares needs to be viewed with caution. It is a radical force revolving around Seemanâ€™s powerful oratory. Heâ€™s had a magnetic effect on youth in several parts of the state, but his extreme and radical ideological position is disconcerting. Such radical forces may not necessarily grow further in electoral popularity, but can influence the radical elements within the major parties, especially the DMK.
M Karunanidhi was a master maverick and had the stature to ensure the radical elements remained under control and Stalin will have to show how he is going to manage them. He has seen his father manage a Congress alliance in the midst of a war against the Tamils in Sri Lanka, but it will be interesting to see how much he has learnt.
Apart from this, there is a clear move away from other third forces like actor Vijayakanthâ€™s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and towards the NTK and this is what explains the 7% vote share the party has got. Kamal Haasanâ€™s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has turned out to be a disaster and it is unlikely the star will have a future in the stateâ€™s political landscape. He over pitched himself and the results show that he canâ€™t hold his own on the electoral field.
In fact, the joke is Rajinikanth knew what Kamal didnâ€™t: that star power isnâ€™t enough.
Stalin has little room for error, nepotism or corruption
While MK Stalin has finally realised his dream of being Chief Minister, it is important what he does with the mandate. He has often tried to emulate his father and this will be his biggest test.
Given his ideological position, it will be important to watch how he negates Centre-state relations and thatâ€™s absolutely essential in the midst of a catastrophic second wave of the pandemic. This is his immediate challenge and it is perhaps the worst time for a new Chief Minister to take charge.
The Narendra Modi government has threatened the federal spirit on several occasions and how regional forces negate administrative issues will determine the success of a state government. Stalin will have to show great deft at handling these issues and would have to surround himself with extremely astute advisors and bureaucrats.
He cannot allow internal party differences and insecurities to cloud his decisions and promoting his son will certainly dent the credibility of the government and lead to allegations of nepotism. He also has to keep a firm check on the corruption front as several DMK chieftains are tasting power after a decade and would want to make the most of it.
Views expressed are the author's own.
TM Veeraraghav is an independent journalist. He has worked as a TV journalist for many years, primarily covering the corridors of power in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu.