It is now emerging as a genuine four-cornered fight in Tamil Nadu, perhaps a first in a long while. The line-up is the AIADMK, the DMK and its allies, a third front led by popular actor Vijaykanth and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a party relying almost solely on its appeal among the Vanniars. The last is a numerically large intermediate caste in the northern districts and a little into central Tamil Nadu.
The BJP is also in the fray, all on its own, but no one takes it seriously here. There is this stridently Tamil nationalist Nam Thamizhar Katchi, putting up candidates in all the 234 constituencies, but seen more as a joke at this juncture.
While the DMK and the AIADMK are almost evenly matched, with a slight edge for Jayalalitha, it is easily the impact of the third front that will decide the eventual outcome. The moot question is and will remain till voting day â€“ whose votes will it chip away?
Jayalalithaa too has some minor allies with her, but all of them are contesting under the two leaves symbol.
With the arrival of G K Vasan, the Peopleâ€™s Welfare Front (PWF), has almost assumed the looks of a mahagatbandhan , but is it one?
In a rather strange nomenclature, they are calling it an alliance of Vijaykanthâ€™s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and the PWF, comprising the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Viduthalaai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK), a Dalit outfit and the two Left parties, the CPM and the CPI.
Why not call it just the PWF led by â€˜captainâ€™ Vijaykanth? After sealing the pact with the DMDK, MDMKâ€™s Vaiko, the co-coordinator of the front, in a fit of exultation, did declare it was going to be the Captainâ€™s Welfare Front thereafter. But the Left and the VCK balked finding that it was too much of deference to the mercurial Vijaykanth. So they all are now sticking to the alliance version, though Vijaykanth is projected as its Chief Ministerial candidate.
We have dealt with Vijaykanth in the previous posts. He has a measure of charisma, but how much of his original appeal remains is a question doing the rounds.
Vaiko is contesting 29 seats, getting the top billing within the PWF, but his constituency is even more nebulous â€“ he is being given the pride of place only because his oratory and flowery rhetoric still attract some crowds.
Govindasamy Karuppiah Vasan is yet another unknown quantity. And he is not even a patch on his crafty father, the late Karuppiah Moopanar.
A feudal lord of Thanjavur district, Moopanar was originally just a local neta, content to herd his workers to the polling booth, as it were. But he worked his way up steadily, even while maintaining low key. When the urn containing Kamarajâ€™s ashes was taken in a procession in Thanjavur, small-time people on the chariot and yet others leading, making a big show of it, one was struck at the sight of Moopanarâ€™s walking by fast, lost in conversation with someone, not raising his head at all.
Whatever the electoral fortunes of the Congress, he remained close to its workers. When he floated his Tamil Maanila Congress, he could be seen accosting various small town leaders seated in the audience by name. He also remained strongly secular, refusing to join hands with the BJP even if it meant ending his successful alliance with the DMK.
But he also let slip many an opportunity to become the face of the opposition when Karunanidhi was in power and later struck deal with Jayalalithaa against whom he had been vigorously campaigning. In addition, he was pressurized by his family to anoint his son Vasan as his political heir too.
Able, enthusiastic hands like Selvakumar were sidelined, and it was made clear that his own son would be taking over the reins after him. At the last public meeting Moopanar addressed, there was an orchestrated chorus for Vasan, and he was presented before the cadres.
Now like his dad, he too looks unassuming, but he is quite insecure and hence distrusts anyone and everyone around him. Most colleagues of Moopanar he had alienated very quickly, though it should be admitted he has been able to retain the loyalty of the cadres to a limited extent.
After merger with the Congress, he expected to call the shots locally, but it didnâ€™t happen. Having failed to carry any conviction with the high command, Vasan too tried to emulate his dear departed dad and revived the TMC.
He didnâ€™t realize Karuppiah Moopanar had established his credibility over a long period of time or that his stunning success could be attributed more to certain historical conjunctures than to his charisma.
The re-born TMC was much more truncated. For a year after walking out of the parent party, Vasan did little to broaden his base or enthuse his followers.
Insiders have it that he had been promised by Jayalalithaa that she would accommodate his party in her front during the polls, but come the elections, she told him bluntly to contest under her partyâ€™s symbol. That was perhaps too much for the ever-deferential Vasan, and he went over to the PWF.
The front has been attracting some impressive crowds in its campaign thus far and Vasanâ€™s arrival should cheer them up a little more. But the crowds one sees during electioneering do not automatically translate into votes.
As noted repeatedly, Vijaykanthâ€™s own grip has been sliding steadily, Vaiko is nothing much to speak of and Vasan is not any different.
Under these circumstances the third front will be relying essentially on the caste loyalties evoked by the VCK and the traditional Left vote bank â€“ the first three only providing a veneer of respectability though.
So then the addition of Vasan has not changed the equation in anyway. Unless there is any overpowering desire on the part of the voter to boot out the AIADMK, the front would only end up splitting the anti-AIADMK votes and help Amma return to power.
Besides there is nothing striking about the DMKâ€™s manifesto except for the promise of complete prohibition, something they had been talking about for long, while Jayalalitha herself talks of phased implementation.
Advantage Amma â€“ still.