A quick glance at the list released by the AIADMK of their candidates, for the upcoming Assembly elections, indicates that the party has chosen to play safe this summer. The party has given seats to 23 incumbent Cabinet ministers and 45 sitting MLAs. To add salt to the wounds of fresh applicants, even sitting Rajya Sabha MPs KP Munusamy and P Vaithilingam have been given MLA tickets for this election.
According to numbers provided by the AIADMK, over 9000 persons applied to contest in the 234 constituencies, of which at least 50 seats are being given to allies. For the remaining 180 odd constituencies, the party has fielded well-known and established leaders to a large extent. This includes former Chennai Mayor Saidai Duraisamy in Saidapet, MLA Sathyanarayanan in T Nagar, former MLA JCD Prabhakar in Villivakkam, Deputy Speaker Pollachi V Jayaraman in Pollachi, Minister for Animal Husbandry Udumalai Radhakrishnan in Udumalaipettai and former minister Natham R Viswanathan in Natham.
"Someone like Saidai Duraisamy has hardly been active in politics for the last five years. In fact, he didn't even directly submit a nomination for a seat," says SP Stalin, a senior political reporter and special correspondent with Puthiya Thalaimurai. "KP Munusamy for instance, lost in Veppanahalli in 2016 and lost again when he stood from Krishnagiri district in 2019. He was then given a Rajya Sabha seat and now, he is fielded again from Veppanahalli.‚ÄĚ He adds, ‚ÄúThis will really bring down the morale of AIADMK office bearers and cadres who have been loyal to the party and are waiting to get tickets. It is only logical that if you keep giving only one person chances, others will lose their keenness to support the candidate.‚ÄĚ
Puthiya Thalaimurai‚Äôs Stalin points out that during J Jaylalithaa's regime, the former Chief Minister had always surprised the party by giving tickets to youngsters and growing leaders in constituencies. He refers to past instances like in 2001, when Jayalalithaa allowed an independent candidate named Karunanidhi to represent the party in Bhuvanagiri, and in 2011 when she fielded a temple priest in Avinashi.
When TNM spoke to AIADMK they acknowledged the change in the style of choosing candidates but pointed out that it was done keeping the party's interests in mind.
"We are asking for the people of Tamil Nadu to vote us to power for the third time. For such a challenge, we need to field people with a proven track record and someone who faces the competition on ground," says Satyan Rajan, AIADMK spokesperson.
Satyan himself had applied for the Mylapore post, which finally went to incumbent MLA and former DGP R Nataraj.
"There will be some heartburn amongst cadre but this will not affect their work for the party in any way," says Satyan. "No individual is bigger than the party. And without an iconic leader like Jayalalithaa, the party has to take a strong move for this election," he adds.
Sources in the party, further, add that the infrastructure each leader had on the ground and how they appealed to the demographic were amongst the chief criteria for selection.
"This is not an election for us to field young leaders," says an AIADMK leader. "It is going to be a tight race, and we need someone who has proven their strength before."