As the BJP celebrated PM Modi’s comeback, at the DMK headquarters in Chennai, Aadhavan was seated morose by the pedestal of the Anna [C.N. Annadurai] statue. He watched his party colleagues dance in joy, bursting high-decibel crackers. But, he was not happy. “No wonder Thalapathy [M.K. Stalin] is the undisputed leader from Tamil Nadu. Modi or Amit Shah cannot find feet here. But, what is the use of such a big victory. I don’t see any change in the Centre or the state,” says Aadhavan. Aadhavan’s anguish and emotion well captures the mood within the DMK and the mood of the cadres in the Dravidian heartland; the DMK was leading in 37 out of the 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry which went to polls on April 18. Hours later, as DMK president M.K. Stalin walked into the party headquarters, sweets were distributed. “He is the undisputed leader of the state. He is the tallest leader who got us a massive mandate,” says DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan.
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The ruling AIADMK and the BJP have been completely routed. While AIADMK managed to win two seats, the BJP and its alliance partners—PMK, DMDK and Puducherry NR Congress—have been washed out with just single digit vote share. The BJP, which pinned its hopes on five constituencies that it contested, lost even from Kanyakumari, a seat it won in 2014. The DMK-Congress-Left combine in the state made waves in the state, owing to the double anti-incumbency factor. Arithmetic, too, has worked in favour of the DMK alliance. The alliance had a strong edge over the AIADMK-BJP-PMK alliance, which, at the beginning, seemed to be formidable combination. DMK’s campaign on the other was focussed on BJP and Modi. Above all, the AIADMK, which rules Tamil Nadu in the name of its erstwhile leader J. Jayalalithaa, is hugely unpopular. Meanwhile, the DMK strategised the elections much better than its partner the Congress. The DMK had a strong leader in M.K. Stalin, projecting Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial nominee. “With this election, those that questioned the capabilities and credibility of M.K. Stalin have been proven wrong,” says Saravanan.
The DMK, which polled between 22 and 26 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls, has increased its vote tally to a massive 40 per cent. Of course, Stalin is a not prolific writer or a voracious reader like his father M. Karunanidhi. But, the 67-year-old, despite every barb that came at him, waited for a long time to take up the political mantle. For a party that has been out of power in the state since 2011, and which was routed in 2014, Stalin seems to have proven his mettle. “His political acumen was doubted by the political observers. But, everything has been proved wrong,” says R. Mani, a senior journalist. Stalin, sources say, strategised, taking his party seniors including Kanimozhi into confidence. He was the only star campaigner for the DMK, and he addressed every local issue. “It began with our grama sabha meetings. We went to each village to hear the people. This is how our leader strategised,” says Udhayanidhi Stalin, who campaigned aggressively for the DMK.
“With folded hands we accept the resounding victory given to the DMK alliance by the people of Tamil Nadu. During the next five years, we will work hard to fulfil the promises and protect the interests of the state,” Stalin told the media. Congratulating Narendra Modi for his victory, he said he believed that the prime minister will provide a progressive government.
A few kilometers away, cadres are in an upbeat mood at the AIADMK headquarters. “We have won. Our government here is stable and we are in an alliance with the BJP, which has come back to power in the Centre,” says Krishnaveni Selvaraj, as she watched pots of milk poured on Jayalalithaa’s statue on a pedestal. The AIADMK was leading from 9 out of the 22 constituencies which went for the bypolls. Krishnaveni’s happiness has no bounds. “It is double victory for us. Our government is stabilised. We need only five more for a simple majority. And T.T.V. Dhinakaran has been routed this election. So, AIADMK is Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palanisamy and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam,” she says.
Though the DMK managed a massive victory in 37 out of 38 constituencies in Tamil Nadu, and from the lone seat in Puducherry, DMK could not sweep the assembly bypolls. “We have won from 13 constituencies thus increasing our tally to 101 in the assembly. All these were constituencies from which the AIADMK won in 2016,” says DMK’s Constantinopole Raveendran. The DMK, even with the three-digit numbers in the assembly, may not be able to topple the existing Edappadi K. Palanisami government. With the Congress and IUML MLAs, the DMK combine will have only 109 MLAs, nine less than the magic number of 118. The AIADMK, which now has 113 MLAs, has managed to win from nine constituencies, only to retain power in the state. The DMK, with a massive victory in the Lok Sabha polls, has now turned its eyes on the state legislature.