Editorials - 05-05-2021

Anti-incumbency and strong support for M.K. Stalin helped the DMK win

The Tamil Nadu voter has ushered in a change of guard. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance was voted to power after 10 years of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) being the ruling party. In a largely bipolar contest, the gap between the two alliances was six percentage points. The two major alliances secured more than 85% of the votes polled. Nonetheless, the presence of two new alliances — the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK)-led alliance and the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM)-led alliance — secured between themselves 6% of the votes. The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll analysis provides some useful insights to explain the verdict of the Tamil Nadu voter.

Issue-based election?

Tamil Nadu has always seen the impact of the leadership factor in its elections. For the last five decades, the Dravidian politics of the State revolved around stalwarts like C.N. Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi, M.G. Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa. Other electoral issues such as unemployment, price rise and the like did not appear to directly determine voting choice in the State. This time around, while four of every 10 respondents (43%) preferred not to reveal the key factor that influenced their voting decision, development and linked issues seemed to be at the back of the mind of at least three of every 10 voters in the State (Table 2). Possibly, the absence of leader-centred politics has given way to issue-awareness.

Two-term fatigue?

While there was no single issue that overwhelmingly appeared to determine voter choice, a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling AIADMK was visible. This could be garnered from the fact that close to half (49%) the respondents said they did not want to give another chance to the ruling party even as one-third (33%) were in favour of giving another chance to the incumbent government. The last time around (in 2016), the gap between those who wanted to give the ruling party a second chance and those who did not was much narrower (Table 3).

The anti-incumbency sentiment could also be read from the figures of the level of satisfaction with the incumbent government. The anti-incumbency wave was clearly visible during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Measures such as the announcement of farmer loan waivers and 10.5% separate reservation for Vanniyars possibly helped to marginally reduce the anti-incumbency sentiment. The AIADMK tactfully chose to ally with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in northern Tamil Nadu, which helped strengthen the fight against the DMK-led alliance. As compared to the mood at the time of the last Assembly polls, there is a decrease in the level of satisfaction with the incumbent government. The net satisfaction (fully satisfied minus fully dissatisfied) was four percentage points lower than the last time around (Table 3).

Data from the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll study indicates that among those who were satisfied with the incumbent government, close to six of every 10 of them voted for the AIADMK-led alliance while three of every 10 gave preference to the DMK-led alliance. On the contrary, among those who were dissatisfied with the government, close to two-thirds (63%) voted for the DMK-led alliance and less than two of every 10 voted for the AIADMK-led alliance (Table 1).

Performance

Voters were also asked to assess the work done by the AIADMK-led government in the last five years. Overall, people gave a mixed opinion on this. On basic infrastructure in the State, the government was rated positively. On the other hand, when it came to the condition of fishing communities, condition of farmers, job opportunities and the law and order situation, the government scored negative marks. People were asked about their opinion on the party that would be best for the betterment of Tamil Nadu on a range of indicators. Respondents preferred the DMK over the AIADMK.

The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey has consistently sought to track the vote preference of the swing voters. This time around, more than two-fifths (42%) of the swing voters voted for the DMK-led alliance whereas a little over one-third (36%) of the swing voters voted for the AIADMK-led alliance. In the last Assembly elections, there was more or less an equal divide in the swing voters between the two major alliances (Table 4).

The leadership factor

Leadership appeared to have a limited role this time. The DMK alliance voters saw M.K. Stalin as the true inheritor of Karunanidhi’s legacy while in the AIADMK alliance, the outgoing Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami did not get the overwhelming support of its voters as representing the legacy of Jayalalithaa. This could have been one key factor that swayed the trend in favour of the DMK-led alliance.

The election results were not determined by any single electoral issue. Voters were clearly in favour of changing the ruling party. The anti-incumbency sentiment in the State was strongly visible. The rating of the government on various development indicators was not satisfactory. Thus, the victory of the DMK-led alliance had a lot to do with the anti-incumbency factor, dissatisfaction with the ruling parties’ performance, and an endorsement of Mr. Stalin by the DMK voters of being the true inheritor of his father’s legacy.

P. Ramajayam is Principal and Assistant Professor at Bharathidasan University Constituent Arts & Science College, Nannilam, Thiruvarur; Gladston Xavier teaches at Loyola College, Chennai; Sandeep Shastri is Vice Chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal, and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti Network; and Jyoti Mishra is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS

A direct consequence of the pandemic is that New Delhi’s claim to regional primacy and leadership could take a hit

The second wave of COVID-19 and its agonising consequences, prompting the country to accept foreign aid after a gap of 17 years, is bound to have far-reaching strategic implications for India. While the world realises that India is too important to ignore, which perhaps explains the rush to help, there is little doubt that the country will not be the toast of the western world until it is able to get back on its feet. As a direct consequence of the pandemic, New Delhi’s claim to regional primacy and leadership will take a major hit, its ‘leading power’ aspirations will be dented, and accentuate its domestic political contestations. These in turn will impact the content and conduct of India’s foreign policy in the years to come.

Regional primacy

COVID 2.0 has quickened the demise of India’s regional primacy. Regrettably, the country’s geopolitical decline is likely to begin in the neighbourhood itself, a strategic space which New Delhi has been forced to cede to Beijing over the past decade or so, a phenomenon that was intensified by the aggressive regional policies of Modi 1.0. India’s traditional primacy in the region was built on a mix of material aid, political influence and historical ties. Its political influence is steadily declining, its ability to materially help the neighbourhood will shrink in the wake of COVID-19, and its historical ties alone may not do wonders to hold on to a region hungry for development assistance and political autonomy. As a result, South Asian states are likely to board the Chinese bandwagon, if they haven’t already. COVID-19, therefore, comes at a time when India’s standing in the region is already shrinking: the pandemic will unfortunately quicken the inevitable.

In July 2015, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who was then the Foreign Secretary, stated that India aspires to be a “leading power, rather than just a balancing power”. How will COVID-19 impact India’s great power/leading power aspirations? Being boxed in a China-dominated region will provide New Delhi with little space to pursue its regional, let alone global, geopolitical ambitions except in the Indo-Pacific region. While the Indo-Pacific is geopolitically keen and ready to engage with India, the pandemic could adversely impact India’s ability and desire to contribute to the Indo-Pacific and the Quad. COVID-19, for instance, will prevent any ambitious military spending or modernisation plans (called for in the wake of the stand-off at the Line of Actual Control (LAC)) and limit the country’s attention on global diplomacy and regional geopolitics, be it Afghanistan or Sri Lanka or the Indo-Pacific. With reduced military spending and lesser diplomatic attention to regional geopolitics, New Delhi’s ability to project power and contribute to the growth of the Quad will be uncertain.

While the outpouring of global aid to India shows that the world realises India is too important to fail, the international community might also reach the conclusion that post-COVID-19 India is too fragile to lead and be a ‘leading power’. New Delhi is pivotal to the Indo-Pacific project, but with India’s inability to take a lead role and China wooing smaller states in the region away from the Indo-Pacific with aid and threats, the Indo-Pacific balance of power could eventually turn in Beijing’s favour.

Domestic politics

Domestic political contestations in the wake of the COVID-19 devastation in the country could also limit New Delhi’s strategic ambitions. General economic distress, a fall in foreign direct investment and industrial production, and a rise in unemployment have already lowered the mood in the country. The central political leadership, therefore, is likely to focus on COVID-19 recovery and the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2022. The U.P. election and the run up to the 2024 general election, both crucial for the Narendra Modi regime, could fan communal tensions in the country, triggering more political violence. A depressed economy, politically volatile domestic space combined with a lack of elite consensus on strategic matters would hardly inspire confidence in the international system about India. Domestic political preoccupations will further shrink the political elite’s appetite for foreign policy innovation or initiatives. Post-COVID-19, Indian foreign policy is therefore likely to be a holding operation.

These strategic consequences of the pandemic will shape the content and conduct of India’s foreign policy in several important ways.

India-China equations

One potential impact of COVID-19’s devastating return and the damage it has done would be that India might be forced to be more conciliatory towards China, albeit reluctantly. From competing with China’s vaccine diplomacy a few months ago, New Delhi today is forced to seek help from the international community, if not China, to deal with the worsening COVID-19 situation at home. For one, China has, compared to most other countries, emerged stronger in the wake of the pandemic. Second, the world, notwithstanding its anti-China rhetoric, will continue to do business with Beijing — it already has been, and it will only increase. Third, while one is yet unsure of the nature of China-U.S. relations in the days ahead, the rise of China and India’s COVID-19-related troubles could prompt Washington to hedge its bets on Beijing. Finally, claims that India could compete with China as a global investment and manufacturing destination would remain just that — claims.

Thanks to its monumental mismanagement of the second wave, India’s ability to stand up to China stands vastly diminished today: in material power, in terms of balance of power considerations, and political will. This might require New Delhi to be more conciliatory towards China.If the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s rather muted response to the LAC stand-off in the summer of 2020 is anything to go by, we are likely to see a conciliatory China policy from here on.

Depressed foreign policy

Post-COVID-19, Indian foreign policy is unlikely to be business as usual. Given the much reduced political capital within the Modi government to pursue ambitious foreign policy goals, the diplomatic bandwidth for expansive foreign policy goals would be limited, leading thereby to a much depressed Indian foreign policy. The remainder of Mr. Modi’s current term is unlikely to emerge unscathed from such acute foreign policy depression. This, however, might take the aggressive edge off of India’s foreign policy under Mr. Modi. Less aggression could potentially translate into more accommodation, reconciliation and cooperation especially in the neighbourhood, with Pakistan on the one hand and within the broader South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) framework on the other.

The aftermath of the pandemic may kindle such a conciliatory tone in Indian foreign policy for other reasons as well. For one, COVID-19 has forced us to reimagine, to some extent at least, the friend enemy equations in global geopolitics. While the United States seemed hesitant, at least initially, to assist India even as the pandemic was wreaking havoc in the country, Moscow was quick to come to New Delhi’s aid. Even though New Delhi did not accept the aid offers from Pakistan and China, these offers sounded more than the usual diplomatic grandstanding that states engage in during natural calamities. The argument here is not that these will lead to fundamental shifts in India’s strategic partnerships, but that they could definitely moderate the sharp edges of India’s pre-existing geopolitical articulations.

Strategic autonomy

Finally, the pandemic would, at the very least indirectly, impact India’s policy of maintaining strategic autonomy. As pointed out above, the strategic consequences of the pandemic are bound to shape and structure New Delhi’s foreign policy choices as well as constrain India’s foreign policy agency. It could, for instance, become more susceptible to external criticism for, after all, New Delhi cannot say ‘yes’ to just aid and ‘no’ to criticism. A post-COVID-19 New Delhi might find it harder to resist demands of a closer military relationship with the U.S.

And yet, every crisis opens up the possibility for change and new thinking. What COVID-19 will also do is open up new regional opportunities for cooperation especially under the ambit of SAARC, an initiative that already saw some small beginnings during the first wave of the pandemic. New Delhi might do well to get the region’s collective focus on ‘regional health multilateralism’ to promote mutual assistance and joint action on health emergencies such as this. Classical geopolitics should be brought on a par with health diplomacy, environmental concerns and regional connectivity in South Asia. COVID-19 may have opened precisely such an opportunity to the world’s least integrated region.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

That the situations faced by India’s migrants are not a matter of concern in policy making is quite apparent

Strict to moderate lockdowns are being imposed again, this time in April 2021, terminating jobs in many an establishment employing large numbers of informal workers.

Of those employed in the informal category, large numbers include migrants who face, like they did in March-April of 2020, a bleak future, with job losses, loss of rented accommodations, a lack of sustainable income and savings to ensure food, transportation back to villages or any other emergency including falling victim to COVI-19.

Grim to grimmer

Given their bitter experiences last year, migrants have already begun their journeys back to villages, paying exorbitant sums for their travel. Of course, no bright prospect awaits them there given the state of rural distress which initially pushed them to seek a better future in the urban areas. Nor do they expect new job opportunities, especially under shrinking National Rural Employment Guarantee Act allotments by the government.

The continuing exodus unofficially records figures upward of 4 lakh (Western Railway) between April 1 and 12, while the Central Railways sent back 4.7 lakh migrants, all from Maharashtra, over the last few weeks. Such journeys will be recorded in history as those of destitution, offering no prospects of a better state.

With multiple issues of serious sufferings on account of COVID-19- related distress, the country has less time to discuss the fate of these unwanted migrants on their path of reverse migration, fleeing from centres of livelihood toward dark holes of rural helplessness and poverty. To provide a narrative of who these people are, we may describe them as ‘mobile by default’, with growing rural distress and inadequate official policies failing to support the ailing rural economy.

Providing a mirror image of the previous tragedy in 2020, this unwanted trek back to where they came from provides them no future worth mentioning. The conditions faced by these workers under a ‘curfew-to-lockdown’ status include the immediate termination of their livelihoods in terms of jobs, access to accommodation and near insolvency.

That the situations faced by migrants are not a matter of concern in policy making is quite apparent. There has been no attempt to have an official estimate of such flows, either incoming or reverse. Nor has any thought, going by official announcements, been made visible to redress the miseries that await the returning migrants. The recent official announcement of free ration of 5 kg cereals to 80 crore families is the only sop visible so far.

Questions for the state

Questions abound. It may not be too far-fetched to ask if this measure of using lockdowns and curfews to save lives also, simultaneously, take away the means of livelihood for the rootless and roofless migrants. If so, what are the measures the state has offered even to redress to some degree of their sufferings? Would it not have been more fair to provide for some short-term relief for these workers and their families not wanted any more in the urban areas?

One can count the impact on urban centres. The flow provided a reserve army of cheap labour waiting to be hired at wages which, often, could dip lower than the statutory minimum, especially after meeting the demands of the mediating contractor who arranged for the migration from villages. With the formal organised industry employing as many as one half or more of employees with casual or informal status, it proved rather opportune for enterprises in factories, construction sites and other labour-intensive activities to make use of these migrants in their cost-cutting exercises. On the whole, the presence of the rural migrants benefited the urban economy by providing cheap labour to manufacturing units and cheap services to households. However, these jobs provided did not entail further obligations on the part of the employers or the state, given that the ‘footloose’ migrants never had any legal status as a working population.

No labour safeguards

One last question. Has there been any attempt ever to ensure some legal safeguards to these people? Pieces of legislation, as available, do not provide any evidence of addressing the issue especially in the current crisis, a pattern indicative of a minimalist state with close alliances with capital in the process. The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 conferred on casual labour a legal status by providing a mechanism for registration of contractors engaging 20 or more workers. While it was never effective, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 has replaced all such Acts. Seeking, rather ineffectively, to regulate the health and safety conditions of workers in establishments with 10 or more workers, the Code has replaced 13 prevailing labour laws.

One can raise questions as to what happened to the various laws still operative. It is thus more than obvious that none of the so-called corrective measures was of any significance in relation to what the migrants have been experiencing today since partial or total lockdowns have been imposed over the last few weeks.

Can we justify the situation as a step to save lives when it does not work for large sections of migrant people who also experience a loss of their livelihoods at the same time? Could there be some safeguards for such people before sending them off to such a bleak future?

Sunanda Sen is a former Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University

They didn’t yield much for the party but may have softened the blow of the electoral defeat

On February 26, the AIADMK government made a series of last-minute populist announcements. The Legislative Assembly passed a bill to provide 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community in education and jobs within the 20% quota for the Most Backward Classes and denotified communities. Just a day earlier, the government had decided to increase the age of retirement to 60 years for all those working in the government sector. The farming community too was wooed by the government. Following up its early February announcement of waiving outstanding crop loans of Rs. 12,000 crore, the government announced on February 26 that gold loans against up to six sovereigns given by cooperative banks to farmers and the poor would be waived. It is important to look at the impact these sops may have had on voting choices.

Vanniyar quota

The decision to provide 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community was widely viewed as a move that would help the AIADMK firm up its alliance with the PMK and strengthen its election prospects in the Vanniyar-concentrated constituencies. The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll data, however, suggest that the step may not have produced the desired results for the AIADMK, even though in overall terms more people supported the decision of the government than opposed it. Nearly half the respondents supported the government’s decision (22% fully and 28% moderately) and around four of every 10 opposed it (12% fully and 26% moderately). However, when we look at their voting preferences, we find that the AIADMK alliance did not get any major vote advantage over the DMK alliance among those who supported the quota decision (Table 1). A little less than half ended up voting for the AIADMK alliance and about four of every 10 for the DMK alliance. The AIADMK managed just a seven percentage point vote lead over the DMK among this segment.

On the other hand, the remaining 50% who either opposed the quota or were ambivalent about it were more decisive in their voting preferences – 51% voted for the DMK and only 33% for the AIADMK. In fact, even among the Vanniyar community, there was no great advantage that went to the AIADMK on account of this support. This is because at least a third of the 79% of Vanniyars who supported the quota move actually ended up voting for the DMK alliance.

Crop loan waiver

While post-poll data indicate that the decision to waive crop and gold loans given to farmers by cooperative banks may not have improved the prospects of the AIADMK as much as it would have liked, it may have still ended up softening the farmer anger towards the ruling party. In the survey, one in every four farming households (households where a member was in the farming sector) reported having benefited from or availed of the crop or gold loan waiver (Table 2). Of them, 47% ended up favouring the AIADMK alliance and 39% preferred the DMK. It appears thus that the AIADMK’s decision did pay some dividends but only among this small section. A majority of farming households had yet not benefited from/availed of the crop or gold loan waiver (or were not eligible). Thus the government’s decision may have come a bit too late in the day for the ruling party to make any major gains.

Further, even though the farmers have split their vote evenly between the DMK and the AIADMK alliances, this does not mean that they were satisfied with how the State government had addressed their condition. On being asked specifically about whether the condition of farmers had improved or deteriorated under the AIADMK government, close to half (46%) of the respondents who belonged to farming households said that the farmers’ condition had worsened (Table 3).

Retirement age extension

The AIADMK government’s decision to increase the retirement age of government employees to 60 years does not seem to have had much of an impact in making government employees vote for the ruling party, at least not on the scale as it would have liked (Table 4). To begin with, only 8% of our respondents reported having a household member who worked in the government sector. Furthermore, only half of them expressed support for the government’s decision to increase the retirement age with the rest being either opposed to the move or ambivalent on the issue (Table 4). Further, even this 4% who supported the government’s decision to extend the retirement age did not vote much for the AIADMK. If anything, we find that a plurality of them actually ended up voting for the DMK.

Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi

AIADMK seems to have miscalculated in allying with the BJP

Apart from the fatigue of two terms and the public’s general dissatisfaction with the State government on various counts, one of the major reasons for the AIADMK alliance’s disastrous performance seems to have been the presence of the BJP in the alliance. The BJP, it seems, ended up being far more of an electoral liability for the AIADMK+ than an asset, and dragged their seat tally down. Not only does the election result bear this out, given that the AIADMK-led alliance did far worse in the BJP-contested seats than seats contested by its other constituents, the evidence from our post-poll survey also confirms this.

A negative sentiment

According to the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey, twice as many voters in the State held a negative sentiment about the BJP than a positive one. On being asked whether the BJP’s rise will be detrimental or good for the State’s social fabric, four of every 10 said it would be bad and less than two of every 10 said it would be good for the State. Four of every 10 felt it would not make a difference or refused to take a stand on the issue (Table 1). Significantly, not only was this apprehension about the BJP seen among the DMK alliance’s voters, but also among AIADMK+’s voters. Voters of most other parties and fronts (barring MNM+) held a similar opinion although their degree of opposition to the BJP varied.

The anti-BJP sentiment was also found to be quite widespread across all regions of Tamil Nadu with respondents in the Cauvery delta region expressing the strongest apprehensions about the BJP. The only region where the sentiment against the BJP was less intense was the western region (Table 2). This is also the region where the AIADMK alliance ended up doing much better.

Socio-demographics

The strongest apprehension about the BJP’s rise was seen among Christians, followed by Dalits, Thevars and the upper castes. Muslims, however, were found to be quite indifferent (Table 2). A stark difference in opinion was also noticed when one disaggregated the responses by Tamil and non-Tamil speaking voters – the former were 10 points more likely to view the BJP as being bad for the State’s social fabric than the latter.

The AIADMK was banking on the BJP’s strength as the dominant party at the Centre and hoping that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal would extend to Tamil Nadu. However, the party seems to have badly miscalculated on this count.

Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi

By reposing faith in the LDF, Kerala voters have sent a message to Congress and BJP too

The spectacular victory of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the Kerala Assembly election has put the spotlight on its lead author, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. His resolute leadership style and daring political experiments found resounding approval among the State’s electorate that re-elected an incumbent government for the first time in four decades. With this historic victory, Mr. Vijayan has further reinforced his already unassailable status as the supreme leader of the CPI(M) and the LDF. At 75, his challenge now will be to use his authority to transform the party so that its current dynamism outlasts his position in command. By replacing several old warhorses with fresh faces in the polls, he has already set the ball in motion. A transition in the CPI(M) — and the LDF — is under way and this will also be reflected in the choice of new Ministers. K.N. Balagopal, P. Rajeev and M.B. Rajesh could make the cut. Administrative challenges will be immense for the government, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic. The second successive defeat for the Congress and the United Democratic Front (UDF) is not a warning signal, but a marching order for its listless, self-serving leaders. The current crop of Congress leaders is out of touch with the evolving Malayali. Instead of exchanging chairs with one another, they must all go at once and pave the way for imaginative and inspiring leaders.

The BJP’s grand plans for Kerala have been dashed, and how. From 14.93% in 2016 to 12.47% this time, the BJP-led NDA vote share plummeted, but more notably, it got 4.29 lakh votes fewer. The BJP leaders are out of sync with Kerala, but the party’s slide is more because the people find its politics unacceptable. Centrist voters who considered the BJP as an option have been taken aback by its politics in Kerala and beyond. Some refreshing trends that run contrary to the national slant of BJP politics are evident. The new Kerala Assembly is a cross-section of the State’s religious diversity — with Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities finding representation in proportion to their populations. In terms of caste and gender this may not be true. A Hindu-majority constituency in Kerala chose a Muslim candidate (Congress) against the BJP’s Chief Ministerial face E. Sreedharan. The Indian Union Muslim League, a constituent of the UDF, saw its support shrinking, as the current generation of the community seeks new options. The CPI(M) has been relatively more successful in appreciating the myriad changes that are under way in Kerala and in responding to them. The Congress, which swept the Lok Sabha poll, will have opportunities to reinvent itself to pose a challenge to the Left in the Assembly election. But for the BJP, without a metamorphosis, Kerala will remain a nightmare, not a dream.

Tamil Nadu stays a two-front arena; attempts to form a third force fail to impress voters

Some elections are decided on key issues, some on the incumbent’s performance, and others on alliance arithmetic and local factors. The outcome of the Tamil Nadu Assembly election, in which the DMK emerged triumphant and its leader, M.K. Stalin, is set to be sworn in as Chief Minister, seems to be an unequal mix of all these. The DMK’s comeback was a foregone conclusion after the alliance led by it scored a landslide victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, and a third successive term for the AIADMK was unlikely. Mr. Stalin has been rewarded for his patience. He has led the party successfully for the second time after the demise of M. Karunanidhi, his father and the party’s towering figure for over four decades. The DMK rode mainly on a popular desire for change, to win 133 seats on its own, including some secured by allies who contested on the DMK symbol. The front ended up with 159 seats. The Congress’s performance is more impressive, as it won 18 of the 25 seats allotted to it. The two Left parties won two seats each, and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) won four seats, of which two were in the general category, showing that it draws its appeal from a base wider than the Dalits it represents. Amid expectations that the Tamil Nadu voter would reject the idea of an alliance with the BJP, the AIADMK managed to win 66 seats, while five seats went to its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK); the BJP re-enters the Assembly after 20 years with a tally of four.

The results may be difficult to interpret in terms of whether the voters accepted the DMK’s campaign point that the AIADMK, led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami, surrendered the State’s rights to the Centre, but it may indicate that Mr. Palaniswami managed to mitigate the adverse impact of having a tie-up with the BJP. In the ultimate analysis, the DMK cadre’s fieldwork prevailed over the AIADMK’s mass appeal. The AIADMK has retained much of its vote base, and its bastion in the western region is intact. The outgoing regime’s handling of the COVID-19 situation, farmers’ loan waiver and the 7.5% quota for government school students in medical admissions seem to have stood Mr. Palaniswami in good stead. However, the sub-quota for the Vanniyar community seems to have had only limited impact, as the AIADMK-PMK alliance performed below par in the northern districts, where most of the seats went to the DMK. The entry of the Left parties, the VCK and the MDMK — which were part of an unsuccessful third front in 2016 — to the DMK front has added to the DMK front’s tally. The DMK front’s vote percentage went up from about 39% in the last poll to 45% now. Tamil Nadu remains a two-front arena, with aspirants such as the Naam Tamilar Katchi, whose share has jumped to 6.58%, the Makkal Needhi Maiam and Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam consigned to the fringe.