CHENNAI/T’PURAM/KOLKATA: The Election Commission on Friday announced the poll schedule for the high stakes electoral battles in four States — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Except in West Bengal and Assam, where the election will be held in six and two phases respectively, it will be a single day affair in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.
In Tamil Nadu, as things stand now, there could be multi-cornered fights among alliances led by the ruling AIADMK, opposition DMK, the four-party People’s Welfare Alliance and the BJP-led NDA that has so far only managed to attract marginal players. Former NDA ally, PMK, other than insisting on having its youth wing leader Anbumani Ramadoss as the CM candidate, is yet to make up its mind on who to sail with. While the AIADMK is sitting pretty, confident of retaining power, parleys are on in the opposition camps. The DMK and Congress have decided to sink or sail together just as they have done in all the elections since 2004. This time, though, they seem to be keen on roping in DMDK, which also has suitors in the form of PWA and BJP. But, Vijayakant is still playing coy.
In Kerala, where the difference in vote share between the two main fronts — UDF and LDF — in the 2011 elections was less than one per cent, if one thing can queer the pitch this time, it is as much the likely emergence of a third front led by BJP (even if it means only a handful of seats) as the unusually long gestation period of 73 days, from the date of announcement till the polling day. While the Congress-led UDF is hoping to cash in on its pro-development plank, the CPM-led LDF is set to unleash a campaign for which the tone has already been set with myriad charges of graft and sleaze against the State government.
The Muslim League, the second largest party in the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF), has already set the tempo by announcing 20 candidates out of its quota of 24 while most other parties are yet to finalise seat allocation.
As has been its wont in the past, the third largest constituent in the UDF, Kerala Congress (M) has split once again, justifying the saying that this is one party that splits as it grows and grows as it splits.
With the party rebels, who have affiliations with the powerful Church walking into its camp, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) has reasons to believe there would be a significant shift in the voting pattern, especially in the 30-odd seats in central Kerala.
This would be a double blow for the UDF as the local elections in October last saw substantial number of Muslim votes swinging in favour of the Left following the controversy over eating beef where the Congress was seen as not having done enough.
Now, the UDF would’ve to work that much harder to prove that its miscalculation during the local body elections about polarisation of Hindu votes in favour of the BJP being at the cost of the LDF was a one-off phenomenon.
It is a matter of speculation whether the BJP would get two-four Assembly seats or six-eight but what it will ensure by aligning with the SNDP’s political outfit BJDS or otherwise is a serious triangular contest in about 30 seats.
Meanwhile in West Bengal, Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee is ready for war. Hours after the poll schedule came out, she announced party candidates for the 294 constituencies in the state and made it clear that the TMC would fight it out alone.
With an eye on women and minority votes, Mamata is fielding as many as 45 women and 57 Muslim candidates - 20 per cent more than last time.
Interestingly, she picked film stars and sportsmen, including former Indian soccer captain Bhaichung Bhutia, footballer Rahim Nabi, cricketer Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Vaishali Dalmia, daughter of former BCCI chairman, the late Jagmohan Dalmia.
Though seemingly well-prepared, Mamata wasn’t exactly happy with the six-phase polling. Seeking to take the battle to the Left, she declared she would go to Kerala herself to expose the ‘unholy alliance’ between the CPI(M) and the Congress in Bengal.
Is Yechury prepared?