CHENNAI: With the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections shaping up into a four-cornered contest, the biggest beneficiaries are likely to be small parties, which will be entering into seat-sharing talks from a stronger position as alliance leaders hope to minimise the splitting of votes.
After actor Rajinikanth’s announcement last week that he would launch a party to contest the polls, the traditionally bipolar electoral race has been fragmented. Voters may now be able to choose from alliances led by DMK, AIADMK, Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Neethi Mayyam or Rajini’s new party. If TTV Dhinakaran’s AMMK — expected to get a boost after VK Sasikala’s release from jail — creates its own alliance, the field will be further splintered.
In this context, small parties will become indispensable, especially to the Dravidian majors who will need their voters to get past the finishing line. For instance, the PMK, which contested alone in 2016, managed to get 5.3 per cent votes, while the People’s Welfare Alliance, a coalition of small parties led by Vijaykanth’s DMDK, polled 5.1 per cent votes. By garnering anti-incumbency votes that might have otherwise gone to the DMK-led alliance, both factions are believed to have helped in returning the AIADMK to Fort St George for a second consecutive term.
According to veteran journalist T Koodalarasan, the Dravidian majors can’t afford to underestimate the small parties. An analysis of polls from 2001 onwards shows that in the elections during which the Dravidian majors accommodated most of the small parties, the number of seats won by a margin of under 1,000 votes is less than 10. In 2001, nine seats were won by a margin of less than 1,000 votes.
In 2006, when DMK formed a minority government, the newly-launched DMDK contested in 232 seats. Although it was victorious in only one constituency, it managed to get a vote share of 8.38 per cent. That year, 17 seats were decided by wafer-thin margins. In 2011 when small parties were tied up in alliances, that figure dropped to eight.
However, in 2016, which saw a four-cornered race, it doubled to 16 per cent. A senior functionary of a small party, which was forced to contest alone in the 2016 polls after one of the Dravidian majors shut its door on the party, recalled that the outfit still managed to secure enough votes in the 10 seats it contested to affect the prospects of the DMK and the AIADMK.
“This time, we expect a good number of seats as our vote share is crucial for both parties amid a four-cornered contest. Each vote and seat will count, so they will have to rejig their alliances accordingly,” the functionary said.