CHENNAI: Northern Tamil Nadu, which consists of 11 districts and a whopping 93 Assembly constituencies has always offered a mixed bag for the Dravidian majors. Unlike the western or southern regions of the State, it cannot be termed as so-and-so’s bastion. Even Chennai, once a DMK stronghold, has seen the AIADMK make significant inroads into its 16 seats since 2006 polls. With caste, religion, and development all having a role to play at local levels, both the DMK and the AIADMK alliances have treaded carefully.
The Vanniyar vote
The votes of Vanniyar community, which is dominant in this region, has long been seen as a vital ingredient in the victory here. On this front, the ruling AIADMK is well-equipped. Its poll buddy PMK, which claims to represent the community comes with a solid 5 per cent vote share that the party has consistently garnered over the recent elections. The 10.5 per cent quota for Vanniyars was another arrow in its quiver that the alliance used to woo voters. To capitalise on this development, PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss started his campaign from Gummidipoondi in Tiruvallur district, and covered the entire belt before the campaign period ended.
The DMK alliance sought to counter this on three fronts. First, it harped on a narrative that the quota would be counter-productive to the community. Second, community leader T Velmurugan, who is chief of ally the Tamizhaga Vazhurimai Katchi, canvassed extensively in the Vanniyar belt. Velmurugan, contesting from Panruti in Cuddalore district, was expelled from the PMK and trained his guns at the party’s leadership for its dynastic politics. Third, as the region has a significant number of Dalit voters who are unhappy with PMK’s politics, the DMK’s alliance with the VCK, led by Thol Thirumavalavan, has become a strength. VCK is contesting in six seats in the northern region, and Thirumavalavan, canvassing for Velmurugan in Panruti even sought unity among Vanniyars and Dalits. This move is believed to have struck a chord among progressive youngsters who are wearied of the caste tensions in the belt.
The region has significant pockets of minority voters, especially Muslims, particularly in Ambur, Vaniyambadi and Krishnagiri. These areas saw large mobilisations during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year. The AIADMK has sought to assuage concerns over its alliance with the BJP by changing its stance on the CAA, with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami repeatedly assuring protection and safety to the minorities here.
While the DMK alliance might have hoped that these pockets would have favoured it, it remains unknown what effect the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM would have on the final outcome. The AIMIM is in an alliance with the AMMK and is contesting in three seats, all in the north. Owaisi has attended at least five public rallies seeking votes for his candidates, with the party largely campaigning on the issues of the Muslim population and lack of proportionate representation for them in the State Assembly.
How to rebuild a fort?
The DMK, which has seen its base in Chennai erode over the years, has sought to rebuild its fort by contesting in 15 of the 16 seats here, leaving only Velachery to the Congress. However, the AIADMK had allotted six seats to its allies. In Chennai, both alliances have discussed civic amenities and infrastructure development and macro issues such as the three-language policy, the National Education
Policy, NEET, threats to Tamil culture, dynastic politics, corruption, and more. In several seats, both sides look evenly matched. Interestingly, barring Union Home Minister Amit Shah, no national leader campaigned in the capital this time. Shah campaigned for his party’s candidate Kushboo Sundar, who is contesting from Thousand Lights, an area with a large Muslim population.