For the first two years of his tenure, it was life on tenterhooks for EPS as AMMK functionary T T V Dhinakaran unleashed sustained attacks, pulling the rug from under the chief minister’s feet by wooing AIADMK MLAs.
Stalin’s decision to wait till the EPS government crumbled under its own weight aided the CM by good measure. Finally, it took a mini general election to the assembly in 2019 for him to stabilise his government.
EPS, since then, has graduated in the art of managing political brinkmanship. With a slew of populist schemes — like doling out cash to people during the coronavirus pandemic, granting Rs 1,715-crore compensation for farmers affected by natural calamities, and a farm loan waiver of Rs 12,110 crore — EPS has earned some pan-Tamil Nadu acceptance of late.
He has sought to appease the government employees and teachers, numbering more than 12 lakh, by extending their retirement age to 60. And finally, to appease ally PMK, he announced an internal reservation of 10.5% for Vanniyars. The AIADMK front is all set to put up a tough fight with the DMK front. The DMK front, on the other hand, is a formidable force and has proven its strength by winning 38 out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections.
None of the allies, be it Congress, CPI, CPM, MDMK, VCK, IUML or the Kongunadu Makkal Desiya Katchi, is posing a threat to the Dravidian major, at least outwardly. Many of them have even resigned to the fact that their candidates would have to contest on DMK’s rising sun symbol. With a series of outreach programmes, Stalin has been interacting with the electorate across the state for last several months.
However, peaking too early into the campaign could make the alliance complacent, just as it happened in 2016. The western Gounder belt, which routed DMK in the 2016 assembly elections, continues to pose major challenges to the DMK front as AIADMK has transformed into a Gounder-dominated party after J Jayalalithaa’s demise.
The southern districts, with considerable presence of minorities, both Christians and Muslims, pose a challenge for the AIADMK front. The presence of BJP in the grouping could impact AIADMK’s prospects there. To add to its worries, V K Sasikala and her Thevar community could split pro-AIADMK votes.