Amid charges of big-time corruption, Tamil Nadu is set for
assembly elections Wednesday, its result bound to cast a shadow on
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ruling coalition. The main battle
is as usual between the two Dravidian giants -- the ruling DMK and
the main opposition AIADMK, each heading carefully crafted
umbrella groupings of their own.
AIADMK leader and former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa is
exuding confidence after pre-election surveys predicted a sweeping
win for her alliance.
Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi says the surveys
are a media creation and that his party is sure of retaining power
for five more years.
On Wednesday, around 4.59 crore voters will be eligible to pick
234 legislators from 2,748 candidates, including 141 women. There
will be 54,016 polling booths.
The DMK is seeking people's mandate for another term saying it
fulfilled its 2006 electoral promises -- such as giving away free
colour televisions and providing welfare measures including free
medical insurance, ambulance service, rice at Re.1 a kilo and free
houses to the needy.
It has promised more freebies if voted back to power. These
include a grinder or mixer to all households, laptop to students,
and free bus pass for senior citizens.
Jayalalitha, the star of the anti-DMK alliance, is harping on
rising prices, power cuts, the spectrum scandal, and deteriorating
law and order in Tamil Nadu.
The AIADMK has also promised freebies - fans, mixer-grinders for
all households, laptop for school and college students, free rice,
free bus passes for senior citizens and more.
Karunanidhi is seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th
time and as chief minster for the sixth time.
"The fulfilment of promises made in 2006 will see us through
comfortably. At least one welfare scheme implemented by us has
reached every home," DMK spokesperson and MP T.K.S. Elangovan told
The DMK is, however, on the defensive over the spectrum issue,
which has led to the jailing of its leader and former
communication minister A. Raja on corruption charges.
A possible DMK defeat, pundits say, would be deemed a vote against
corruption -- real and perceived -- and is sure to affect Manmohan
Singh's government. The DMK is one of its key components.
This is what Jayalalithaa underlined in hugely attended public
The DMK is contesting in 119 of the 234 constituencies after
allocating the remaining 115 seats to the Congress (63), PMK (30),
VCK (10) and other smaller groups.
The AIADMK has put up candidates in 160 constituencies. It has
allotted 74 seats to 10 allies including actor Vijayakant's DMDK
(41) the Communist Party of India-Marxist (12) and Communist Party
of India (10).
The AIADMK and DMK are in straight contest in over 80 seats.
Perhaps fearing a spectrum scandal backlash, the DMK has shifted
its top leaders -- Karunanidhi and his son and Deputy Chief
Minister M.K. Stalin -- to "safer" constituencies.
Karunanidhi, a stalwart of Indian politics, is contesting from his
native Thiruvarur, having given up Chepauk. And Stalin has moved
to Kolathur from Thousand Lights constituency.
Jayalalithaa and Vijayakant have changed their constituencies.
MGR protege and former actress Jayalalithaa will be contesting
from Srirangam (not Andipatti) and Vijayakant from Rishivandiyam,
having given up Virudhuchalam that elected him for the first time
The BJP, never a major force in Tamil Nadu, is going it alone.
The Election Commission has deployed 240 companies of paramilitary
forces across the state. It will also monitor directly through web
camera polling in 10,000 booths.