Nearly 70 million people will be eligible to vote on Wednesday in assembly elections in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Union Territory Puducherry where ruling parties are facing a stiff challenge from a determined opposition.
The elections, pundits say, could unseat at least two ruling coalitions — the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu and the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala. Perhaps the most politically significant election will be in Tamil Nadu, where the main battle is between two Dravidian giants — the ruling DMK and the opposition AIADMK.
Around 45.95 million voters can pick 234 legislators from 2,748 candidates, including 141 women. There will be 54,016 polling booths spread all across the sprawling state.
The Tamil Nadu outcome is bound to cast a shadow on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition in New Delhi in which the DMK is a key ally.
Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi is seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th time and as chief minster for the sixth time.
The DMK is seeking a mandate for another term saying it fulfilled its 2006 electoral promises — such as giving free colour televisions and providing welfare measures like free medical insurance, ambulance service, rice at Re 1 a kg and free houses to the needy.
The DMK is, however, on the defensive over the 2G spectrum scandal, which has led to the jailing of its leader and former communication minister A. Raja on corruption charges.
AIADMK leader and former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa is exuding confidence after pre-election surveys predicted a win for her alliance. She has harped on rising prices, power cuts, the spectrum scandal and the law and order in Tamil Nadu.
DMK has shifted its top leaders — Karunanidhi and his son and Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin — to the “safer” constituencies of Thiruvarur and Kolathur. Jayalalithaa, a former actress, will contest from Srirangam.
Two pre-election surveys have indicated a victory for the UDF in the battle for the 140-member legislature.
One man who is still posing the biggest hurdle to the Congress is Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who at 87 is one of the oldest candidates and a crowd puller.
There are 187 candidates and several parties in the fray. But the contest is mainly between the Congress-led front comprising the DMK and the AINRC-led front including the AIADMK.
Both in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, rival parties have promised voters a litany of freebies — if they win. Just who wins will be known only on May 13 when votes polled in these three states as well as Assam and West Bengal are counted.