The havoc caused by the cyclone has come as a challenge to AIADMK government but is a boon for the ruling AIADMK which has been looking for some opportunity to put off 20 by-elections in Tamil Nadu.
The Chief Election Commission had said recently that by-elections will be held in the next few months and would not be clubbed with the Lok Sabha elections. The AIADMK had therefore begun preparations for the by-elections and set up committees to handle the bypolls, just as other too parties were getting poll ready.
However, the distress caused by Gaja cyclone will now be used by the state government to postpone the by-elections for two reasons – it is a fact that the administration in the affected districts is grappling with the issue of restoration of basic facilities and infrastructure; it is also true that the slow pace of relief is also causing disaffection among the people, which can hurt the ruling party politically.
Tamil daily Dinamalar recently quoted a report of the Centre’s Intelligence Bureau that if by-elections were to be held shortly in the State, the DMK would win 14 of the 20 contests, and the AMMK led by TTD Dinakaran 2 seats, with the ruling AIADMK likely to win in only four seats. This would mean that the AIADMK would officially be seen as a minority government, putting pressure on the Governor to force the ruling party to seek a vote of confidence in the House or usher in an alternative government led by the DMK.
The purported report has not been denied by the IB so far.
A recent opinion poll of a Tamil television channel has placed the popularity of the DMK at 38 per cent and that of its CM face M K Stalin as over 45 per cent, while the AIADMK is seen to be struggling at just between 20 to 25 per cent.
The ruling party doesn’t reveal confidence when it comes to facing the electorate.
The distress caused by the Gaja cyclone could not have come at a worse time for the ruling party, since farmers in Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai and Trichy, already gripped by unrest, are upset over huge agricultural losses.
Therefore it is that the AIADMK would like the bypolls to be held along with the Lok Sabha polls in April-May which would give the ruling party some breathing time to try and provide relief from the damage caused by the cyclone and also improve its image among the people.
There is already the precedent of the Chief Secretary having written to the Election Commission seeking postponement of the Thanjavur and Tiruparankundram bypolls on the ground that the State could receive massive rains under the influence of the north-east monsoon.
The Central Election Commission may take up the issue of the dates for the byelections after completing the election process in five States including MP and Rajasthan. At that time, the State government is expected to take the stand that in view of relief and rehabilitation measures having to be undertaken in at least six districts, the situation would not be conducive for holding elections.
The DMK, which was looking forward to massive wins in the by-elections and perhaps gain an opportunity to oust the AIADMK government, now fears that the cyclone bogey could be used all over again to delay holding of by-polls. It may have to wait till after the by-election results and the Lok Sabha elections too if there has to be a change in the State.