The Election Commission has declared the by-polls to 18 Assembly seats of the 21 vacant in Tamil Nadu on April 18, along with those to the Lok Sabha.
For the AIADMK, which joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the by-polls will be crucial because the results will determine the continuity of the Edappadi K Palaniswami-led government in the state.
Three constituencies are not going to the by-polls because of cases pending before the Madras High Court, said the chief electoral officer.
For the AIADMK, it is a matter of survival. As far as the DMK is concerned these are testing times for the party and for its new leader, M K Stalin, who took control after the death of his father, M Karunanidhi, last year.
For these leaders this will also be the first major election, say political observers, noting that the AIADMK's rebel leader T T V Dhinakaran will be a major challenge for the ruling faction.
The AIADMK may have to win eight of the 21 seats to maintain its majority in the Assembly. For the DMK-led alliance, it has to win all the 21. Karunanidhi’s death necessitated the by-election to the Tiruvarur seat. The Hosur seat fell vacant following the disqualification of minister K Balakrishna Reddy after his conviction in a criminal case. The other constituencies fell vacant after 18 MLAs were disqualified by the speaker after they switched camps and decided to go against the ruling faction of the AIADMK.
The AIADMK's current strength in the Assembly is 114, excluding the Speaker. This is a comfortable majority in the present house of 213. But after the by-elections are held and the 21 vacancies are filled, the ruling party will need three more members to reach the halfway mark of 117.
However, three AIADMK MLAs — E A Rathinasabapathi (Aranthangi constituency), A Prabu (Kallakuruchi constituency) and V T Kalaiselvan (Virudhachalam constituency) — are openly supporting Dhinakaran.
Two of the other allies — Thamimun Ansari (Manithaneya Jananayaka Katchi) and Karunaas (Mukkulathor Pulipadai) — who contested on the AIADMK symbol, have stated their opposition to the AIADMK’s alliance with the BJP.
The AIADMK, as part of the Lok Sabha poll alliance with the NDA, has garnered its support in the by-polls, while the DMK said the alliance with the Congress did not include seat-sharing for the by-polls. This is an indication that the AIADMK is more aggressive on this than the DMK.
“Our party has never played a significant role at the Centre though we won 37 seats. We are only focusing on the by-polls," said an AIADMK minister.
Despite having 37 members in Lok Sabha, making AIADMK the third-largest, it doesn't hold any ministership. It has the deputy speaker’s post.
M R Venkatesh, a political analyst, said of the 18 Assembly seats, 11 seats were predominantly in the Vanniyar belt. The AIADMK has allied with the PMK to garner this vote base.
As far as the DMK is concerned, of the 21 seats Tiruvarur and Sattur are its strongholds of DMK, while the others were held by both Dravidian parties over a period of time.