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The first election in at least five decades to be fought in Tamil Nadu in the absence of an icon of Dravidian politics may have well seen the emergence of one, perhaps even two. The state has a new and a new-generation chief minister, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK’s) M.K. Stalin. He is 68 years old and finally takes on a role for which he has been groomed for almost five decades by his father and one of the leading lights of the Dravidian movement, the late Muthuvel Karunanidhi.

However, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) did not do as badly as it was expected to, despite the weight of an alliance with the BJP—which was more a liability than an asset in this part of the country—double anti-incumbency, with the party winning in 2011 and 2016, internal divisions and even a mini-rebellion.

Outgoing chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami, 66, an unknown in 2016 when the party fought the last Assembly election under J. Jayalalithaa, who died later the same year, deserves some of the credit for that. He will also strive to hold off the inevitable challenge from his one-time mentor V.K. Sasikala, who was since expelled from the party after she went to jail in a disproportionate assets case.

Stalin, because of his lineage, long years in politics and two successive wins, in 2019, when the DMK-led grouping won 38 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state, and now, can stake his claim to being the next Dravidian icon. However, Palaniswami, depending on what he does within his party and without in the next few years, could also become that, especially as the AIADMK is bereft of a leader now.

The DMK, the senior partner in a 12-party alliance that includes the Congress, has enough seats in the House to form the government on its own, according to the numbers at 10pm.

It was an election with neither a strong wave nor intense anti-incumbency.

Stalin launched his campaign from November 2020, well before anyone else. He campaigned on Tamil identity and rights by targeting the AIADMK for allegedly surrendering the state’s rights to the BJP-led Centre.

Karunanidhi would have advised him to “throw away communal forces and restore Tamil Nadu’s self-respect", Stalin had said in an interview in March. In the last leg of the election campaign, Stalin presented the contest as a direct one between the DMK and the BJP.

This time, unlike in 2016, when its alliance strategy may have well cost it the election, the DMK played it smart. It stitched together a rainbow alliance with a combination of Left, Dalit and Muslim parties. However, it convinced its allies to contest only 61 seats while it contested 173. The AIADMK lost some of its allies, including Vijayakanth’s DMDK when seat-sharing talks failed. Vijayakanth’s party joined hands with AIADMK’s rebel faction, AMMK led by Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran. Both came a cropper.

The All India NR Congress (AINRC)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is set to form the new government in the Union territory of Puducherry where the ruling Congress has been routed. The Congress government had fallen on 22 February after some of its MLAs resigned from the Assembly.

As of 9pm, the Election Commission of India declared that the AINRC had won 10 out of the 30 Assembly seats in the UT. Its ally the BJP, which until now had no presence, opened its account with three seats. The DMK has won three seats, which is more than its alliance leader Congress, which has won only two. Four independents have been declared winners.

“The BJP has retained Assam and is on its way to form an NDA government in Puducherry, which is no mean feat," said BJP national general secretary and Tamil Nadu election in-charge C.T. Ravi. “The BJP is the only party with a presence in every state."

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