Bypolls for 18 of the 22 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu are crucial to determine the fate of not only the Edappadi K. Palaniswami (EPS) government but that of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) itself, political leaders and analysts say.

The government, which has struggled to stay afloat after a string of defections and growing dissent, is banking on the bypolls to complete its full term, failing which it risks splintering into more factions.

The AIADMK that was at its formidable best under the former chief minister, the late J. Jayalalithaa, has been struggling to keep its flock together as two sides—one led by EPS and the other by T.T.V. Dhinakaran—are both claiming to be the rightful heirs to the Amma legacy. The factionalism has raised hopes of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of returning to power.

“If the ruling party does not win at least 10 seats in the bypolls, the government could see its numbers shrink and more defections," said Prof Ramu Manivannan, political analyst and faculty member at Madras University.

The AIADMK has 113 out of the 235 (one nominated) seats in the House while the DMK has 88. The Congress has eight and there are two independents and 22 vacant seats in the House. Only 18 of the 22 seats went to the polls last Thursday.

Breathing down the neck of the ruling party is Dhinakaran who formed the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), a breakaway of the AIADMK, along with Jayalalithaa’s close aide V.K. Sasikala, currently in jail.

In a recent interview, DMK leader Kanimozhi said there is anger against the AIADMK for allying with the BJP. “I am sure there will be a change after the results of the parliamentary elections," she said, adding that the DMK could well form the next government.

“If they don’t win at least 10, even the BJP cannot save this government," Manivannan said.

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