Politically volatile Tamil Nadu and Kerala will go to Assembly polls tomorrow with 6.91 crore voters expected to decide the fate of the rival fronts, locked in a bitter race for supremacy.
The two southern States would be witnessing one of the closest electoral battles ever. The Union Territory of Puducherry will also go to polls tomorrow.
For octogenarian chief ministers Mr M. Karunanidhi and Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, both 87, this might be the swan song of their electoral battle.
In Tamil Nadu, ruling-DMK led front is battling all odds with the AIADMK-combine launching an all-out offensive to dislodge Mr Karunanidhi, veteran of many a successful electoral battle in his seven decades of public life.
In neighbouring Kerala, another battle-scarred veteran Mr Achuthanandan is trying to buck the trend of electorate voting alternately between LDF and UDF once in five years.
In Puducherry, the Congress-led combine, including DMK and PMK, is facing a tough challenge from the front led by former Chief Minister, Mr N. Rangasamy's All India NR Congress that has AIADMK in its fold.
The main rival for DMK is the Ms Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK which has sewed up a formidable alliance. Both Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalithaa had confidently asserted during a no-holds-barred campaign that their party would form the next government.
In what is seen as a do-or-die battle for Ms Jayalalithaa, the AIADMK leader has sought to whip up anti-incumbency sentiments, asking people to end ‘family rule' of Mr Karunanidhi.
Polls in Tamil Nadu this time, described as ‘challenging' by the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr S.Y. Quraishi, have come under EC's microscopic scrutiny following allegations of free flow of money by the ruling party to lure voters.
In highly politically polarised Kerala where marginal swings could turn the tide either way, ruling CPI(M)-led LDF is battling Congress-headed UDF.
Initially, the odds appeared stacked against LDF going by the political trends reflected in the Lok Sabha and civic polls in which UDF acquitted itself remarkably. But LDF got a boost after the end of uncertainty over entry of Ms Achuthanandan who now seems to have taken the fight to the UDF camp in his characteristic aggressive style.
The electoral battle is intense in all 140 segments with no wave palpable in favour of either LDF or UDF.
In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu, BJP is striving to open its legislative account.
In Kerala, CPI(M) is trying hard to save its only government in the South. Though there were bickerings over the renomination of Ms Achuthanandan in the run-up to the elections, the CPI(M) high command had intervened to settle the issue in favour of the octogenarian leader.
Political heavyweights among 2,773 candidates in the fray for 234 assembly seats in Tamil Nadu include Mr Karunanidhi (Tiruvarur), Ms Jayalalithaa (Srirangam), Mr Karunanidhi's son and Deputy Chief Minister Mr M.K. Stalin (Kolathur) and DMDK actor-founder Ms Vijayakanth (Rishivanyam).
The DMK is contesting 119 seats, leaving 63 to Congress, 30 to PMK, 10 to Viduthalai Chirutagal Katchi, seven to Kongu Munnetra Katchi, three to IUML and one each to Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam and Perunthalaivar Katchi.
AIADMK has fielded candidates in 162 segments, allocating 41 seats to DMDK, 12 to CPI(M), 10 to CPI, three to Manithaneya Makkal Matchi, two to All India Samuthuva Makkal Katchi, one each to AIFB, All India Movendar Munnetra Kazhagam, RPI and KonguIlaginar Peravai.
A total of 971 candidates are in the fray in Kerala, a majority of them independents. The State has a total electorate of 2.31 crore. These are the first polls in Kerala after NRIs got voting rights. However, only 8,862 NRIs have registered as voters while an estimated 2.2 million Keralites are working abroad, mostly in Gulf countries.
Over 8.10 lakh voters are expected to exercise their franchise in Puducherry for the 30-member Assembly where ruling Congress is contesting 17 seats.
On the rival side, the All India NR Congress has fielded candidates in 17 seats and its partner AIADMK in 10.
Congress's main ally DMK is contesting 10 seats.
The main contestants are Assembly Speaker Mr R. Radhakrishnan, Chief Minister Mr V. Vaithilingam and all his five ministerial colleagues, Puducherry unit's DMK convenor and former Chief Minister Mr R.V. Janakiraman, and Mr Rangasamy, who is chief ministerial candidate of the rival front.
There are in all 187 contestants including 78 independents in the fray.
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