For many this time, Tamil Nadu is the most interesting battleground in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. With 6.23 crore registered voters, the State accounts for 6.38 per cent of the total number of voters in India. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections 72.44 per cent of the voters turned up to press a button on the EVM; the hope is that the number would increase this time. Realistically speaking, few expect the fight for the 39 constituencies to have a big influence over who would form the government in Delhi. Yet, the general elections in Tamil Nadu are significant for three reasons.

First, the elections will prove whether the BJP has emerged as the third force or not. For decades, Tamil Nadu politics has been two-cornered, with DMK and AIADMK occupying the vertices. Many others have attempted in vain to emerge as the third force. Actor Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam has fizzled out, Rajnikanth’s proposed new party was never born, Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam has lost its identity by casting its lot with the DMK, Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi looks like it has miles to go before it becomes a force, and actor Vijay’s Tamizhaga Vetri Kazhagam, formed just two months back, is not in the picture, its focus being on the 2026 assembly polls. As such, even when the combined vote-share of DMK and AIADMK has slid to below 70 per cent — meaning that one in three Tamils want an alternative — the two Dravidian parties have remained dominant because the other 30 per cent is splintered. The BJP wants to consolidate the non-DMK, non-AIADMK votes and emerge as the third force. It is using the 2024 elections as a springboard to jump from the periphery of Tamil Nadu politics into the core.

Second, the general elections could create a churn over the existence of AIADMK in its present form. The party’s leadership is frazzled by the attempts of two of its erstwhile leaders, former Chief Minister O Pannerselvam and TTV Dhinakaran, to claim the legacy of the party’s matriarch, J Jayalalithaa, and founder, MGR. Their success at the hustings could possibly force a Shiv Sena-like fractious situation in Tamil Nadu.

And finally, unlike in the past when people chose either DMK or AIADMK, the 2024 elections are — for the first time — a clash of three distinct ideologies in the State. One is the Periyarist ideology, derived from ‘Periyar’ E V Ramasami Naicker, defined by leftist thought, extreme stress on social equality and atheism, followed by the DMK and AIADMK. Linguistic sub-nationalism and atheism, however, find more play in the DMK. The other is the right-of-centre, Hindutva-nationalist ideology of the BJP. The third is that of the fledgling Naam Tamizhar Katchi, an insular formation that abhors alliances and virtually isolates itself with its fierce Tamil sub-nationalism. The 2024 elections will tell us whose sails capture the most wind, which in turn could have a bearing on the future pathway of the State.