Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami today launched the election campaign from a local temple at his Edappadi constituency in Salem district, about 350 km from state capital Chennai. In close resemblance to former chief minister Jayalalithaa's style of campaigning, he was seen at the launch with large number of people - including women - dotting the stretch to the temple, holding plates with flowers.
Posters and hoardings were seen along his route. The assembly elections are due in the southern state in May.
Greeting people with folded hands, the Chief Minister walked to inaugurate an Amma Mini clinic. Addressing voters from the rooftop of his campaign van, Mr Palaniswami listed achievements of his government that included checking the spread of coronavirus, educational, industrial and agricultural development.
"We've won several awards for the state. I visited all districts, except one, for COVID review. In Perambalur, health authorities recently said they had no new cases over the last two days. The state leads in higher education with 49 per cent," he said emphatically.
Explaining why he is flagging off his campaign early, the Chief Minister on Friday said: "I'd be touring the state and I'd have little time for my constituency. Party workers want me to start early here."
The ruling AIADMK has decided to continue its alliance with the BJP for the upcoming polls.
Just a few days ago the state government had relaxed norms and permitted outdoor gatherings with up to 50 per cent capacity.
Mr Palaniswami is often viewed as an 'accidental Chief Minister', who was handpicked for the position after Jayalalithaa's death by her aide Sasikala just before she was convicted and jailed in the disproportionate assets case in which Jayalalithaa was the prime accused.
Over the last few years, Mr Palaniswami has managed to bring the party under his control, backed by his Gounder community.
He also patched up with his challenger O Panneerselvam who Jayalalithaa had made Chief Minister twice when she had to step down after conviction in corruption cases.
Mr Palaniswami made O Panneerselvam his deputy. OPS, who aspired for the Chief Minister's chair, became the party coordinator after taking the second seniormost government post as part of the deal. Both ousted Sasikala from the party.
In power for nine years the AIADMK government faces anti-incumbency, and had suffered a near rout in the national elections last year fought in alliance with the BJP.
The DMK - the key opposition party - which missed the bus in 2016 state polls swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Party chief MK Stalin hopes to repeat the success in assembly polls to win the Chief Minister's chair.
Mr Palaniswami hopes the government funded 7.5 per cent reservationf for government school students in medical admission, 2,000 Amma Mini Clinics launched across the state, investments he drew would put him in good stead, apart from handling of the Covid crisis.
However, the ruling AIADMK has also supported the new farm laws which farmers oppose in many states. The state couldn't get exemption for Tamil Nadu from NEET for medical admission.
The state government is also pushing through a Rs, 10,000 crore eight-lane highway project which farmers oppose as it would destroy 5000 acres of fertile land.
13 anti-sterlite protestors were shot dead the police in Tuticorin a few years ago. The opposition is already raking up these issues.
The first assembly election after the death of two icons - Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi - would also see three new key players turning the battle all the more intense.
Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan's MNM that garnered nearly 4 per cent votes in the 2019 national elections would contest in all 234 seats. Superstar Rajinikanth too has said his soon to be launched party will enter the fray.
Sasikala's release from jail in January too could lead to her followers drifting from the AIADMK strengthening the AMMK party her nephew Dhinakaran has launched.
The poll panel has allotted the pressure cooker symbol to the party, the symbol that helped T T V Dhinakaran win Jayalalithaa's R K Nagar seat, though later he did not manage to score any win in Lok Sabha polls.