Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on Monday released its list of candidates for the May 16 assembly elections. The theme: the tried and tested hands are back, as are loyalists of former chief minister MG Ramachandran – senior politicians who have been waiting in the wings for several years.

The AIADMK will field candidates in 227 seats, while its allies will contest seven seats. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa will seek to retain the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai. Finance Minister and two-time stand-in Chief Minister O Panneerselvam gets his old constituency of Bodinayakanur, while state Electricity Minister Natham Viswanathan, another powerful leader within the AIADMK, will now contest from Aathur.

Senior party hands C Ponnaiyan and Panrutti Ramachandran – both MGR confidantes – have finally been brought back after a long hiatus. Ponnaiyan landed the Saidapet seat in Chennai, while Ramachandran will contest from Alandur in the capital city.

Ramachandran rejoined the AIADMK two years ago after close to decade with Vijaykanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. Businessman K Pandiarajan (also known as Ma Foi Pandiarajan as he runs a human resources firm by that name) is the only other rebel DMDK legislator to have landed a seat with the AIADMK. He will contest from Avadi, near Chennai.

Shrewd politicking

There are very few newcomers in the AIADMK’s list of candidates. The party leadership has preferred to go with candidates who have some prior experience, unlike the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where most candidates were first-timers.

“Neither loyalty, nor seniority or experience counted for Parliament,” said N Sathiyamoorthy of the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank. “But seniority and political experience as ministers has been taken into account while choosing candidates for the Assembly election.”

Some political hawks say the list is rather impressive and indicative of Jayalalithaa’s mood for combat in an election that is likely to go down to the wire. Out of 234 constituencies, only seven have gone to allies. These allies, too, will contest on the AIADMK symbol, a move described by analysts as shrewd and calculated.

“Now that she doesn’t have any serious established parties as allies, what she has done makes a lot of sense,” said RK Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist. “The recall of an Independent’s symbol will be far less than that of the ‘two leaves’ symbol [of the AIADMK], which will bring in more votes than the face of a candidate on the ballot box.”

Safe solution

According to Radhakrishnan, Jayalalithaa’s list has been carefully thought out.

“She’s playing it safe – O Panneerselvam, Natham Viswanathan, Senthil Balaji [former state Transport Minister] have been given tickets again,” said Radhakrishan. “She is very clear that she does not want any of these guys working against the party in an election that is going to be won on very small margins. There are a lot of pragmatic decisions. She is playing it safe on all counts.”

Radhakrishnan said Jayalalithaa has also managed to keep powerhouses and rival factions happy. Thanga Tamilselvan got the Andipatti seat while O Panneerselvam got Bodinayakanur – these party leaders are rivals within the same district, Theni.

“For the AIADMK, the list can’t get any better than this,” said Radhakrishnan.

AIADMK candidates were not available for comment.

Meanwhile,observers say that all said and done, it is Amma whom the electorate ultimately votes for. “It is the leader who sways the vote, whether Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi,” said Sathiyamoorthy of Observer Research Foundation. “Very few of these candidates can bring in additional votes beyond what the party cadres and Jayalalithaa could, from the non-committed votebank. Candidates do not matter all that much in Tamil Nadu.”