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Amma's own land


The people of Tamil Nadu have given a historic mandate by returning AIADMK to power, but can Jayalalithaa work with a reduced majority? N. Asokan finds out
N. ASOKAN | Issue Dated: June 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : AIADMK | DMK | TASMAC | Jayalalithaa | G.K.Vasan | MDMK |

“Don’t Mess With Drunkards’’, someone wrote in a social media plaftform when the results of AIADMK’s lead in Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections were pouring in. Instantly, this went viral. Immediate prohibition was the key word in election manifestos of all the parties in this elections. But Jayalalithaa, the incumbent Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, did not jump the gun. She cautiously promised that prohibition will be brought in step by step. She did not set a time frame. ‘’Naturally, all the drunkards voted for Amma...,’’ a writer from Tirunelveli said in jest. Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), the state run company which sells liquor, earns more than Rs.20,000 crores annually, which forms the backbone of government freebies.  The AIADMK supremo who rained freebies in her manifesto will think many times before sacrificing the golden goose.

The 132-seat clear majority of AIADMK, though not a brutal one – 118 is the magical number – surprised many in the state.  Many pre-poll surveys and exit polls had predicted a DMK win. Though lost behind due to the fragmentation of votes, thanks to a hastily stitched Third Front, DMK had rallied itself towards the front in the last two weeks.  But it lost its steam just before the finishing line. The DMK-Congress alliance was able to garner only 98 seats, which is a half full or half empty win the way you wish to look at it.

But there are a few notable points in this election. For the first time in the history of Independent India, TN assembly has no representatives from the Left parties. "By joining the Third Front and accepting Vijayakant of DMDK as their Chief Minister candidate, they have shot themselves in the feet,’’ says Pamaran, a noted political critic from Coimbatore. The six party alliance of Third Front, which projected itself as an alternative to the Dravidian majors, failed miserably by failing to open their account. DMDK’s Chief Vijayakant, who was able to win earlier elections alone, could not do so now even when aligning with five more parties. Thol Thirumavalavan, former MP and General Secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, lost by a thin margin of 87 votes. Vaiko, the leader of MDMK and coordinator of Third Front, opted out of the contest at the last minute as he probably foresaw his failure and avoided the ignominy of losing badly. G.K.Vasan, former Union Minister and leader of Tamil Manila Congress (TMC), also did not contest.

One more party which tested the electoral waters and singed itself badly was Pattali Makkal Katchi.  It refused to align with any other party and claimed that it was the real alternative to Dravidian parties. It projected its youth wing leader, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, former Union Minister, as its Chief Minister candidate. Alas, the whole exercise came a cropper.

It was speculated that the Third Front will get the anti-incumbency votes and thereby aid the victory of AIADMK. "One thing that the DMK has managed to do is to ensure that the anti-AIADMK votes did not go to the Third Front,’’ says Dr. A. R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor at Madras Institute of Developmental Studies in Chennai.

What made the AIADMK click for a historical consecutive term after forty years in the electoral history of Tamil Nadu? The answer is simple, or complex, whichever way you wish to look at it. AIADMK was able to get the confidence of the poor and downtrodden who matter when electoral processes are concerned in Tamil Nadu. Those who were benefitted by the numerous welfare schemes of AIADMK government have paid back. The one Rupee meal at Amma canteens, has made the trick.

"The AIADMK government has provided free laptops to higher secondary school students studying in government schools for the past five years. In total, at least 20 lakh students must have benefited.  A laptop is not an easy thing for middle class and poor sections. Out of the first time voters who numbered around 20 lakh in this election, a huge percentage must have cast their votes to AIADMK.  This scheme is akin to catching them young!” says an analyst close to AIADMK circles. 

Though there are widespread reports of corruption, the State official machinery had been able to deliver the welfare schemes to the poor; that is what matters in times of elections like this.

Money power has also played its part. The Election Commission (EC) has postponed elections in Aravakurichy and Thanjavur constituencies after directly finding out evidence of distribution of cash. The ‘direct distribution of cash’ in Thanjavur constituency alone has been estimated by EC to be around Rs. 6 crores, from the noting found on an AIADMK functionary. Cash for vote is a common practice adopted by both AIADMK and DMK in Tamil Nadu.

What made DMK fail in this close contest is their failure to stitch a stronger coalition against AIADMK as it had done in earlier elections. It was able to rope in only the Congress, which was able to win a pathetic eight out of 41 seats allotted to it.  The hesitation to project the 63 year old MK Stalin as Chief Minister candidate instead of the 93 year old M. Karunanidhi also did not help attracting votes of the youth. "DMK failed to capitalise on the anti - incumbency. DMK could not do anything for people to forget old memories – their last term. If they had gone for an overhaul, fielded newer candidates and probably made MK Stalin the face of the party, it would have been a closer fight," says Dr. A. R. Venkatachalapathy.

But inevitably, this election has made MK Stalin emerge as a better leader. It's generally accepted that he worked very hard and did a decent and impressive campaign; he also was quick to accept defeat and congratulate Jayalalitha on her victory. “After Jayalalithaa came to power in 2011, what she did was reversing DMK’s many good decisions and earning the wrath of the public. She increased the prices of milk and public transportation. She even went to jail in a corruption case and her government was in limbo during her term in jail.

Her inactivity during the floods in TN also came under scrutiny. Even after so many reasons for a strong anti-incumbency, AIADMK has come back and it has done it by contesting alone. The main reason for this is that people think today that DMK is worse than other parties, especially AIADMK; supporters and strategists of DMK should understand this,” says Prof. A. Marx, a political and human rights activist based in Chennai.

With almost 100 MLAs in the opposition, it will be a newer experience for Jayalalitha to run the government. She is  used only to sweeping victories. By giving a moderate victory to AIADMK and ensuring a very strong opposition, the common man from Tamil Nadu might get better governance... for free this time. 


"We needed to be more careful in the selection of candidates..."

Jothimani,Media Panelist, AICC and TNCC

Congress was able to win only eight out of the 41 seats it contested in the DMK alliance...

In my opinion, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) should have been more careful in selection of candidates and constituencies. People really wanted to see the DMK government. That's why DMK has got such a huge number of seats. There was an anti-incumbency wave. But somehow, it did not click.

Your views about the performance of the Third Front?

People did not accept them as an alternative to AIADMK and DMK. DMDK and Tamil Manila Congress; both these parties who were part of the Third Front were just brought in at the last minute. Before that, they were bargaining with DMK and AIADMK.  Even the other parties in the Third Front were with either of the Dravidian parties just six months before the elections. So, the voters rejected them.

Did the split of Tamil Manila Congress led by G K Vasan affect your party in Tamil Nadu?

No. If so, they should have got more votes in the Third Front.  DMK has won almost fifty percent of the seats in our alliance. If TMC has weakened Congress, this should not have happened.



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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017