By deciding to contest 227 out of 234 Assembly seats, leaving just seven for its allies, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has made her intentions loud and clear. The AIADMK’s Puratchi Thalaivi (Revolutionary Leader) is determined to break the three decade old anti-incumbency jinx and also make a clean sweep of the opposition as was the case in the Lok Sabha elections when she walked away with 37 of the 39 parliamentary seats. Never before in the past had the party contested so many seats. The maximum was in 2006 when it contested 182 seats, winning only 61. Clearly “Amma” is aiming to surpass even the achievements of her mentor and political guru, the late MG Ramachandran.
Indications are that the multi-cornered contest that Tamil Nadu is facing this time will definitely go in her favour. With actor-politician Vijayakanth finally casting his lot with the not too strong People’s Welfare Front (PWF), it has become clearer which way the wind will blow. Both the DMK and BJP were hoping against hope to rope in Vijayakanth and his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) to their respective alliances. They know his potential as a crowd puller, if not anything else. Vijayakanth played elusive for sometime projecting himself as a king, rather than a kingmaker, making many political pundits predict that he would play a key role in dethroning “Amma”.
But once the “Captain”, as Vijayakanth is popularly called following his 1991 blockbuster Captain Prabhakar, realised that since there were hardly any takers for his bait, he turned to PWF for fruition of his “lofty” ideals (read power at any cost). Veteran Karunanidhi, though keen on having him on board, was non-committal on making him a ruling partner in case the DMK-Congress alliance romps home. For BJP, with hardly any roots in the state, Vijayakanth was a secondary choice, the first being none other than “Amma”. However, that Amma has spurned BJP overtures became evident when Union minister for environment Prakash Javadekar berated Jayalalithaa and her government recently for not cooperating with the Centre on many policy decisions at a function in Chennai. Since “Captain” knew well that “Amma” won’t entertain him, the best option for the Telugu-born Vijayaraj Naidu was to roost at PWF. This combination of Left parties of CPI and CPM, Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and controversial Dalit leader Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi was too glad to have him and has already anointed him as the Front’s chief ministerial candidate. The understanding is that DMDK would contest 124 seats and the rest would go to the other partners of the PWF. But it would be interesting to see how Vijayakanth’s (the ‘kanth’ affix after his entry into Tamil films and keeping in mind Rajnikanth) powerful wife Premalathaa and her film-producer brother N.K. Sudeesh deal with the rest of the front partners. She is very vocal in her opinions and has considerable say in her husband’s political decisions. Sudeesh, on his part, has stretched his legs before sitting by announcing a Cabinet with even portfolios allocated to allies at a public function! There are rumblings within the party with Vijayakanth, egged on by his family, expelling ten top leaders, including the party publicity secretary, for questioning the decision to go with PWF. The rebels know full well where they are headed.
After much haggling, DMK has agreed to give 41 seats to Congress which had contested 63 seats in the last elections. Though Congress negotiator Ghulam Nabi Azad insisted on that many seats, the DMK shot it down citing the departure of former Congress stalwart Karuppiah Moopanar’s son G.K. Vasan who has revived his father’s old party, Tamil Maanila Congress, and is stranded with nowhere to go. Successive Congress leadership has been playing its political cards very badly in the state ever since the rise of MGR and Jayalalithaa, with the party now a pale shadow of what it was in the sixties and seventies. The Congress is left with only a handful of “rootless” leaders such as P. Chidambaram who is as good as not there. It would have been an utterly hopeless situation for the party had DMK not admitted it into its fold. Not that it holds any bright prospects for the party (five seats last time) from this alliance.
The situation in the “house of DMK”, too, is not what it was in its heydays. Gone are the days when the Karunanidhi-Maran family had a stranglehold on media, business and politics in the state. It had catapulted them into becoming one of the first families in the country, perhaps only next to the Nehru-Gandhi one. It was during this time – 2006 to 2011 -- that the 2G spectrum scandal struck the family like a tsunami, turning Tamil politics upside down. The result was Jayalalithaa’s triumphant march to Fort St George, the seat of power in Chennai. It took some time for Karunanidhi and his family to recoup. The Dravidian patriarch had to even forego the position of Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly which went to Vijayakanth’s DMDK. That Jayalalithaa later cut DMDK to size, stripping it off the post by engineering the defection of eight MLAs is another story. Age and health have caught up with the “grand old man of Dravidian politics”. Even his much renowned oratorical skills are fading. How much a wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi can do for the party’s campaign is anybody’s guess. In addition, he is presiding over a divided family with elder son and former Union minister Alagiri raising the banner of revolt against his father for promoting younger sibling M.K. Stalin. However hard Karunanidhi had tried, Stalin or for that matter daughter Kanimozhi is no match to Jayalalithaa with her fan following.
“Amma”, despite her lack of visibility and speculations of chronic illness, seems to be way ahead of others in the race, at least psychologically. She has already announced her campaign schedule. Tamil politics has always centred round personalities. Accusations, more or less same, against each other fly thick and fast. Issues concerning people seldom figure in campaigns. Dravidian parties have turned voters into vegetables feeding them with money and material doles over the years. Vote is for those who can provide the maximum benefits in cash and kind. Forget the Election Commission’s code of conduct. It doesn’t work in rural Tamil Nadu. Who can match Jayalalithaa’s network with her “Amma” outlets that provide anything from idlis to medicines to cement at throwaway prices. Social security gimmicks like cycles and computers and gold ornaments for the girl child are the norm.
Not to speak of TVs, washing machines, grinders and what not for rural households. North Indian politicians such as Smriti Irani who distributes sarees in the villages of UP must be living in pre-historic times; that is compared to Tamil standards.
There is still more than a month to go for the elections which is a long time in politics. But once Jayalalithaa scorches the roads, a definite picture will emerge as to who can catch up with her in the race to Fort St George. Till then, all the roads to power seem to be wide open for “Amma” and her AIADMK.