The May election to the 15th Assembly in Tamil Nadu was unique in three different ways. First, “Puratchi Thalaivi” Jayalalithaa did what “Makkal Thilagam” MGR did three decades ago. Second, the two dominant Dravidian parties, DMK and AIADMK, made all the other parties irrelevant in state politics. Third, the Election Commission cancelled polls in two constituencies over charges of bribing voters, a first in the country’s electoral history.
“Amma” returned to power for the second consecutive time, emulating the feat of her mentor and political guru, the late M.G. Ramachandran. Repeating history was her sole mission in this election and that was fulfilled. Her AIADMK comfortably won 134 seats against the rival DMK-Congress combine’s 98. The AIADMK and its practically non-existent allies contested all the 234 seats on the party symbol of two leaves. Of this, AIADMK alone contested 227 seats and the remaining seven went to the allies. Those who refused to contest on the party symbol were summarily rejected.
Whenever there is no anti-incumbency wave in the state, it is the major alliances that carry the day. Jayalalithaa did it in 2001 and Karunanidhi in 2006, forming major fronts. It is the failure of the DMK to form a grand alliance that let Karunanidhi down this time. Karunanidhi was not ready to share power with actor-politician Vijayakanth’s DMDK in case the front was voted to power. This led Vijayakanth to join hands with the People’s Welfare Front. This time while the AIADMK got 40.8%, the DMK got 31.6%, and the Congress 6.4%. The DMDK, though wiped out, got about 2.4% vote share, thereby indicating that had DMK taken the party on board the scenario would have been different. The DMK, which had only 23 seats in the last Assembly, not even the largest opposition party, this time got 89 seats, the highest ever for on opposition party in the state Assembly. Sensing the importance of the opposition in this Assembly, Karunanidhi, who is wheelchair-bound, has decided to make son M.K. Stalin the Leader of the Opposition.
Of the 172 seats that the DMK fought in a straight contest against AIADMK, it won in 89 constituencies. Of the 60 seats the DMK-Congress combine fought, Amma’s party won in 51 seats. The DMK had given Congress 41 seats of which the party managed to win only eight. Karunanidhi is reportedly ruing the alliance with Congress, a dead horse in the state. Another ally, Muslim League, contested five seats and won at one place.
The people of Tamil Nadu, despite the floods, innumerable rumours about her health and lack of visibility have given a thumbs up to Jayalalithaa.
This election proved a Waterloo for the third front. For, Vijayakanth’s DMDK, Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Thol Thirumavalan’s Vaduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the CPI and CPM all drew a blank. Pathali Makkal Katchi’s chief ministerial candidate, former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss too bit the dust. Tamil soil once again proved unfertile for BJP’s lotus. Vijayakanth came a poor third in his constituency. It was a direct fight between the two major Dravidian parties.
This election saw Tamil Nadu crossing all limits and creating a record of sorts with the seizure of unaccounted cash worth above Rs 120 crore. The EC said, in a statement, that while elections are normally cancelled following evidence of rigging, muscle power or booth capturing, it was for the first time that this was being done for buying voters with cash in the Aravakurichi and Thanjavur seats. The total seizures from the two constituencies amounted to Rs 7.12 crore in cash, 429.24 litres of liquor and 33.256 kg of silver worth Rs 9 lakh at Aravakurichi, and Rs 75,20,850 in cash and 2,145.12 litres of liquor at Thanjavur constituency up to 15 May. Apart from these, lakhs of dhotis and saris too were seized from DMK and AIADMK.
Though it was the DMK which started luring voters with cash and goodies, Jayalalithaa over the years outsmarted Karunanidhi in this electoral art by launching various social welfare schemes in her (read Amma) name. These schemes have been the vote-winner for the party ever since the time of MGR. In fact, it was M.G. Ramachandran who first started the mid-day meal scheme in government schools. The exchequer and future governments may have to pay a heavy price for her schemes in the long run, but Jayalalithaa scores for the day with anything from idlis to medicines to cement at throwaway prices from her Amma outlets spread all over the state. This is over and above free TVs, bicycles, computers for students and other household items for housewives.
For this she has got accolades from none other than Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. “Tamil Nadu’s capacity for innovation and creative thinking in matters of public administration is an important example for the entire country,” wrote Sen and Jean Dreze in their book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. That is a big acknowledgement for Jayalalithaa and her welfare schemes.
In her election manifesto, Jayalalithaa had promised more freebies, costing about Rs 50,000 crore. Free mobile phones for all ration card holders, 50% loan waiver for those women who want to buy scooters, 100 units free electricity for every household, gold chains for the newlywed are some of them. Once sworn in for a second time, she announced waiving of Rs 5,780 crore farm loans. She has pledged sanctioning of another Rs 40,000 crore worth farm loans.
Before the elections, Jayalalithaa was forced to declare a prohibition policy in phases to counter Karunanidhi’s promise of total prohibition if voted to power. Liquor is the major revenue earner for the state exchequer, mopping up a sum of Rs 26,188 crore in 2014-2015. There are about 6,720 liquor vends, all state outlets, all across the state. Jayalalithaa has announced the closure of 500 of them. The timings of sale have also been reduced by two hours from 12 noon to 10 pm. The rest of the shops are supposed to be closed in phases.
It looks like an uphill task for Jayalalithaa and her government to fulfil all the promises. Since Dravida politics survives on popular welfare schemes, Jayalalithaa is duty-bound to deliver them. With a fall in liquor revenue this will be more difficult. But then Tamil voters are hooked on to sops which come raining during election time. It was no different this time either.
The people of Tamil Nadu, despite the floods, innumerable rumours about her health and lack of visibility have given a thumbs up to Jayalalithaa. The thousands who lined the streets of Chennai, the capital city, to have a glimpse of her, are testimony to her popularity among the masses, especially women. After all she is Amma to them.
“Only a mother knows what a child wants,” Jayalalithaa had said after winning the elections last time around adding, “I will prove to be a good mother.” And Jayalalithaa knows what her Makkal wants.