Greater focus on development averts hate-speeches during campaign

Looking back at the over 40-day campaign by major parties for the just-held Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu, a less noticed aspect so far has been the near absence of hate speeches in taking on their principal adversary, Bharatiya Janata Party.

Both the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, focusing their attacks more on the ‘Gujarat model’ of development, had unwittingly deflected the campaign rhetoric from provocative speeches that could have led to sharper polarisation on communal/caste lines.

This may seem a trifle surprising, but sample these: AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa, accused of being silent on the BJP in the first phase of her campaign by her rivals, including the Congress and the Left parties, later picked up mostly development and governance issues when she fired salvos at the BJP in the latter half of the campaign.

On April 13, when Ms. Jayalalithaa broke her silence at an election meeting in Karur, she ticked off both the Congress-led UPA and the BJP for betraying Tamil Nadu’s interests in the Cauvery issue. Her later pot-shots at the BJP were over the NDA governments led by A.B. Vajpayee paying lip service to projects like inter-linking of major rivers.

When it culminated in a direct attack on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, in her famous one-liner in Chennai, “this Tamil Nadu lady is better than Modi,” it was to drive home the point that her government was much better in all aspects, including on social development indicators, than the much-touted ‘Gujarat model’ under Mr. Modi.

This came close on the heels of one of the Muslim outfits moving away from the AIADMK for not declaring itself against the ‘anti-Minority’ aspects of the BJP’s manifesto.

Except a swipe that Ms. Jayalalithaa later took, in Vellore, at the BJP’s indulgent reference in its manifesto to Hindu refugees from Pakistan as being anti-secular, much of her campaign was sharply focussed on making the AIADMK part of the next government at the Centre to mitigate all issues facing the State. The AIADMK leader did not stridently hit out at the BJP’s ‘Hindutva’.

The DMK’s top campaigners too, including its president M. Karunanidhi, general secretary K. Anbazhagan and treasurer M.K. Stalin, trained their guns on the BJP’s communal policies. But their emphasis on development and secularism — from the Chennai city flyovers to the Sethusamudram project — prevailed over the former. Ms. Jayalalithaa’s ‘Lady-Modi’ quip was met with a rhyming retort by Mr. Stalin towards the campaign end: “It is neither the Lady nor Modi, but my Daddy [Mr. Karunanidhi],” who ensured Tamil Nadu’s development, including when DMK was part of the Central government.

Congress leaders like Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram — who kept underscoring that both Dravidian majors were keeping their post-poll options open vis-à-vis the BJP — and Shipping Minister G. K. Vasan largely directed their attacks on the ‘Gujarat model.’ They were categorical that only voting the Congress back to power could ensure a secular government at the Centre and inclusive growth.

In the BJP-front, an FIR was filed against PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss, its Dharmapuri candidate, for allegedly “inciting feelings of enmity among caste groups during the campaign,” a charge he denied. Otherwise, the BJP’s allies, including the Vijayakant-led DMDK, were busier taking on the DMK and the AIADMK, besides pitching for a ‘strong’ Modi-led government at the Centre.

Development issues again dominated the agenda of the two main Left parties — the CPI and the CPI(M) — whose leaders kept harping on an alternative set of policies and programmes in fighting both the Congress and the BJP.

The net effect: barring a few instances, Tamil Nadu was spared hate-speeches in the campaign, unlike several States in the North.

(Based on inputs from S. Vijaykumar, B. Kolappan, Sruthisagar Yamunan, B. Aravind Kumar, L. Srikrishna, Syed Muthahar Saqaf, K.V. Prasad, V.S. Palaniappan, Walter Scott, P.V. Srividya, P. Sudakar, L. Renganathan and P.V.V. Murthi.)