The landslide victory of the Jayalalithaa-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu is unprecedented in many respects. Without even a single ally, the party has won 37 of the 39 seats in a State where over the last few decades elections were won and lost on the basis of alliance arithmetic. This is a rare feat in the context of Tamil Nadu’s recent electoral behaviour where alliances have been the safe bet of mainstream parties contesting State and parliamentary elections. Of course, it helped that the AIADMK’s principal rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, also entered the fray without any major allies. While the AIADMK spurned electoral partners, including the two Left parties who were initially welcomed as allies but not given any seat, the DMK, after having chosen not to go with the Congress, could not attract other parties to its fold. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s victory was all the more remarkable because the DMK could not win a single seat; in terms of vote share, the AIADMK, with 44.3 per cent of the votes, had more than a 20 percentage point lead over the DMK. The only two seats that the AIADMK did lose — to the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kanyakumari and to the Pattali Makkal Katchi in Dharmapuri — were because of the caste and religious polarisation. In Kanyakumari, the BJP succeeded in turning the election into a Hindu-Christian contest, and in Dharmapuri the PMK mobilised Vanniyar voters on the basis of their caste.
Also strengthening Ms. Jayalalithaa’s position in this election is that although her government has completed three years in office, the AIADMK does not seem to have suffered from any anti-incumbency sentiment. If there was an anti-incumbency sentiment it was against the DMK, which was a part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government until last year — which has been totally routed, failing to win a single seat in the State. That the AIADMK is able to surmount traditional anti-incumbency sentiment and still commands a charismatic hold over the imagination of the Tamil Nadu electorate shows that Ms. Jayalalithaa remains a force to reckon with in the national arena. The BJP government might not require the support of other parties to survive; however, the AIADMK can still play a constructive role at the Centre. As the third largest party in the Lok Sabha after the BJP and the Congress, the AIADMK has the numbers to make its voice heard loud and clear in Parliament. Along with other regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal, the AIADMK can play the role of a secular, democratic check against any authoritarian tendency that might surface in the days ahead.