Honeymoons, by definition, do not last long. But in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam appears to have found a way to prolong the political honeymoon with the voters. After scoring a landslide win in the Legislative Assembly election held in April, the AIADMK swept the local body polls last week, capturing all the 10 corporations, and a majority of the municipalities, town panchayats, district panchayat wards, and panchayat union wards. And in the by-election to the Tiruchi (West) Assembly constituency, the party more than doubled its April victory margin. All this was achieved without the support of its major allies, notably the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam led by actor Vijayakant and the two Left parties. These three parties had formed a separate front for the local body polls, after differences surfaced with the senior partner over seat-sharing, but finished well behind the AIADMK and the principal opposition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Like the AIADMK, the DMK contested without entering into seat adjustments with its Assembly election partners but, unlike the ruling party, it failed to make any gains. To nobody's surprise, the Congress, contesting alone, failed to win even a single corporation or municipality. The Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, former allies of the DMK, fared worse. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which boycotted the Assembly election after seat-sharing talks with the AIADMK broke down, won the chairmanship of one municipality and seven town panchayats, but was not in the reckoning in most other places.
For the AIADMK, the results were an endorsement of the schemes and policies of the Jayalalithaa government in the last six months. Besides implementing the ‘free rice' scheme, the government began fulfilling the election promises in quick time. Indeed, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa created a new Ministry for Special Programme Implementation to push through priority schemes such as free laptops for school and college students and mixers and grinders for the cardholders in the Public Distribution System. The welfare schemes aside, the AIADMK government appears to have got good ratings for its performance on the law and order front, and especially for its measures to reverse land grabbing. Unlike in 2001 and 2006, the local body elections this time were free of large-scale violence and irregularities. Now, with this reinforced mandate, the Chief Minister must ensure that the local bodies have sufficient funds and administrative autonomy so that they are enabled to function effectively as grass-roots democratic institutions.