More give-aways, more agitations in store More give-aways, more agitations in store

CHENNAI: Perhaps because the elections to the Parliament and the State Assembly are not simultaneous, at least in Tamil Nadu, every alternate year seems to be an election year in recent history. In 2001, the State went to the polls to elect a new legislature. In 2004, it was a general election to the Lok Sabha. Come 2006, the stage gets ready for the next battle for the Assembly.

Year of undulations

The year 2005 will be remembered for the aftermath of the deadly tsunami, a summer of drought and then the series of depressions and low pressures that flooded most parts of Tamil Nadu during the Northeast monsoon season. But the State's economy, in keeping with the rest of the country, has emerged stronger and the revenues buoyant.

The agriculture sector is expected to bounce back this season, but the torrential rains and consequent flooding of just-transplanted crops may have dashed the hopes of most farmers. It is the full storage at Mettur that gives some hope to the Delta farmers, who are already planning for a kuruvai in June - after almost a five-year break.

Elections to the State Assembly are expected sometime by the end of April or positively by the first week of May, depending on the number of days on which polling will take place. As three other States and a Union Territory will hold elections at the same time, the Election Commission will take a comprehensive view of the security and logistic arrangements necessary to conduct a "free and fair poll" in all these States.

Education authorities expect to complete the public examinations and the academic year for schools by early April to clear the decks for the election process. The Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta plans to get the draft electoral rolls ready by mid-February, to include all those who have turned 18 as of January 1, 2006. Once the final rolls are published, the count down for the elections will begin.

Officials expect a brief session of the State Assembly sometime in late January and then a vote-on-account. That should bring the curtains down on the current Assembly.

Claims and counter claims

Even this brief session could be stormy, with the opposition parties preparing for a series of protests and agitations over what they call "irregularities and corruption" in the distribution of flood relief and the stampede deaths in Chennai. The Government will no doubt highlight its "achievements" and possibly come up with more sops and special announcements well before the Election Commission steps in and clamps the model code of conduct for the polls.

For its part, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) claims to be stepping into election year 2006 with confidence - both in its leader and the performance of her Government. It was this Government that pulled the State out of the fiscal crisis and mess in 2001, they emphasise. AIADMK sources insist "There has been no turning back after the 2004 Parliamentary election. The by-elections in 2005 may be the turning point and our Government has not taken a single wrong step after that. Despite all the noise and the charges levelled by the opposition, we are convinced that tsunami and flood relief as well as rehabilitation works have gone on very well. The people know and acknowledge this. And our leader has made it clear that our alliance is with the people."

Opposition leaders too appear very confident. Their confidence stems from not just the electoral arithmetic, which may be in their favour, but also the recent history of changes in government.

"It was the DMK in 1989, the AIADMK in 1991, the DMK again in 1996 and the AIADMK once more in 2001. All indications point to another change of government in 2006," reasons a former DMK Minister. He says however much the ruling party and its police machinery may try, "They cannot break the Democratic Progressive Alliance in Tamil Nadu."

The alliance seems to be banking on electoral history and arithmetic on one side and a possible anti-incumbency factor on the other, to tilt the balance in its favour.

Irrespective of how hot the 2006 summer will be, the political parties promise to make it another hotly contested election, with no holds barred during the run up to the polls.