The electoral verdict in Tamil Nadu reinforces some past trends and also reflects the changing patterns in the politics of the State. Tamil Nadu has, in the recent past, given decisive mandates favouring one of the State-based parties or the alliance it leads. This trend has been repeated this time around. Also, the trend of State-based parties having primacy in the alliances, with national parties being their minor partners, continued.
Yet, if one were to look beyond the surface, two other patterns were apparent. First, this was the first election after the deaths of M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, who led the rival alliances. The election was a test of who was inheriting their legacy. Second, while the alliance led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the one led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had regional parties in the forefront, the latter seemed to have a strong influence of the BJP.
Table 1: State and Central governments were almost equally unpopular, so a double anti incumbency
Given the scale of the DMK-led alliance’s victory, two factors merit immediate attention. First, this result is a clear reflection of a double anti-incumbency vote. The Lokniti post-poll survey indicates that six of every 10 respondents were unhappy with the performance of the BJP-led Central government. The intensity of dissatisfaction was extremely high with four of every 10 being highly (‘fully’) dissatisfied and only two of every 10 being slightly dissatisfied. Similarly, more than half the respondents were unhappy with the performance of the State government. Here too many more among those dissatisfied expressed the view that they were highly dissatisfied with its performance (over one-third). This trend is reflected in the pattern of the results.
Table 2: Importance assigned by voters to key issues while deciding who to vote for (%)
The Lokniti survey also suggests that voters seem to have assigned a very high importance to issues such as the farmer suicides, cyclone relief work, the Thoothukudi police firing and the NEET issue.
The results are indicative of the fact that DMK president M.K. Stalin has inherited the legacy of his father and has been accepted by both the voters and the alliance partners as the political successor to Karunanidhi. The splits in the AIADMK and its poor record in governance make it unclear who its supporters see as representing the Jayalalithaa legacy.
Table 3: Plurality of traditional AIADMK supporters were of the opinion that neither the Dhinakaran group nor the Palaniswami-Paneerselvam group was the true AIADMK
The Lokniti survey found voters who had voted for the AIADMK in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, and even before it, to be of the opinion that the none of the two factions — the AMMK led by T.T.V. Dhinakaran and the AIADMK of E. Palaniswami and O. Paneerselvam — constitutes the real AIADMK. The survey also found two-fifths of AIADMK’s 2014 election voters to have shifted to the DMK and around one-sixth to the AMMK.
A factor that accounts for the success of the DMK-led alliance was the skill with which Mr. Stalin crafted a larger “rainbow coalition”.
Table 4: Many 2014 AIADMK voters switched to Cong-DMK. DMK however mostly retained its 2014 supporters
The manner in which the DMK-led alliance secured the upper caste, Mudaliar, Gounder, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Muslim vote is indicative of this broader “social spectrum”. The Gounders had in the past been supporters of parties in the AIADMK alliance. The split of the Thevar, Nadar and Vanniyar vote among the two major alliances appears to have worked in favour of the DMK-led alliance as these social groups were traditionally more closely associated with the parties in the AIADMK alliance.
A review of the election campaign in Tamil Nadu would indicate that there was a growing impression that the AIADMK government (as also the alliance) was being strongly influenced by the BJP’s central leadership, which enjoyed very limited support in the State. In the Lokniti survey, Narendra Modi trailed Rahul Gandhi by 22 percentage points on the question of who should be Prime Minister. Secondly, the religious polarisation that the BJP had attempted elsewhere in the country did not resonate with the Tamil Nadu voter. In the survey, 41% of the respondents said they disliked the BJP a lot.
Table 5: How castes and communities voted in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu also saw byelections in 22 Assembly constituencies. The AIADMK appeared to have devoted more time, energy and resources to the byelections as success in them was critical to the survival of its State government.
The AMMK was expected to damage the prospects of the AIADMK candidates. Except in South and Central Tamil Nadu, it was not able to split the AIADMK vote in any significant way.
Given the split in the AIADMK and poor record of its governance, the manner in which the BJP-AIADMK alliance shapes up in the days to come will be of crucial importance.
Table 6: Preference for Prime Minister: Rahul Gandhi’s popularity went up by nine times
(P. Ramajayam is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli)