With Tamil Nadu heading towards the election highway, a question that arises immediately in the aftermath of the floods is how much the historic floods have impacted the prospects of political parties. Some believe that the pre-Deepavali situation is vastly different from post-floods, and has immediately had an impact on the confidence levels of the cadre.
Have the monsoon rains eroded, if not completely washed away, the confidence of the ruling AIADMK as it prepares for the Assembly elections with the general council meeting on Thursday? AIADMK supremo and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is expected to announce the broad contours of poll strategy while the party is expected to authorise her to take decisions.
For several months after the conviction of Ms. Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case in 2014, the partymen were clueless. With her acquittal and return as Chief Minister, the AIADMK cadre were supremely confident of contesting alone and returning to power. That was till the historic rains.
The floods that submerged Chennai and wreaked havoc in the northern districts and a couple of districts down south, seem to have sapped the confidence of other AIADMK leaders.
A cross-section of partymen across the State admitted that they could feel the “underlying discontent” among people.
For the first time in four-and-half-years of the present regime, the ruling partymen say they have begun to observe something akin to an “anti-incumbency wave”, especially in the six flood-hit districts.
“No doubt, the ruling party’s image has been dented in the floods due to its apparent lack of concern,” says economist Venkatesh Athreya. He thinks the DMK may not benefit much from this however. “The Peoples’ Welfare Front might marginally gain due to erosion of votes for both these parties,” he suggests.
“Though the anger of the people is justified, it is temporary. Neither the city nor the people could withstand the record rains,” says Nanjil Sampath of the AIADMK.
While he claims that the Chief Minister’s voice message had touched the people, the social media, often seen as the pulse of the people these days, had its satiric take on the message.
There is discontent within the party itself, but that is to do with internal politics and the selection of district secretaries over the years, including in AIADMK’s traditional strongholds like Theni and Coimbatore districts.
In many cases, the charge is that the Ministers have got their “own men” who were “mostly unknown till a few years ago”.
In some cases, the leaders of the dominant caste also feel left out as they did not land prime party posts.
“The discontent within the party exists in many places. We are not sure who will tell Amma,” says a two -time MLA.
Some of the old-timers in the party are also still being sidelined. “It is Amma’s decision to keep them away from the Cabinet. People only vote for Amma and not for the leaders at the city or district level,” counters a senior leader.
In districts unaffected by the floods, the ruling partymen firmly believe that people will vote for them as the Chief Minister had fulfilled all the promises made in the (2006) election manifesto.
“The distribution of free laptops, mixies, grinders, fans, goats and cows - all will fetch us votes,” says a party leader in Erode district. The ruling partymen expect a sizable percentage of first-time voters to favour them, but they are more confident of securing votes of majority of the women who have benefited immensely from welfare schemes.
As it seems now, the AIADMK has two alternatives for alliance partners. While the State BJP leaders have been saying that there is no truck with the AIADMK, the Central leadership has not made any announcement till now, leading to a speculation that the two parties could form an alliance closer to the polls.
The other possible ally is the G.K. Vasan-led Tamil Manila Congress. But the process of firming up of an alliance could take time, say sources.