What women want, they get. In Tamil Nadu, they wanted a woman Chief Minister and they got her. Of the 143 constituencies where more women turned out to vote than men, the AIADMK won 83 seats and the DMK 53. In other words, in about 58 per cent of the constituencies where female voters outnumbered male voters — by a few 100 votes in some of the seats — it was advantage AIADMK. These wins constitute 62 per cent of the ruling party’s victories.
This only proves a widely held, though rarely proven, belief that women in Tamil Nadu prefer to vote for the AIADMK. In this closely fought election, they may have tipped the balance in Jayalalithaa’s favour. On May 16, 50.45 per cent of the overall voters were women, and the difference between them and the male voters was a mere 0.9 percentage point. And yet, it was the AIADMK that benefited.
This connection between Amma (Jayalalithaa) and her women voters is an inherited legacy, as any political observer will tell you. Salma, poet and author, who has also wet her feet in politics, says: “The ‘Two Leaves’ symbol is a very powerful symbol in this State. It is MGR’s symbol, and is seen as such.”‘Cultivated image’
“MGR had a carefully cultivated image of a saviour of women, pushed primarily through his films. The matinee idol’s screen presence was read as his real persona by the women and people in rural areas, as a kind man who takes great care of women, and respects them.”
There has been no dent in that image whatsoever in all these years. “In fact, in rural areas, where I have campaigned for votes,” Ms. Salma explains, “elderly ladies would tell me that they would like to vote for me, but only if I stood under the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.” Ms. Jayalalithaa, who was a close associate of MGR, was seen as his successor by the people, and the transference of loyalty was smooth and immediate.
Dravidian historian A.R. Venkatachalapathy agrees with this assessment. “It is part of MGR’s legacy. He enthralled women of all ages — young girls and older women alike. Ms. Jayalalithaa inherited it.”Interesting contrast
He points out an interesting contrast that may have cemented this relationship over the years. “On the flip side, the image of the DMK is of a very masculine party — again something that cultivated over the years. This masculinity was flaunted in many ways by party members. I don’t see the party reinventing itself, or even getting into serious introspection mode, even after losses in two consecutive elections.”A role model for many
There is another point that Ms. Salma brings up, indicating that women who vote for Ms. Jayalalithaa also have that little something more than the inherited loyalty factor. “For them, she is the aspirational woman role model. A lady who wields immense power in an intensely patriarchal set-up, achieving what they themselves cannot. This binds the women to her.”Freebies
Beyond this, they do seem to share a symbiotic relationship, with Ms. Jayalalithaa fashioning schemes and promising freebies that specifically target women voters. From the ‘Gold for Thali’ scheme to the promise to provide two-wheelers at 50 per cent discount, and maternity assistance to kits for pregnant mothers, the schemes favour women.
Whether the legacy will pass on in the AIADMK any further is rank speculation, but it is tempting to attempt it. “Whoever succeeds Ms. Jayalalithaa will ask for only one thing — the Two Leaves symbol,” Mr. Venkatachalapathy says.
On the other hand, Ms. Salma feels that any other leader in the AIADMK will find it difficult to harness the kind of loyalty that MGR and his successor have enjoyed.
What will happen to the ‘Two Leaves’ then — will it lose its efficacy? Or will loyalty be transferred once more? But that’s a story for another election.