Eleven in a row

Tamil Nadu saw an unusually high number of by-elections in the four years of the current Legislative Assembly: 11. Some were necessitated by the death of MLAs, some others by the resignation of members consequent on their defection to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. But what was even more unusual was that all of them were won either by the DMK or by its ally, the Congress. With the latest win in Pennagaram, the DMK seems well on course to meet any challenge in the next Assembly election, which is due by May 2011. Although charges of electoral malpractices and use of money power were traded in all the by-elections, prompting the Election Commission of India to take up a hawkish monitoring of the poll process in some cases, the DMK-led alliance was a clear winner every time. No ‘election malpractice' can explain such a strong, consistent performance. Four years after returning to power in 2006, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi is riding the crest of a wave of popularity. The victories have not come from any one region: the 11 constituencies are spread across the State, some of them in areas considered to be strongholds of the principal opposition party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. In Pennagaram, the DMK had an extra reason to rejoice as the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a sub-regional casteist party, finished second, and the AIADMK candidate forfeited his deposit.

Far from being handicapped by any anti-incumbency factor, the DMK government is approaching each election with a list of its achievements. Going beyond distribution of free goods such as colour television sets and cooking gas connections as promised in the DMK election manifesto, the government introduced a health insurance scheme in partnership with a private insurance company, and announced a housing project to replace all huts. Through all this, the State witnessed no increase in power tariffs or bus fares. In a hugely popular move, the price of rice supplied through the Public Distribution System was cut down to just Re. one a kg. Although the State's revenues took a hit during the economic downturn, the welfare schemes and development projects continued in full steam. The shortcomings, if any, were in the delivery of services, not in their pricing. People were ready to forgive erratic power supply and diversion of PDS commodities so long as the prices and tariffs were in check. Whether sustainable or not in the long run, these welfare measures have given the DMK government a new sheen. To retain that over the next several months, with the patriarch at the helm and the succession clearly worked out, should not be too difficult a task.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 9:39:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Eleven-in-a-row/article16654694.ece

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