Against all odds

May 21, 2016 01:25 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:41 am IST

Nothing is more difficult than to turn the tide of history. That All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary >Jayalalithaa won the support of the voters of Tamil Nadu for a second consecutive term as Chief Minister, defying the historical weight of six previous Assembly elections, which had voted out the incumbent, is truly remarkable. That she achieved this without any significant allies — more out of choice than force of circumstance — is quite extraordinary. Ms. Jayalalithaa adopted a high-risk strategy that relied as much on opposition disunity as on the strength of her own party. There was a mild swing of votes away from the AIADMK; and the main Opposition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, gained from the collapse of the third front led by the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. But, in the end, >Ms. Jayalalithaa was the clear winner , leading her party to success in 134 seats, 16 more than an absolute majority in the 234-member Assembly. What separated the AIADMK from the DMK-led front was only 1.1 per cent of the total votes, but this was enough for a party with a more or less uniform support base across the State. Not even her political mentor M.G. Ramachandran, the charismatic founder of the AIADMK, who won three elections in a row beginning 1977, had dared to contest all the seats without entering into seat adjustments with other parties. In doing so, Ms. Jayalalithaa revealed herself as a shrewd strategist, building on her political experiment in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, in which the AIADMK fought all the 39 seats and lost just two. The victory has dispelled any remaining doubts that the >AIADMK is the single largest force in the State ; in a situation where the rival DMK is unable to stitch together a viable alliance, it can expect to triumph. This election was also a much-needed reminder to political parties that people do not vote as a Pavlovian response; anti-incumbency was mitigated this time by a shrewd mix of populism and social welfare programmes, something that a clutch of political pundits and opinion polls failed to detect.

Although the AIADMK has been voted in with a reduced majority, and the Assembly will have a strong Opposition, Tamil Nadu seems to have given Ms. Jayalalithaa the mandate to continue with her social welfare programmes initiated over the last five years. The AIADMK leader had expanded welfare measures by opening canteens with subsidised food, and selling everything from salt, bottled water, and medicines to maternity kits and cement at subsidised rates. During the next five years, the tasks before her are greater and possibly even more challenging. They include expanding the achievements on the education and health fronts, improving Tamil Nadu’s infrastructure to attract more investment, and ensuring that its manufacturing sector is not hobbled by power shortages and growing competition from neighbouring States.

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