Defying electoral history and alliance arithmetic, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has returned to power in Tamil Nadu with a clear majority of its own. In a State where no regime has won a second successive mandate since 1984, > Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has brought her party back to power . That she made it entirely on her own makes this an extraordinary personal achievement for Ms. Jayalalithaa. She knit together a strategy that involved making sure that the party’s potent ‘Two Leaves’ symbol is featured on every ballot machine in all 234 constituencies. She had no major ally, and the seven candidates representing minor parties in her alliance were asked to contest on the AIADMK’s symbol. She unveiled a populist manifesto much after her rivals did. She has obtained only a working majority, and will have to reckon with an unusually large Opposition inside the House. In terms of vote share, she has managed to beat back the combined challenge from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress, two Muslim parties and a Dalit party. The AIADMK crossed the crucial 40 per cent vote share mark. It was quite a challenge for the rival grouping to beat it. For, also in the fray were a rich variety of political parties seeking to capitalise on the perceived decline in the performance and fortunes of the two main Dravidian parties.
Anti-incumbency With the ‘alternative’ vote splitting many ways, the fight was narrowed down to who would retain their committed vote share and corner a clutch of neutral votes on polling day. Many knew the AIADMK would have the advantage, as it has the largest vote bank among the parties in Tamil Nadu, most of it drawn from the legacy and persisting popularity of the party’s founder, M.G. Ramachandran. The only way to beat the AIADMK vote bank was to draw upon the smouldering resentment against Ms. Jayalalithaa’s five-year rule. It will be incorrect for anyone to presume that there was no anti-incumbency at work in Tamil Nadu this time. The evidence lies in the fact that the number of opposition MLAs in the Assembly is around 100, something not witnessed in recent legislative history. It is clear that the neutral votes were scattered among the Opposition, and paved the way for Ms. Jayalalithaa’s victory.
The DMK-Congress combine was ultimately not able to take full advantage of the dissatisfaction against the regime because of two possible factors. The DMK is still caught up in organisational turmoil over the extent to which it would allow the party’s heir apparent M.K. Stalin to run its affairs. DMK patriarch > M. Karunanidhi made it clear he himself was the chief ministerial candidate in this election . In hindsight, the party may have been better off if it had projected Mr. Stalin as the chief ministerial candidate instead of the 92-year-old Mr. Karunanidhi.
Second, the DMK alliance obviously had a millstone around its neck: the Congress. Mr. Karunanidhi roped in the Congress at a time when his party badly needed some additional percentage points to overthrow the AIADMK. The Congress, almost an untouchable in the State as it is seen as the party responsible for the large-scale deaths of Tamil civilians in the last phase of the Sri Lankan civil war, sensed that it could regain its credibility by joining the main opposition alliance. However, the price it extracted — 41 seats — may have cost the DMK dearly. The party won only eight seats, leaving the impression that had the DMK contested on its own it may have taken on the AIADMK more effectively in those constituencies allotted to the Congress.
The power of money and a host of populist promises in the manifestos of political parties undoubtedly had an influence on the election outcome. There were dozens of close contests in which a few thousand votes either bought for cash or cast on the expectation of a free or subsidised mobile phone or two-wheeler may have made the difference. The Election Commission seized more than Rs.100 crore in the run-up to the election, and in two constituencies the distribution of cash and gifts had an effect so vitiating that polling had to be put off by a week.
Not grand, but significant For Ms. Jayalalithaa, it may not have been a grand triumph, but it is a significant victory nevertheless. The hard-fought victory comes under the shadow of an impending final judgment from the Supreme Court in a > ‘disproportionate assets’ case in which she was convicted by the trial court and later > acquitted by the Karnataka High Court . She badly needed to dispel the fear that lack of development, the closure of industries, the spiralling public debt, and the reluctance to give in to the popular clamour for prohibition — late in the campaign, she promised to implement prohibition in phases — would cumulatively overshadow her charisma, her image as a ‘mother’ figure providing for the people’s wants and as one who keeps her promises. In the end, she managed to do so.