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TN Assembly polls | Did last-minute sops help the AIADMK?

They didn’t yield much for the party but may have softened the blow of the electoral defeat

May 05, 2021 12:15 am | Updated 08:56 am IST

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. File

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. File

On February 26, just hours before the Election Commission of India announced the schedule for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, the AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu made a series of last-minute populist announcements clearly aimed at wooing voters. The most prominent among them was the Legislative Assembly’s decision to pass a bill to provide 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community in education and jobs within the 20% quota for the Most Backward Classes and denotified communities. Just a day earlier, with an eye on the votes of government employees, the State government had decided to increase the age of retirement to 60 years for all those working in the government sector, including public sector undertakings and local bodies. This was the second such extension in a year as the State government had already increased the retirement age of its employees from 58 to 59 years in 2020. The farming community too was wooed aggressively by the Palaniswami government. Following up its early February announcement of waiving outstanding crop loans of ₹12,000 crore, the government announced on February 26 that gold loans against up to six sovereigns given by cooperative banks to farmers and the poor would be waived. While on the face of it, the final outcome of the Assembly elections suggests that these last-minute sops by the AIADMK government did not help it in preventing a defeat in the elections, it is nonetheless important to look at the impact these sops may have had on voting choices and whether at all they ended up softening the blow of the electoral defeat for the AIADMK. In other words, could the defeat of the AIADMK have been even worse in the absence of these decisions?

Vanniyar quota

The decision of the AIADMK government to provide 10.5% reservation for the Vanniyar community was widely viewed as a move that would help the AIADMK firm up its alliance with the PMK and strengthen its election prospects in the Vanniyar-concentrated constituencies. The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll data, however, suggest that the step may not have produced the desired results for the AIADMK, even though in overall terms more people supported the decision of the government than opposed it. Nearly half the respondents supported the government’s decision (22% fully and 28% moderately) and around four of every 10 opposed it (12% fully and 26% moderately). However, when we look at their voting preferences, we find that the AIADMK alliance did not get any major vote advantage over the DMK alliance among those who supported the quota decision (Table 1). A little less than half ended up voting for the AIADMK alliance and about four of every 10 for the DMK alliance. For the AIADMK to do well, it needed to sweep this segment of voters. However, it managed just a modest seven percentage point vote lead over the DMK among this segment.

 

On the other hand, the remaining 50% who either opposed the quota or were ambivalent about it were far more decisive in their voting preferences – more than half of them (51%) voted for the DMK and only one-third (33%) for the AIADMK. In fact, even among the Vanniyar community, an overwhelming majority of whom, not surprisingly, supported the quota decision, there was no great advantage that went to the AIADMK on account of this support. This is because at least a third of the 79% of Vanniyars who supported the quota move actually ended up voting for the DMK alliance. This indicates that the Vanniyar quota issue did not swing any major support for the AIADMK alliance even among the Vanniyar community. We also find that a large section of non-Vanniyar Other Backward Classes (OBC) and MBC communities expressed strong opposition to the Vanniyar quota decision and this seems to have been counterproductive for the AIADMK.

Crop loan waiver

The other poll-eve populist announcement that the AIADMK government hoped to benefit from was its decision to waive crop and gold loans given to farmers by cooperative banks. While post-poll data indicate that the decision to waive crop and gold loans given to farmers by cooperative banks may not have improved the prospects of the AIADMK as much as it would have liked, it may have still ended up softening the farmer anger towards the ruling party, at least a bit. In the post-poll survey, one in every four farming households (households where a member was in the farming sector) reported having benefited from or availed of the crop or gold loan waiver (Table 2). Of them, close to half (47%) ended up favouring the AIADMK alliance and four of every 10 (39%) preferred the DMK. It appears thus that the AIADMK’s decision did pay some dividends but only among this small section. A majority of farming households had yet not benefited from/availed of the crop or gold loan waiver (or were not eligible). Thus it could be argued that the government’s decision may have come a bit too late in the day for the ruling party to make any major gains.

 

Further, even though the farmers have split their vote evenly between the DMK and the AIADMK alliances – 44% each respectively (in 2016, too, they had done the same), this does not mean that they were satisfied with how the State government had addressed their condition. On being asked specifically about whether the condition of farmers had improved or deteriorated under the AIADMK government, close to half (46%) of the respondents who belonged to farming households said that the farmers’ condition had worsened. This is true for even those households that had benefited from the crop/gold loan waiver (Table 3).

 

Retirement age extension

The AIADMK government’s decision to increase the retirement age of government employees to 60 years does not seem to have had much of an impact in making government employees vote for the ruling party, at least not on the scale as it would have liked (Table 4). To begin with, only 8% of our respondents reported having a household member who worked in the government sector. Furthermore, only half of them expressed support for the government’s decision to increase the retirement age with the rest being either opposed to the move or ambivalent on the issue (Table 4). Further, even this 4% who supported the government’s decision to extend the retirement age did not vote much for the AIADMK. If anything, we find that a plurality of them actually ended up voting for the DMK.

 

Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi

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