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From Alcohol to Milk - Pandering to the Middle Class

Peddling promises in poll-bound Tamil Nadu, political parties pose as Dream Merchants pandering to middle-class aspirations, writes Vijay Grover

Vijay Grover
Publish Date: Apr 25 2016 4:22PM | Updated Date: Apr 25 2016 4:22PM

From Alcohol to Milk - Pandering to the Middle Class

High pitch campaign for the May 16 elections are on full blast in Tamil Nadu and every contender has set about wooing electorates with manifestos that look like dream wish-list of the lower and upper middle class. And their key targets are the youth and women voters. 


In the season of bans, Liquor Prohibition has become the new mantra to woo voters, especially women, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) was the first to launch its campaign on the alcohol ban plank. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) then kicked off its campaign taking on  AIADMK’s alcohol ban with cheaper milk and free internet. 


AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa’s announcement to introduce phased prohibition in the State surprised many as she launched her campaign on 9th April from Chennai. Taking a page from her Kerala counterpart Oomen Chandy’s book, Jaya said “First we will restrict the timings of the shops, then curtail their numbers to reduce availability and then shut down the bars. We will build rehabilitation centres to help those addicted to alcohol”. It was an appeal that directly touched a chord with the women voters. Women cutting across party, social strata and caste lines have been major supporters of Jayalalithaa in her political battles. This time around this is being seen as a thanksgiving move by Jayalalithaa to her women voters who have been fighting battles at home against alcoholism. Alcoholism has become a major concern for the womenfolk in the state. 


But ban on alcohol this election season seems to be the trump card and no political party is ready to part with that ace. Hence the political parties are engaged in spirited debates on prohibition, largely casting aspersions on each other’s sincerity on the issue. Congress spokesperson and actress Khushbu Sundar questioned the AIADMK’s announcement calling it mere tokenism, “If liquor ban will be introduced in phases by AIADMK, why did Jayalalithaa not introduce it during her present regime of five years?” 


The answer to the question may come from Jayalalithaa in the coming weeks, but the fact remains that excise and tax revenue from liquor sales contributed over Rs.29672 crore out of the State’s total revenue of Rs.96083 crore in 2014-15, a reason why no Government in Tamil Nadu could muster the courage to impose prohibition. But this time around even the DMK, PMK and the DMDK besides AIADMK have also made prohibition a key aspect of their campaign to woo voters.


DMK packs data punch 


In a State where freebies are common and Governments have doled out appliances like colour televisions, fans, mixer-grinders, DTH boxes, laptops etc., the DMK has come up with one of the most innovative poll promises. 10 GB of free 3G/4G data for 16 lakh students every month is one of the highlights of the 72-page manifesto that the DMK chief Karunanidhi launched on 10th April. In the present digital world, DMK hopes to lure the youth with free data recharges. The party is hopeful the young and first time voters would help swing the poll outcome in the State, giving DMK a edge in what is slated to be a close contest.  Among other promises that DMK has made in its manifesto, a key one targeting average middle class families, especially the women, is the reduction in price of milk to up to  Rs.7 per litre. 


The other major alliance – the Vijaykanth-led People'e Welfare Front (PWF) is yet to come out with its manifesto but it is clear that the alliance is targeting voters who have seen the DMK and AIADMK rule the State alternatively. Vijayakanth, the star campaigner of the PWF has drawn up a hectic schedule to travel the State targeting such voters who could be looking for a fresh political alternative.  


For the moment however the advantage rests with the ruling AIADMK which was first to get off the starting blocks. Jayalalithaa launched her statewide tour by addressing over 30,000 party workers and public at Chennai’s Island Grounds. Her strategy seems to be completing a whirlwind tour of  Tamil Nadu projecting her achievements before the bigwigs - Prime Minister Modi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who are busy with campaigning in West Bengal and Assam, can descend on the State by end April. 


The stakes are higher for Jayalalithaa as she makes a desperate bid to create history in the State being returned to power for a successive second term, a feat which has never been achieved. Marching to the slogan “Makkalale Naanu , Makkalakaage Naanu” (I am what I am because of masses and I am for the masses) Jayalalithaa faces two major challenges - one is the pending case in the Supreme Court which could seal her fate or give her a breather at the end of a two decade long legal battle. The case contesting Jaya’s acquittal by the Karnataka High Court is being fought using the best legal brains in the country by both the parties DMK (a petitioner in the original DA case) and the AIADMK .


The second major challenge is the emergence of the BJP as a serious political contender in Dravidian land. Over the years BJP has been gradually eating into Jaya’s upper caste vote and pro-Hindutva votes. After the Narendra Modi Government came to power at the Centre, the worries have increased as the BJP may end up denting her party’s chances in some constituencies. 


The BJP’s performance this election will be watched with closely. While in earlier polls the BJP was not counted as a serious contender but the promise of ‘Ache Din’ in 2014 had given the BJP over 5.6% votes in 2014 General Elections. This time around the BJP is yet to hawk the Ache Din promises made in 2014, but reportedly has prepared an appealing manifesto. Many feel that it may end up playing the spoil sport in several constituencies by splitting votes.  Many analysts also feel that the BJP could help divide the anti Jaya votes. However there is a lurking suspicion that the BJP while targeting the same vote bank as AIADMK has some tacit understanding with Jayalalithaa.


One contender to watch in the upcoming polls is ‘Karuppu MGR’ (Dark MGR) Vijay Kanth. Brandishing his connect with iconic MGR, Vijayakanth this time is using a campaign van which Marudhur Gopalan Ramachandran, popular as MGR, had gifted him long time ago. The People Welfare Front alliance of DMDK, MDMK and other smaller parties like VCK, CPI and CPIM is hopeful of being able to play a crucial role in Government formation should either the DMK-Congress or AIADMK fall short of the magical number.


As far as the voters in the State are concerned, they will once again press the button on May 16 with the hope that the Dream Merchants actually deliver on their promises.