The lady from Poes Garden has indeed opened a new chapter in Tamil Nadu’s politics by winning Assembly polls twice in a row. Yet, the voters have succeeded in putting fetters on her by giving Opposition a formidable strength of 98 seats in a 234-strong House, writes Vijay Grover
“It’s Jayalalithaa” read the newspaper headlines, ending the excitement and the speculation associated with Tamil Nadu polls. As the results poured in on 19th May, Tamil Nadu ended up making a political history of sorts. Jayalalithaa surprised the pollsters by being voted back to power and demonstrated that her style of politics has been given a thumbs up from the masses. What did the magic for her? A promise of a good stable governance for next five years, or the freebies that she had announced through the run up to the polls. It was being seen as an afterthought promising free mobile phones, subsidy for two-wheeler purchase and the gold Mangalsutra (an insignia that denotes matrimony for women) for the marriageable girls. Or was it just the assurance to bring prohibition in phases that seemed a more viable option?
The first few files she signed soon after her swearing in ceremony clearly indicated that the populism and the populist schemes will continue to rain in the State. Jayalalithaa waived loans pending against farmers, sanctioned 100 units free power for domestic consumers, closed 500 liquor shops and announced introduction of free breakfast in addition to midday meal. This would start soon.
After over a two-month long heated campaign, the State got a Government which may go down in the history as the one with the narrowest margin of difference between the ruling or Treasury and Opposition benches. The final tally of AIADMK and its allies was 134 while the Opposition mustered 98 seats. This was very different from results in the past where the parties have been routed out. The single digit performances by DMK and AIDMK in 1996, 1991 respectively had shown the strong emotional polling patterns where the voters were swayed into unleashing waves in favour of one party against the other.
Tamil Nadu polls have never been contested as bitterly as this time around. The voters’ verdict was evenly poised. It defied the yo-yo theory about the Southern State since it has been famous for voting out rival parties and alliances one after the other. While it made a record by voting back Jayaram Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK to power, psephologists and pollsters who had predicted a DMK victory were thrown out of wits by the results.
Most media and analysts had yet again got it wrong. The DMK which was predicted to win has, however, put up a better than usual performance for an Opposition party. “Most surveys had a sample base largely taken from Chennai and if one sees the results the seats here went to the DMK. One can’t blame the surveyors for being totally or so off the mark. It’s a lesson for them as rural parts voted differently from urban voters,” said Rajesh Sundaram, News Director Cauvery News Channel.
Interestingly, all are keeping a close watch on how the governance shapes this time since for the first time since in 1996 there is going to be a formidable opposition presence in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. With a combined Opposition strength of 98, the DMK will have a crucial role to play. If the presence of DMK leader MK Stalin at Jayalalithaa’s swearing in was an indicator, the Jayalalithaa’s acknowledgement about her officers goofing up in protocol related matters stumped most of the political analysts.
“It has never happened in the recent history that either the DMK or AIADMK leaders have attended their opponent’s oath taking ceremony. While this is surprising, but what will be crucial is their responses to criticism and suggestions,” said political commentator Bhagwan Singh while speaking to Policy Pulse.
Has the Voter changed in Tamil Nadu? The silent revolution in the last one decade has seen greater integration of the State with rest of the country vis-à-vis politics. For over half-a-century or so the Dravidian issues alone have generally been palpable in the politics of Tamil Nadu, where the sentimental issues relating to Tamil mores, culture, language and Eelam or Sri Lankan Tamils’ issues have dominated the polls and the pitch for it. This has mainly been the reason why Tamil Nadu was always guided by strong sentiments where it ended up giving brute majority to either the AIADMK or the DMK so as to make them alternate one after the other. If in 1991 Jayalalitha was voted in with 225 of the 234 seats and DMK got a mere seven seats, Karunanidhi repeated somewhat a similar feat by getting 221 seats in 1996, giving the opposition AIADMK just four seats in the Vidhan Sabha.
But in the last two polls the end of the Sri Lankan war and integration of the State culturally to rest of the country has created a situation where the issues no longer are restricted to Tamil fervor but are getting discussed in a bigger forum where economic issues are taking precedent over those related to politics and ideology. The latest elections have demonstrated that the voters in Tamil Nadu have come of age to become a lot mature today than what was the case earlier. Thus, they have placed a strong Opposition for Jayalalithaa to face. The Opposition will be able to question every government move through debates and discussions a practice which was rare in the State through the years gone by because of the feeble voice in the House that the Opposition generally had.
Thus, the road ahead for Jayalalithaa is full of challenges. On the governance front she has not only to fulfil poll promises like the free mobile phones but the AIADMK leader has to take care of the disproportionate assets case that awaits a decision in the Supreme Court. The DMK has already announced its intention of battling it out in the court. And an adverse apex court verdict may raise quite difficult questions that may well have a bearing on the fate of Amma and her party.
Her Victory Gift to Voters
• Orders waiver of small and medium farmers’ loans in the cooperative banks. Cost to the State around Rs 5,780 crore
• Domestic users to get 100 units of free electricity. Cost to the State Rs 1,607 crore
• Women who have diplomas /graduates will be given 8 gm of gold on their wedding
• Free power to handloom weavers increased to 200 units and for powerlooms to 750 units
• 500 TASMAC liquor vends will shut down, retail vending time reduced by 2 hours