Jaya looks set to retain power
Battle lines are now drawn in Tamil Nadu for the May 16 poll to the 234-member Assembly, with the ruling AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa giving a flying start to her party’s campaign for renewal of mandate, at a mammoth rally in Chennai on April 9.
Given her charisma and fair implementation of welfare schemes, her AIADMK is rated marginally ahead of arch-rival Karunanidhi’s DMK, according to early surveys.
She has also upstaged all opposition parties by announcing a phased introduction of prohibition if returned to power. Prohibition had become a theme of promise for almost all opposition parties on their poll agenda.
Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s grit was also evident in taking the battle upfront by announcing candidates for all the 234 seats, with only seven allowed for friendly outfits but which would all fight on the AIADMK symbol of two leaves with a bud.
Karunanidhi (93) had struggled for weeks to forge a formidable alliance to avenge DMK’s humiliating defeat by her in 2011 but his calculations went awry, with only the Congress becoming his willing ally and grudgingly allowed 41 seats to contest.
DMK has now put up its candidates for 176 out of a total of 234 seats. Besides Congress (41 seats), smaller parties (including two Muslim and a Dalit outfit) with 17 seats were drawn into the DMK-Congress alliance. DMK leaders are relying on votes polled by dissidents from other parties to tilt the balance and help restore DMK rule.
That could be some reward for the hard constituency-wise work done by son M K Stalin, over the last few months. He hopes to take over from his father at an appropriate time.
Jayalalithaa drew comfort from Vijaykant’s (DMDK) decision to not join the DMK-led alliance as otherwise it may have cost her some seats. Outwardly, DMK and other opposition parties are not taken in by Jayalalithaa’s announcement of phased prohibition.
In the DMK poll manifesto released on November 10, Karunanidhi has promised total prohibition unlike Jayalalithaa’s announcement of “phased introduction” of prohibition which he dubbed as “deceitful”. But the AIADMK leader had earlier roundly condemned Karunanidhi’s own record of flip-flops on prohibition during his years in office.
To make up for lost political ground, Karunanidhi has now come up with more freebies - free internet, waiver of education loans, smartphones for poor families and a host of concessions to youth, farmers, and fishermen, raising of procurement prices and “Anna” food canteens instead of “Amma” ones, along with other development schemes (“Anna” refers to DMK founder and first Chief Minister C N Annadurai).
But what makes the Tamil Nadu 2016 poll somewhat unique is the entry of an embryonic third front of six parties to signal a widely prevalent disenchantment with the “corrupt regimes” of the two Dravidian majors alternating over fifty years. Secondly, Tamil Nadu’s notoriety in “cash for votes” would now come under stricter vigilance and scrutiny by the election commission.
How far the combine of six parties -- DMDK of Vijaykant, leading the People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA) comprising MDMK of Vaiko, Tamil Manila Congress (TMC) of G K Vasan, VCT of Dalit leader Thirumavalavan, CPI(M) and CPI -- can shake-up Tamil Nadu politics with promise of clean coalition governance, remains to be seen.
Hopefully, it will usher in some new radicalism or a new social paradigm in the highly competitive political space that is building up - though the 2016 battle would be fought mainly between the two Dravidian formations, each trying to enlarge its respective vote base to outbid the other.
Apart from these three major contenders, two stand-alone parties as of now are PMK of Anbumani Ramadoss, dominant among the Vanniyar community in northern districts, and of course, the BJP which entered the scene very early last year with soaring ambition. Ramadoss, totally opposed to Dravidian majors, is the Chief Ministerial candidate for his party. He has traversed the state no matter how much following he would have built and has steadily spurned invitations to join the Third Front or BJP.
Despite all its Modi-centric claims of achievements at the national level, BJP in Tamil Nadu has not been able to recreate the NDA-led alliance it had forged in 2014 when it won two Lok Sabha seats, one of which is held by Ramadoss (PMK). However, BJP, shunned by other state parties, would put up candidates in most places and start building major political space for itself.
Both BJP and DMK had denied DMDK leader Vijaykant due recognition which led to his decision to go with the PWA. BJP was unwilling to name him as the Chief Ministerial candidate while, even in its adversity, the DMK leader ruled out any power-sharing with allies, should the DMK gain a majority to form the government.
The Congress, the principal ally of DMK, led by E V K S Elangovan, is looking forward to sharing power depending on the electoral outcomes. Meanwhile, it has to sort out sharing of 41 seats with its warring factions. TMC leader Vasan had expected to go along with AIADMK but could not accept Jayalalithaa’s condition on accepting her party symbol. He then moved on to the third front.
For Jayalalithaa, full of optimism, a consecutive second term, in line with her capture of 37 out of 39 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, would make her Chief Minister for the sixth time. AIADMK counts on its accomplishments over last five years and is yet to come out with a new manifesto barring the announcement relating to the prohibition that Jayalalithaa made on November 9.
Jayalalithaa will seek re-election from North Chennai constituency, R K Nagar while the DMK leader Karunanidhi is again to stand from hometown, Tiruvarur, one of the delta districts.
The state capital will witness fierce rivalry between the two Dravidian majors for its 22 seats covered by AIADMK but DMK is contesting for 18 seats, leaving four to allies.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)