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Suspense in TN elections

Suspense in TN elections
Both the Dravidian giants, AIADMK, and DMK are engaged in a no-holds-barred fight, with just two weeks left for the one-day May 16 poll, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa touting her welfare schemes and other wider achievements while arch-rival DMK’s Karunanidhi (93) talks  with elan of his likely return to power in three weeks. But the AIADMK leader may still come up with new moves to tilt voters in her favour.

A tight race, and crowded, seems to be building this time and the election commission has taken 
unprecedented steps to ensure fair and free poll in Tamil Nadu with its notoriety for “cash for votes”, amid alarms for malpractices sounded by the non-Dravidian party players including a Third Front. There were some 4500 valid nominations after scrutiny for the 234-member Assembly.

Though multi-layered, the TN election campaign has essentially revolved around the two Dravidian majors, virtually edging out the claims and counter-claims of a host of smaller parties including BJP in the fray. They have all called for Tamil Nadu to be rid of the corrupt regimes of DMK and AIADMK and what impact they can make on segments of the 50 million electorates would be known on May 19.
Overall, there are no signs of any significant swings of voter support one way or the other. But given far too many candidates in the field and possible diversion of votes, traditional winners may not find it smooth sailing in all cases.  

There is thus some likelihood of one or the other of the two majors failing to capture a decisive majority. Ruling AIADMK has tried to cover itself by putting up its own candidates in 227 constituencies leaving seven seats for its allies listed with the same symbol. 

In high-powered campaigns across the state, drawing millions, both “Amma Jayalalithaa” and the DMK veteran have freely indulged in mutual recriminations at their rhetorical best, and not without promise of a new era of development with greater focus on civic amenities, the appalling lack of which, for instance, disrupted lives of lakhs of citizens in the Chennai deluge of November-December last.

There is no palpable anti-incumbency wave against ruling AIADMK, though all parties have condemned it along with DMK for corruption. Besides all the freebies, Jayalalitha has been boastful of her regime’s record in the state’s economic growth, FDI and gaining a power-surplus status by her government’s substantial augmentation of generating capacity.

Karunanidhi has cited her failure to come out and meet people in distress situations like the Chennai floods and in not implementing several of her promises. Jayalalithaa, in turn, blamed the DMK leader’s failure to keep promises made by him in 2006 when he came to power at the head of a minority government. It had now formed a “tainted” alliance with Congress. She charged him with establishing “family rule which is anathema to democracy”

BJP could not find a single ally and is, therefore, fighting on its own with its nominees all over. At the state level, BJP has been strongly opposed to Jayalalithaa rule, which the party’s National President Mr. Amit Shah on a visit charged, as the “most corrupt government”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is to make a campaign speech is Chennai on May 6 can be expected to thunder against corruption in general in line with the “double-speak” the way his Government and party men  speak on sensitive issues so that both ends are sought to be served.

For the Congress, not so happily aligned with DMK which broke away from UPA-II in 2012, long after the 2G scam, its national leaders, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi have been invited to address election meetings so that the party retains its strongholds in some of the districts.  They were also due to make visits to Tamil Nadu in the early part of May.   

The Congress in Tamil Nadu is a divided house and the 41 seats it would contest had to be shared among the several factions with some difficulty. Nevertheless, the State Congress President E V K S Elangovan who is enthused over the alliance with DMK, predicts the “worst defeat” for AIADMK in its history. This may be more of his wishful thinking similar to other expectations among various contestants.

The PMK of Dr. Ramadoss is also, like BJP, contesting on its own and its Chief Ministerial aspirant Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss hopes, after intensely touring the state, his party would have helped to create a healthy change in Tamil Nadu. PMK is predominantly a party drawing support from the sizeable population of Vanniars in northern and western districts.

The Third Front parties have covered all the 234 constituencies and are also strongly hopeful of significant gains, irrespective of their individual shares of vote percentages, leading perhaps to a coalition rule and healthy governance for the people of Tamil Nadu. Among these parties are DMDK of Mr. Vijay Kant, who leads the Front, TMC of G K Vasan, MDMK of Vaiko, VCT of Dalit leader Thirumavalavan and CPI(M) and CPI.

Total prohibition is a common theme for all the parties, initially sponsored by the constituents of Third Front in the interest of the welfare of the poor, especially the womenfolk but astute Karunanidhi perhaps saw in it a winning gamble.   No matter DMK’s flip-flops on handling it in the past, Karunanidhi is now committed to making it its first order if voted to power.

Not to be outdone, Jayalalithaa followed by announcing phased introduction of prohibition if she secured the mandate afresh. Seemingly a distraction from more basic issues of education, health, drinking water and other infrastructure, Tamil Nadu would have to tap other sources of revenue to make up for loss of over Rs. 25,000 crores a year from the liquor tax.

Notably, election authorities in Tamil Nadu have shifted some of the collectors and police superintendents and designated a new poll DGP to take care of the election processes and to whom all field officers handling poll-related arrangements would report. They have tightened vigilance with income-tax officials to track cash outgoes. Also, efforts have been made to ensure the highest voting percentage in the forthcoming TN Assembly poll which had averaged 70-75 percent in the past.  

(Views are personal)

S Sethuraman

S Sethuraman

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