YEH HAI INDIA
PIC OF THE DAY
To your parents' health
It was a classic example of political sagacity and administrative control marrying into a perfect campaign. In Andipatti, Jayalalithaa Jayaram hit all the right notes in her bid to claim the assembly seat -- and with it, the chief minister's chair -- that had been denied to her last year when she was banned by the Election Commission from contesting.
Confronting her was the combined strength of the political opposition spearheaded by Muthuvel Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham and V Gopalasamy, better known as Vaiko, of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham -- easily the two most powerful orators in the state.
They held public meetings and rocked the show, with backup in the form of Karunanidhi's sons M K Stalin and M K Azhagiri.
Cannily, Jayalalithaa refused to meet them on their battleground. Thus, no public meetings for the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham star -- Jaya contented herself with five days of touring the constituency in her luxurious open-top tempo, stopping at street-corners to address little gatherings. Thus, she countered the fire and brimstone of her opponents with her own brand of 'all in the family' intimacy.
Second, she identified and hit every single emotional button. This is the constituency that returned Marathur Gopalan Ramachandran Menon - the iconic celluloid idol-turned-politician - when the latter was lying comatose at the Brooklyn Downstate hospital in New York in 1984 with kidney failure.
"Then, I came to you asking for votes on his behalf -- now, I have come on my own behalf," she repeatedly reminded the electorate.
She realised, too, that while men are typically political, women tend to let emotions dictate. And hence, the acting skills that once saw her hold pole position as the darling of the matinee crowd was harnessed to play the role of a woman wronged.
"They said I was corrupt. They did not let me, a woman, contest elections. When I became chief minister, they threw me out. Now the court says I am not corrupt, but they still want to defeat me."
Poor thing, murmured the female section of her audience, she has been badly wronged.
Karunanidhi and Vaiko could not make similar connections with the female voters -- and that cost them dear.
A bit of the 'Empress' shone through at times -- and even this proved to be a plus. Tamil Nadu is by and large patriarchal. This, after all, is the state that lent notoriety to the practice of female infanticide. Thus, when she stood tall while men -- her party MLAs, ministers, even Chief Minister O Panneerselvam -- bowed low to touch her feet, the women sighed and thanked god that one of their number had been empowered to such a degree.
"Social engineering" -- read, the politics of caste -- worked for her as well. The constituency is dominated by Thevars. Her best friend Sasikala Natrajan and her chief minister Panneerselvam both hail from that community. The next big group is the scheduled castes -- traditionally staunch supporters of MGR. Then come the brahmins and other upper castes -- which she sewed up thanks to the fact that she herself is brahmin.
Never one to shy away from overkill, Jayalalitha outdid herself by assembling the political and administrative might at her disposal. All her MLAs and ministers were there, forming an impressive cavalcade. The police hierarchy was there in strength, ditto the revenue department -- a combination that spelt might and money.
The DMK played its cards as wrong as it was possible to play them. For starters, all they talked of was corruption -- which, given that Jayalalitha could wave her exoneration by the courts, was a tough sell and smacked of monomania. The DMK talked of the 46 cases against her, she talked of her judicial clean chit.
And -- strangely, given that Karunanidhi is constantly accused of attempting to foist dynastic succession on his party and the state -- they played up the rising son motif. Thus, posters of M K Stalin and M K Azhagiri dominated. And -- crowning folly -- the DMK put up Karunanidhi posters with the one word 'Daddy'.
'Amma' -- Mother -- is how Jayalalitha is referred to in this state. The DMK's 'Daddy' may have been an attempt at wry humour -- but for a party that took birth in the womb of Tamil pride, 'Daddy' was political poison.
The outcome -- a win by 41,000 votes, her largest majority yet -- was foregone. She held the cards -- all 54 of them. The 52 that make up the pack and the two jokers who, in this case, were Karunanidhi's two sons.
A Ganesh Nadar is a frequent contributor to rediff.com