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The Rediff Special/ Shobha Warrier in Chennai
DMK manifesto hero of 2006 election
May 11, 2006
Just before campaigning started in Tamil Nadu for the assembly election, it was a foregone conclusion that J Jayalalithaa would return to power, a feat achieved only by M G Ramachandran in the past.
The opinion polls in the first week of April -- after Jayalalithaa kicked off her election campaign -- also predicted a clear victory for the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Her approval rating was 67 per cent, and people did not have anything bad to say about her. Her handling of the relief work after the tsunami and the flood was widely appreciated.
What changed in the four weeks that followed?
One, Karunanidhi released the DMK manifesto.
Like Finance Minister P Chidambaram said, the DMK's election manifesto seems to be the hero of the 2006 election in Tamil Nadu.
While educated urban Tamil voters and the media initially laughed at the manifesto, the DMK's offer of freebies like colour television and rice for Rs 2 made rural Tamil Nadu look at it with keen interest.
Perhaps this manifesto was script writer M Karunanidhi's best script. He understood the pulse of the poor people of Tamil Nadu much better than anybody.
Till Karunanidhi released his party manifesto, Jayalalithaa spoke only about the achievements of her government -- how she handled disasters, how she helped the poor students of Tamil Nadu by distributing books and bicycles, etc.
But she saw that from the moment Karunanidhi offered them free colour television sets and cable connection and rice for Rs 2, there was a change in the mindset of the people.
Finally Jayalalithaa pressed the panic button and started announcing freebies one after another. Many feel it was this panic reaction that changed the minds of the people.
If she had desisted from doing so by sticking onto her earlier strategy of highlighting her achievements, perhaps it would have a different scenario. When she offered 10 kg rice free, thali (mangalsutra) to young brides, and computers for students, people of Tamil Nadu might have felt it was possible for Karunanidhi to really give them a colour television!
Last heard, many poor houses in Tamil Nadu have started hiding their second-hand black and white television sets so that they do not miss out on the colour televisions.
The question is, where is the money for the colour television sets going to come from? From the party fund or from taxpayers' money?
If the manifesto is the hero of Karunanidhi's script for the assembly election, the second lead is played by the arithmetic of the alliance.
This election was described by many as a fight between arithmetic and chemistry. In the end, arithmetic won.
The arithmetic was so good that it helped the DPA sweep the Lok Sabha election in 2004. In the last two years, Jayalalithaa made up a lot; yet she could not match the arithmetic.
The result is, for the first time, there will be a coalition government in Tamil Nadu.
Another spoilsport for the AIADMK in the election was Vijayakanth's DMDK. It appears he has eaten into the vote base of the AIADMK -- mainly women voters.
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