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January 27, 1998


Congress vote bank will 'swing' fortunes in TN

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

No emotional appeal or other 'swing factors' will affect the Tamil Nadu voters this time. And they are expected to give a rational verdict -- for the first time in seven years.

Though no serious issue seems to hamper their view -- for them to take extreme positions as in the last two elections -- the verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case can still turn the focus on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Jain Commission interim report, from which every political party wants to digress voter attention.

Tamil Nadu is one of the few states with a sizeable segment of 'non-committed', or 'swing' voters. According to one estimate, it can be put at a safe 35 per cent.

It is the swing factor that accounted for the massive All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham sweep in the 1991 poll, in Congress company. And an equally massive drubbing the same party got just five years later, again in the company of the Congress, 'identified' with the infant Tamil Maanila Congress in 1996.

It is this swing factor and 'traditional Congress vote bank' that make or mar electoral results in Tamil Nadu, though from outside it would seem that it is the Congress that has been piggy-back riding on rival Dravidian parties, namely the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the AIADMK.

In the company of one Dravidan party, the 'Congress vote bank' can ensure the defeat of the other Dravidan party.

Though not many political analysts want to accept it, the fact remains that the Tamil Nadu voter has always voted on the performance of the government of the day. And not just on the 'filmi charisma' of the MGR-Jayalalitha variety, or the 'family charisma' of the Nehru-Gandhis.

Be it the Congress defeat of 1967, or the DMK defeats of 1977 and 1989, they were all votes against the government by going in favour of the party with a winning chance. Where the government's performance was 'satisfactory', there was no change.

If the 'Congress votes' continue to go to the DMK alliance this time in the form of the TMC, the swing factor may help the Bharatiya Janata Party to some extent, as elsewhere in the country. But the BJP has neither the strength of an organisation, nor that of its candidates, in four of its five constituencies, barring Nagercoil.

The party lost the Nagercoil seat by 27,000 votes, the lowest margin for any loser in the 'poll wave' conditions of Tamil Nadu in 1996. This time again, the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Janata Dal vote bank will not be available to the TMC candidate. This vote bank could have more than offset the additional votes, accruing to the BJP from the AIADMK-MDMK allies this time.

For all the dust and noise that her political entry has created elsewhere, Sonia Gandhi's nation-wide poll campaign, launched locally at Sriperumbudur, has left Tamil Nadu mostly untouched. For obvious reason, though. With the TMC still seen as an extended arm of the Congress, and TMC chief G K Moopanar too speaking openly about his 'personal proximity' to the Nehru-Gandhi family, Sonia could not have talked about the Jain Commission report, embarrassing the TMC, an ally of the DMK.

For the same reason, she is also not expected to tour the state again, as any accruals to the Congress on that account will only be at the cost of the TMC, which is facing a tough fight from the AIADMK in some prestigious constituencies.

The issue before the Tamil Nadu voter, once again, is one of good governance. Whether it relates to Fort St George, or the Red Fort, is the question.

The BJP's 'stability card' has favourable listeners. It is another matter, whether their numbers will be adequate to offset those who now see in the party's victory the possible return of the AIADMK -- to forget, if not forgive whose misrule, they have not had adequate time between the last election and this.

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