Indian voters never cease to surprise you. Belying both the pundits and the psephologists, they have delivered a knock-out punch against the Karunanidhi dynasty.
In the court of public opinion, Karunanidhi and his extended family of wives and sons, daughter and nephews and grand nephews and a number of others connected to the large family tree who have milked the system for enormous private gains already stand convicted. Voters being the ultimate sovereigns in any democracy, their decision to reject the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a resounding verdict against political corruption.
Notwithstanding the glib theorising by the Mani Shankar Aiyars and others of his ilk, the 2G spectrum scam was the issue in the Tamil Nadu poll. To argue, as Aiyar and a few others did minutes before the actual results came in, that voters were happy with the DMK government since they were given cheap monthly rice and free colour television sets, was to put a very low opinion on the collective wisdom of the people of Tamil Nadu.
Corruption was not an issue only for the small percentage of educated people in the urban areas, as Aiyar and co seemed to believe. No. It was an issue with everyone, including those who received cheap rice and free colour TVs from the state government. The poor were not so dumb as not to know that Karunanidhi did not personally pay for the cheap rice or for the television sets whereas they knew full well that the public purse had been plundered beyond their wildest dreams. Besides, whoever replaces Karunanidhi Inc in power would persist with the freebies, wouldn't she?
Truly, one's faith in the maturity of our voters would have been diminished had the DMK succeeded in retaining power. Granted, Jayalalithaa is no paragon of virtue, either. But that paled into insignificance before what was being done by in broad daylight by the Karunanidhi family and friends. Tamil Nadu's voters were so fed up with the corruption and arrogance of the DMK in Chennai and New Delhi, they wanted to throw them out regardless of who replaced them. Since there was no third option available, Jayalalithaa won by default a huge victory.
Meanwhile, the electoral rout has effectively put paid to the succession plan in the Karuanidhi family. At 87, the patriarch will rather worry about keeping his daughter, Kanimozhi, out of the clink and about saving his own skin from a vindictive Jayalalithaa. The warring sons have little to fight over political inheritance now that in the winter of his life Karunanidhi has frittered away virtually his entire political capital. His plight is a warning to all political dynasties not to put the narrow interests of the family ahead of the people, nay, the country.
The other most significant outcome was in West Bengal. This was widely anticipated so one was not surprised at the victory of Mamata Banerjee, though the extent of her sweep did leave everyone impressed. As the lone symbol of opposition to the non-performing Left Front government, Banerjee alone was in an ideal position to exploit the popular anger accumulated over the last 34 years.
Marxists had behaved much worse than any bourgeoisie party, their cadres were a law unto themselves. For long, lawlessness had become the only law that prevailed in rural West Bengal with the local Marxist leaders behaving no better than mafia dons, enforcing instant justice and extorting money from both the people and the lower constabulary. While the rest of the country reported far improved socio-economic indices, West Bengal remained a drag on the national economy, growing far below the national average.
Maverick Mamata, meanwhile, displayed a manic spirit in opposing the Marxists. Her uncompromising resistance to all things Marxist eventually won her the coveted chief ministerial kursi. Hopefully, she will live down her image as a temperamental person without much intellectual and ideological depth in order to provide a semblance of governance to the long-suffering people of West Bengal.
In spite of her gathering around her a number of professionals and former bureaucrats, it is the leader's own demeanour, her own political maturity, or lack of it, which will determine the quality of governance in the state. Whether or not she improves things in Writers' Building, people in West Bengal needed a respite from the non-performing Left Front. The lack of a credible option alone had kept the Left in power for so long.
Of course, how Mamata Banerjee lives down her opposition to the growth of industry and commerce in the state, how she revises her stance about Nandigram and Singur, two projects which symbolised the Marxist desire to embrace economic progress, would be keenly watched. She can, of course, rely on the Marxists to pay her in her own currency of protests and agitations. One will keep one's fingers crossed that West Bengal does not become a political battleground with the winners and the losers settling scores in the streets and village squares.
What about the national parties in this election? Well, the Bharatiya Janata Party had a flicker of a hope of improving its tally in Assam, but its failure to tie up with the Asom Gana Parishad meant that both handed an easy victory to the Congress. Without doubt, the Congress's cause was bolstered by its opening of a dialogue on the eve of the polls with the underground Ulfa some of whose leaders, tired and retired, were ready to settle for crumbs from the ruling party.
But the Congress has lost big-time in Tamil Nadu. And yielded almost the entire anti-Left space to Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal. Even in Kerala, against the norm of power switching in each election from one front to the other, the wafer-thin win of the UDF underlines the popular anger against various corruption scams of local and national leaders associated with the Congress party. Had the Politburo not behaved in such a cavalier manner with the widely respected V S Achuthanandan, for all we know, the Left Front may well have retained power in the state. Prakash Karat is not entirely blameless.
As for the impact on the UPA government, we do not think there will be any immediately. A suitably chastened DMK would be keen to retain its ministers in the central government so that it can offer resistance to an imperious Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu. In the unlikely event of the DMK pulling out, from Jayalalithaa to Mayawati and Mulayam Singh, there are a number of small groups eager to sup with the ruling party.
In short, there is no immediate threat to the United Progressive Alliance government.
However, the overall message of the assembly election is certainly anti-UPA insofar as it was the endless series of corruption scams that determined the 2011 outcome.
Now, over to Uttar Pradesh. There the ground for the big electoral battle next year is already being readied on the outskirts of the capital in the name of the farmers' right to their lands.