On the eve of the elections it is advantage AIADMK, says M R Venkatesh.
As the election campaign ends in Tamil Nadu, and less than twenty four hours left for the polling to be complete, there are tell-tale signs of an anti-DMK wave. Matram -- Tamil for change -- seems to be in the air. And that is not without any reason. Let me amplify.
The distance between Chennai and Kanyakumari is well in excess of 700 kilometres. In Europe if one travels that distance one could have travelled across two countries, possibly three. In a state like Tamil Nadu, one could have covered a few 'regions' within a state! And with each region within the state having its own problems, issues and peculiarities, it becomes extremely difficult to predict the outcome of an election in such a complex situation.
Mercifully, this complexity gets reduced by the fact that it is a binary election in Tamil Nadu this time around -- either you vote for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance. Yet, what makes it extremely difficult for poll pundits and political analysts to stick their neck out is the fact that both the alliances are dominated by a loyal cadre and a committed vote bank. To explain the same, let me digress.
One may recall that in 1988-89, the DMK was voted to power after 13 years. As luck would have it, the Chandrasekar government (supported by the Congress from outside) dismissed the DMK-led state government in January 1991 and imposed President's Rule in the state invoking the provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution. The charge against the DMK was that it was aiding and abetting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leading to a complete breakdown of law and order in the state.
And as if to prove the allegation, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991 in Tamil Nadu while on an election tour to the state. Strangely, this happened during the President's Rule. Yet the charge against DMK stuck. The Congress by then had entered into a pre-poll alliance with the J Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK.
In the elections that followed in June 1991, the Congress-AIADMK combine swept the polls leading to the rout of the DMK riding largely on the charisma of Jayalalithaa.
For those who were born after 1991 and going to vote in TN the first time in 2011, it might be surprising to know that the bitter political adversaries of 1991 -- the Congress and the DMK (remember that the Congress had accused the DMK of being involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi) -- have now turned into poll allies. What would be more intriguing to know here is that the Congress had brought down the United Front Government in 1997 precisely on this charge.
But too much water has flown under the bridge since then. A week is indeed a long time in politics, and definitely in Indian politics. No wonder, the adversaries of 1997 have now turned into strange bedfellows by 2004. And the Congress that accused the DMK of having a hand in the assassination of its leader Rajiv Gandhi found common cause with the DMK!
Why poll-pundits refuse to stick out their necks
But there is an interesting side story to all this convoluted politics. A senior media personality pointed out to me that the vote bank of the DMK remained more or less the same in 1988-89 elections as it was in 1991 elections. Yet, it won the first time around, only to be defeated in the subsequent elections.
The reason for the same is not far to seek. For the first time around, it faced a split opposition as the Congress and the AIADMK contested those elections alone. In fact, the AIADMK in the aftermath of the death of M G Ramachandran had split into two with one faction being led by Jayalalithaa and the other by Janaki, the widow of MGR.
By 1991 things had changed dramatically. The two factions of the AIADMK merged under the leadership of Jayalalithaa. Further, it went ahead with an alliance with the Congress. Naturally that ensured a complete wash out of the DMK in 1991. While the DMK could manage only one seat, the fact remains that the vote share of the DMK between 1988-89 and 1991 did not diminish. And even today one is sure that the DMK alliance would poll approximately 40 percent and possibly end up on the losing side!
In short, what defeated the DMK in 1991 was the emergence of Jayalalithaa, the merger of all factions of the AIADMK and of course the alliance with the Congress. In short, good times or bad times, the Dravidian parties have loyal cadre and a committed vote bank. This vote bank is immune to virtually any political development as it is to even monetary inducement and physical intimidation.
And that means elections in Tamil Nadu will be decided by a small set of 'swing voters' (in Kerala the swing voters are far lesser) who could well decide on the fate of these elections.
Given this paradigm, pre-poll alliances become extremely crucial. It is here that the AIADMK seems to have a definite edge. If voting patterns during the past elections are any indications, the AIADMK led front must be expected to poll close to 50 percent. Surely in a two-party race, the AIADMK must feel arithmetically secure.
Is the writing on the wall?
As pointed out earlier, a vast state like Tamil Nadu is divided into several regions. With each region having its own dominant political issue, caste, local popularity of the candidates and of course the state of preparedness of the opposition that seems to play. And when such subjective factors begin to dominate the electoral fortunes, it becomes extremely difficult to hazard a guess.
But not this time around. The state Congress that was embroiled in a bitter wrangling with the DMK has been a disaster in the run up to the polls. Nothing exemplifies the infighting and preparedness of the Congress in the state when it released its manifesto for these elections just a few days ago. Mercifully, it was not on April 14, a day after the polls!
That is not all. Congress, like in several states, is a divided house in the state. It is completely faction ridden. The depressing scenario was brilliantly captured by Cho Ramasamy, senior political commentator and editor of a weekly, Thuglaq, who pointed out that it is the Karunanidhi faction that dominates the state Congress. (It may not be out of place to mention that several leaders in local Congress owe their allegiance to the DMK leader). In such a scenario, the Congress is hell bent on defeating itself.
What is even more appalling is the performance of the other allies of the DMK (like the Pattali Makkal Katchi for instance) who are conspicuous by their intriguing silence. It may be noted that DMK has conceded approximately 110 seats to its allies. Given the state of preparedness, one suspects, the allies are the weakest link within the DMK alliance.
But the DMK is not faring any better. The 2G spectrum issue is having its impact on the urban centres. The Anna Hazare fast could not have come at a worse time for the DMK. In the rural areas, it is the deteriorating law and order situation, spiralling inflation and lack of rural infrastructure that is dominating the electoral debate. Either way it is not a happy prospect for the DMK.
But the reluctance of the DMK cadre to work at the ground level must surely be a shock to its leadership. Never in the history of the DMK has its cadre been so reticent during elections. And pray why not? The opulent lifestyle of some of the DMK ministers and party functionaries is now emerging as a huge deterrent for the ordinary cadre of the DMK. And in a cadre based party, a silent non-cooperation movement by the cadre spells trouble for the party.
Naturally there is a palpable unease within the DMK. The local police -- the first to spot such consternation -- are already warming to the AIADMK cadres. After all, they need to work with the local AIADMK leadership for the next five years and are keen on extending an olive branch now.
It is rumoured that the top police leadership have met or attempted to meet Jayalalithaa during the run up to these elections. So have many in the bureaucracy. Vernacular press too have been repeatedly pointing out to the fact that the DMK is facing an uphill task. Local business houses and Tamil film industry too are now mentally preparing for a change in the regime.
Interestingly, the 'silent wave' theory is getting shriller by the hour. It seems to be the point of discussion at the road side tea shops too. The DMK leadership had a taste this when M K Stalin, the deputy chief minister stopped at a road side tea shop during his electioneering. When queried by him as to whom she would vote during this election, the lady at the shop was quick to point out that she would indeed vote the AIADMK. To me that is the writing on the wall.
And if the voting percentage genuinely exceeds 70 percent, EVMs do not misbehave and poll malpractices minimised, on the eve of the elections it is advantage AIADMK. And should that happen, the DMK leadership has to kick itself. And for Jayalalithaa it would be a Phoenix-like performance, yet again.