With Tamil Nadu’s electoral fate decided, all eyes would now veer round to the pending ‘disproportionate assets case’ against Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court, and Stalin’s own future within the DMK, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa created electoral history in the state on Thursday, by beating the customary ‘anti-incumbency’ and returning to power for a second consecutive term, something her political-mentor and party founder, the late M G Ramachandran, had done last.
It’s also the first time that the losing Dravidian major, in the parent-rival Dravidia Munntera Kazhagam, has obtained a substantial number of seats, of course along with its Congress ally.
This will be Jaya’s fourth term as chief minister. She was returned from the R K Nagar seat in Chennai city, which however proved pollsters wrong by giving a few more seats to the DMK -- including party treasurer M K Stalin, from suburban Kolattur.
Jayalalithaa is now expected to be sworn in on May 23, the day two constituencies are scheduled to have re-polling, after the Election Commission countermanded the same on excessive money-play.
The AIADMK cadres went on a celebratory mode almost from the start of counting, and Jaya herself began acknowledging congratulatory messages midway through the counting.
She thanked the voters first through a statement, and later in person. She declared that with god’s blessings she had formed an alliance only with the people of the state (and no other political party) -- and that they have rewarded her well for the same.
It’s too early to say if Jaya’s ‘tactical’ shifting of party candidates in about 30 constituencies has wholly paid off. If some senior ministers lost -- including Energy Minister ‘Natham’, who was shifted to neighbouring Athur, where he started off weak -- shifting candidates in some constituencies (like Vedaranyam, where Jaya recalled former minister, O S Manian), did pay off.
The question now before the AIADMK now is not only on delivering on its electoral promises -- starting with the phased-out introduction of prohibition, which would cost the exchequer a whopping Rs 32,000 crores, and including new freebies, promised in the party’s manifesto, along with the existing ones.
It’s about learning/knowing to handle a strong ‘Opposition’ in the state assembly, which the party had not done so far, both under MGR and Jayalalithaa as chief ministers.
The question also remains that in the absence of a strong third alternative, either within or outside the assembly, the two ‘Dravidian majors’ would seek to consolidate their positions, at the same time ensuring that new-generation voters in the near future do not have to feel the need.
The tantalising question thus arises if the 15th assembly would follow the healthy precedents set elsewhere, of the ruling AIADMK, for instance, offering the post of deputy speaker to the DMK opposition /rival.
An alternative scenario could also be the possible, though not probable, the emergence of a ‘Jaya DMK’ on the lines of ‘Jaya Congress’ during her first term as CM (1991-96), and a ‘Jaya DMDK’ post-2011.
In all this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to have taken a calculated risk in congratulating Jayalalithaa even before a real-clear lead had been established, other than on early trends. Governor K Rosaiah followed suit.
Having targeted ‘political corruption’ in Tamil Nadu in a big way during his multi-phased campaign, Modi was already targeting the post-poll scenario in Tamil Nadu, and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, too, at the same time.
The BJP has lost very badly in the state – it stuck to its customary two per cent vote-share -- despite heavyweight campaign over the past year and more, particularly the long run-up campaign time.
Whatever the results this time, the DMK was not expected to ditch the BJP’s Congress rival in Tamil Nadu for an alliance partner. Willy-nilly the results showed the consolidation of ‘minority votes’ to a substantial extent in favour of the DMK-Congress alliance, which both would want to continue for the 2019 polls, too.
As if to send out a different message altogether, Odhisa chief minister and Biju Janata Dal leader Navin Patnaik, too, lost no time in congratulating Jaya.
Was he also thinking in terms of a third front of regional parties at the national level, as did his late father, Biju Patnaik -- to the extent of trying to bring the DMK and the AIADMK together, first when MGR was around and later in Jaya’s first term as chief minister?
If the BJP was badly hit the worse hit are other aspirants to the ‘third alternative’. As poll figures would show, the BJP lost the plot after the 17.5 per cent vote-share that they pooled in 2014, but deciding to keep the PMK with an elected member in particular out of the Modi government, and cooling off to the DMDK and MDMK.
At 39-plus per cent the DMK combine got 13 per cent more votes than in 2014, while the AIADMK lost four per cent from 45 pc in 2014. The residual four per cent vote of the National Democratic Alliance partners of 2014 (from their 17.5 per cent) seems to have gone to the AIADMK, belying assumptions that they were all anti-incumbency votes.
Going it separately this time, thus, the PMK and the DMDK-led alliance could not win a single seat, and lost deposits, instead, in a large number of seats.
The PMK’s chief ministerial aspirant Anbumani Ramadoss was spared the agony of choosing between his existing Lok Sabha membership and an assembly seat had he been elected.
The fact that he would have preferred to retain the LS seat as the party never stood a chance of winning the polls this time, may have been a factor with his voters in Pennagaram, falling under his Dharmapuri Lok Sabha constituency.
Each of the contesting ‘third front’ leaders, including the DMDK’s chief minister candidate, Vijayakanth, lost even more badly. The actor-politician had won on his own in the maiden 2006 polls, recording a eight per cent poll share for his party. He won 29 seats in the company of the AIADMK in 2011, but both parted company soon enough.
By shifting his constituency for the third time in as many outings, and presenting himself as an unsure and unsteady candidate and leader, Vijayjkanth spoilt his own chance along with those of lesser parties that could not have contributed anything to the ‘third front’ kitty, anyway.
The less said about MDMK’s Vaiko, the architect of the ‘third front’, the better. Having pulled out of his native Kovilpatti constituency just minutes before filing his nomination, the pan-Tamil veteran now has to face the humiliation of his substitute party-nominee coming low and below.
Could the losing Dravidian major have made it to power, had it negotiated with the DMDK, or the PMK or the rest of them all, some or all of them?
There were not enough seats to be shared for the DMK and the AIADMK, given that the seat-share ambitions of each one of the ‘third alternative’ parties, including the BJP and the PMK, were too much for them to spare.
Counting the chickens even before the eggs had been laid -- leave alone hatched -- the PMK and the DMDK, though not the BJP, seemed to have counted on a post-poll coalition government, where they would still have a say.
Both Anbumani and Vijayakanth seemed to have fancied themselves for the deputy chief minister’s post, had the DMK won, and a major share in power, under Jaya.
It has come to naught. Thus their combined poll share would have anyway gone waste, or lost as many seats for the Dravidian major with whom they might have been aligned jointly or separately.
Ultimately, only the traditional 10 per cent ‘third alternative’ voters in the state have gone their way, jointly and severally.
The pan-Tamil Naam Thamizhar Katchi of film-maker politician Seeman was the worst-hit.
While not actually expecting any seats possibly, his supporters were hoping for 2-5 per cent vote-share for him to launch his chief ministerial ambitions five years hence, in 2021.
Like the rest of them all, he too may have lost out his ‘staying power’ by spreading himself too far, and too thin, too early.
Where the PMK with 25 years in electoral politics and DMDK with 10 years could not sustain and grow -- but may have actually lost -- a new third alternative seems a distant dream, all over again.
That should just now include any future aspirations of the BJP, ruling the Centre, despite its proven staying capacity -- unless there is a tilt in the fate and future of either of the two Dravidian majors.
That again may remain a far cry, by which time the BJP’s staying power could be tested, or could have been tested elsewhere too.
With Tamil Nadu’s electoral fate decided, all eyes would now veer round to the pending ‘disproportionate assets case’ against Jayalalithaa in the Supreme Court, and Stalin’s own future within the DMK.
The SC is scheduled to reopen the Jaya case hearing on June 1, in the midst of the summer vacation. At the last hearing, the two-judge bench indicated, early closure of arguments. The verdict may follow not long afterwards.
For the second time in a row, Stalin may have failed the DMK since 2011, or that’s the impression Jaya wants to send out to the rival cadres.
In her early-on acceptance statement of sorts, Jaya thanked the TN voters, promised to work even more for their cause -- and said that the results were an indication that the state did not want ‘family rule’ (of the DMK kind).
Yet, within the DMK, it’s unlikely to create a stir. Though murmurs from his estranged elder brother M K Azhagiri could be heard for some time, it is unlikely the party general council would want to sideline or sidestep Stalin, just now, or for a long time to come.
This would be so, whatever be the personal predilection of party supremo, the octogenarian five-time chief minister M Karunanidhi, whose aspirations for a record sixth term may have to wither away now -- and possibly forever.
For long, Karunanidhi has shied away from attending the assembly while not chief minister -- as has Jayalalitha. This time round, it remains to be seen if the mantle of the Opposition leader falls on Stalin, after the DMK lost it to the DMDK, electoral ally of the AIADMK in 2011.
Stalin was doing precisely the job of the Leader of the Opposition without being one in the outgoing assembly -- but with fewer numbers on his side, could only lead them on a succession of walk-outs.
Now it could be a different ball-game for him, as well as the treasury benches -- possibly requiring Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s greater attention and participation, too.
Photograph: Ecstatic AIADMK workers celebrate the party's victory by performing milk 'abhishekam' to founder M G Ramachandran's statue in the party headquarters in Chennai on Thursday. Image: Sreeram Selvaraj.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and policy analyst, is Director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.