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TN verdict hinges around the 'silent majority'

By N Sathiyamoorthy
Last updated on: April 07, 2016 15:15 IST
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If Tamil Nadu is to avoid a hung assembly, it is up to the silent voters, whose combined strength is more than that of the two major combines in the fray, says N Sathiyamoorthy, concluding his 2-part analysis of the state's electoral scene.

Read the first part here: Is hung assembly a possibility in Tamil Nadu?

Tamil Nadu today is the most urbanised state in the country. Going beyond conventional characteristics, it also owes to social sector infrastructure improvements and changes that are at the bottom of this.

Unemployment, underemployment and lack of opportunities, of the illiterates whose numbers may be few, and of the semi-literates, may have driven rural population to the nearby urban and semi-urban centres, yes.

There is, however, the unrecorded section of the professionally-qualified boys and girls, particularly in the 20-30 age group, who have gone back to a life of dignity and hard work, as masons and farm labour, but in their immediate rural surroundings.

They see their parents’ investments in social sector investments to show up results when they themselves get married and bring up their children in the years and decades to come.

They form a rural component of the ‘silent majority’, particularly of the ‘young voters’ in the state, who have the real numbers to swing the results one way or the other.

They, and their urban and urbanised counterparts, do not communicate much in public, and can be convinced even less by others, on social media.

Yet, they all use social media for data and inputs, for linking on to campaigns of whatever kind.

But they take their decisions, independent of one another -- but with a common, at times vociferously expressed, goal of seeing a better tomorrow, for themselves and their future generations.

It is this ‘silent majority’ of undecided voters (numbering as much, or more, as the proven DMK/AIADMK committed vote-share of  over 20 per cent each), who might have to take their call, and a wholly one-sided at that, if the state has to avoid a ‘hung assembly’ this time.

Under their weight, it’s the caste constituencies and parties that are crumbling over the past couple of decades.

All of it has only meant that even though weakened still by the emergence of caste parties in the past, the ‘Big Two’ still hold sway -- though not to the same extent as a couple of decades ago.

It also owes to the reality of successive DMK/AIADMK governments meeting their agendas and promises on ‘affirmative action’, even if it is what is being criticised now by some as ‘freebies’.

In electoral terms, it means only one thing. The voter is the master in the state, even more than in the past, and more than ever than the political parties, their leaderships and symbols.

If still they vote in favour of parties and leaderships and symbols, it owes mainly to one or two things.

One, new faces and parties like the original TMC in the ’nineties and Vijayakanth in the last decade did not have the patience and deep pockets, and hence staying power.

Two, closer to the polls the parties finalise alliances and candidates, lesser are the chances for the ‘undecided voters’ in particular to know and study the candidates, and make their choice.

They would thus vote either for or against the party and leadership -- not necessarily in that order.

In caste terms, there would be little of caste loyalty in favour of political parties in most cases.

Instead, it could be a caste combination, if at all, at the local level, against caste domination, in specific cases.

The state voted in a ‘hung assembly’ in the first post-Independence outing in the then Part-A Madras State, in 1952.

It was left to ‘outsider’ chief minister in Rajaji to muster up a majority by encouraging defections.

Rajaji, sent in as chief minister by then PM and Congress strongman, Jawaharlal Nehru, also went down in the nation’s history as the first chief minister to win a confidence vote in the House with the casting vote of the Speaker, A Sivashanmugam Pillai.

The post-reorganisation state had its first and only ‘minority government’ in 2006, when the Congress ally lent outside support to Karunanidhi’s DMK, which had only 96 MLAs in the 234-member House.

If, thus, a ‘hung assembly’ were to emerge now, it’s also when the likes of the PMK and the DMDK that might be hoping for a post-poll coalition, if either of the two major combines do not have the numbers and they have them to supply and support.

The BJP is a distinct possibility for a junior partner, though just now even that looks distant.

But with the PMK and the Vijayakanth combine already having chief ministerial candidates of their own, it’s anybody’s guess what they would settle for if their party/alliance support became necessary for post-poll government formation.

Image: AIADMK candidates carrying bouquets while visiting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and party chief J Jayalalithaa at her Poes Garden residence in Chennai on Wednesday. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo. 

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director of the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai chapter.

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