Fulfilling the promises made in the manifesto, a resurgent Opposition in the state assembly, impending local body polls… Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa may have made history by winning two assembly elections in a row, but the real test begins now, says N Sathiyamoorthy.
Now that her ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has made history in Tamil Nadu after three decades, by winning two assembly elections in a row, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa should be looking more closely at the agenda ahead of her and the party than simply ahead of the polls.
The canvas is vast, and includes issues of governance and handling of the state assembly, where the rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leads a strong Opposition alliance to start with, again unlike over the past so many decades.
The political diversion that both the DMK and the AIADMK have enjoyed in the Left and other minor parties to raise motivated questions and embarrassing enquiries at the Opposition is lost this time round.
With that also comes the question if the Jayalalithaa leadership would resort to splitting the rival, especially the Congress.
The latter has won eight seats, two more than in 2011, also in the DMK’s company, but that was when the breakaway Tamil Maanila Congress faction was part of the parent party.
Already, there are murmurs in the DMK rank and file that the leadership had given away one too many seats (41 of 234) to the ally in seat-sharing talks.
The immediate concern for both would be the biennial elections for the Rajya Sabha in June.
Six TN seats are falling vacant, and the AIADMK would be looking to ensure tactical voting.
The DMK has to handle it with care, and even within the Congress there are rival claimants, each with different equations with the party high command.
It is her fourth term as chief minister after the assembly elections, but Jayalalithaa would be sworn in for the sixth time however. She had to bow out twice in as many decades, owing to court ordered conviction.
The immediate leadership concern for the AIADMK would be the conduct of the state assembly in the inaugural session, and at least until the freshness of the 15th House had rubbed off on the voters.
Despite the difference in seat share, the vote share difference in favour of the AIADMK is just 1.1 per cent (40.8 per cent against 39.7 per cent for the DMK combine).
The fact that in close to 100 constituencies the victory margins were less than 10,000 votes and more than half that many number was won or lost by 5000 votes or less would hang in the air for some more time to come.
Even more critical and crucial would be the low-end margins -- 15 seats won or lost by either of the Dravidian combines by less than 1000 votes and 21 by less than 2000.
The figure is 33 seats if the victory margin is expanded to 3000 votes or less, and 43 when the margin is 4000.
The results have thus shown that the Dravidian polarisation is not only clear, but that the figures have been made up by ‘non-committed voters’ who have this time split between the two, unlike in the past.
The ‘non-party voters’ have also not taken kindly to the ‘third alternative’ propositions, in the absence of viability, stability and clarity, even among various contestants and/or compatriots.
The AIADMK has retained most of its traditional strongholds, while the DMK has picked up ‘residual seats’, so to say.
It could also be interpreted to mean that the DMK has wider presence and acceptance, and has also absorbed in it most votes of any future alternative in sight.
The AIADMK’s votes and seats have been won by the leadership, and there is nothing to suggest that individual candidates had much contribution to make.
Where they had negatives, AIADMK candidates, including incumbent ministers, have lost.
Most, if not all, DMK second-line leaders have won -- including those that the ‘voter’ had punished in 2011, for their unbecoming ministerial attitude when the party was in power during the previous five years.
This also means that the DMK has both a strong presence in the new House, both in terms of numbers and content.
In effect, the party has a ‘shadow cabinet’ of sorts, though most if not all of them are from the old guard, in some way or the other -- and cannot make for a young and energetic party that the DMK presented under treasurer M K Stalin for the elections.
It’s in this context that Jayalalithaa would be addressing the promises made in her poll manifesto, starting with the phased-out introduction of prohibition.
Tamil Nadu’s is possibly the only government anywhere -- and more definitely in the country -- that has been dealing in direct procurement and sale of liquor.
Liquor revenues now constitute the maximum of Rs 32,000 in the state budget. And the voter seems to have purchased the AIADMK’s phased-out process as more pragmatic in political and economic terms than the one-time introduction promised by the DMK and the rest of the divided Opposition.
However, the voter will also be watching enforcement and implementation at every go. It could cut either way -- the voter could be convinced that total prohibition is impossible without costs and casualties (falling to hooch), or the ruling party was insincere all along.
There are new ‘freebies’ of some kind or the other under the AIADMK manifesto, which the DMK claimed was a carbon copy of theirs -- but again, the voter seems to have taken a different view.
Yet, Jaya cannot escape sticking to the promise, especially after the two Dravidian manifestos had attracted greater attention across the state and the nation than that of any other party or government in the country in recent decades.
This includes 50 per cent subsidy for women to purchase two-wheelers, repayment of education loans for students, 100-unit free-power for all, upgrading it to 200 units for handloom weavers, and 750 units for power looms.
The AIADMK has also promised to increase support price for paddy, fix one for sugarcane, and give free breakfast for elementary school children with vitamin tablets (obviously apart from the existing ‘nutritious noon meal scheme’ for all school-going children).
Throughout her campaign, Amma repeatedly declared that she had done what all she had promised in the party manifesto in 2011, and had done even more -- and that the voter could trust her like they trust their own mothers.
The manifesto has also promised the implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission’s report for government employees, and increasing the housing loan for them to Rs 40 lakhs.
There is more of the kind for all segments of society and all sectors of industry and trade.
All of it costs money, and the AIADMK manifesto hopes to make up for the prohibition-centred loss of revenue and also other fiscal commitments by streamlining the collections, especially on the minerals front, which has remained a grey area over the past decades of successive ‘Dravidian rule’.
The manifesto has also promised a biennial ‘global investor meet’, as the one conducted in 2015, to attract FDI, create jobs and increase the state’s revenues.
Attendant on this all is also the AIADMK’s promise of setting up a ‘lok ayukta’ to curb corruption in government. It’s again a take-off from the DMK manifesto, so to say, but the latter had included the chief minister, too, in it.
The AIADMK’s view on the subject is expected to be made clear in the inaugural governor’s speech or later on, in the new House.
Such issues and concerns are likely to come before the new assembly as days and weeks roll by, and the government settles down to the task of taking off from where Amma had left it in the earlier term.
All of it is mostly aimed at the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, followed by the assembly polls in 2021 -- which are ‘far away’ just now for the voters, but not necessarily for political parties and leaders. It’s especially so with the former, for parties at the national level.
Yet, immediately, they all need to face local bodies polls later this year, where the apolitical approach of the Constitution has led to rival claims in the past at panchayat levels, but more visible with party identities in urban centres.
The DMK, that way, has wrested Chennai city and suburbs this time after two consecutive losses in 2011 and 2014, and the results this time are also a reflection possibly of the voter’s views on the government’s handling of the massive floods earlier this year.
Yet, there are other city corporations and urban centres where the AIADMK could retain power, but might also have to fight its way in a few others.
The conduct and confidence of the failed ‘third alternative’ would also be watched. MDMK’s Vaiko, the architect of the ‘third front’ under the DMDK’s Vijayakanth, has already declared that they would stick together, but it’s for other parties and cadres to decide.
So would it be between the DMK and the Congress -- but Amma and AIADMK do not have such concerns bothering them, the party having contested the assembly polls on its own steam, as in the 2014 LS polls and proving that it’s still on the top, though not as much.
Either way, the winners and/or losers in the local bodies polls would try to project it as a ‘referendum’ on Amma’s current term, though again, that may not mean a lot – even in terms of statistics, which would be hazy at best.
Image: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa is greeted by an AIADMK cadre after the party’s win in the state assembly polls, in Chennai on Thursday. Photograph: R Senthil Kumar/PTI Photo.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and policy analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter.