Jayalalithaa's victory

Print edition : March 02, 2002

ON March 2, Jayalalithaa will be sworn in Tamil Nadu Chief Minister by Governor P.S. Rama Mohan Rao at the Madras University centenary auditorium in Chennai. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary registered a convincing victory over her Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) rival Vaigai S. Sekar in the byelection to the Andipatti constituency in Theni district. Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, who held the fort for her for five months, will now be "an ordinary volunteer of the party" again.

AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa outside her residence after the victory in Andipatti. In the background is Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam.-R. RAGU

Unlike in May 2001, when she was in a hurry to take over as Chief Minister despite being disqualified from contesting elections, she was prepared this time to wait for an auspicious day to be sworn in. A few hours after she was delcared elected on February 24, AIADMK Members of the Legislative Assembly met at the party headquarters in Chennai and passed a resolution electing Jayalalithaa Legislature Party leader. Panneerselvam drove to the Raj Bhavan to submit to the Governor his resignation and a copy of the resolution.

Again, unlike last May, Jayalalithaa did not attend the Legislature Party meeting this time, which was seen as a sign of her confidence that everything was under control. The Legislature Party resolution last May said: "This meeting categorically decides that it will not accept anybody or even consider anybody other than the party general secretary as the Leader of the Legislature Party." (Jayalalithaa had to step down in September after the Supreme Court struck down her appointment as Chief Minister by Governor M. Fathima Beevi because she had been disqualified from contesting elections. She attracted the disqualification after a Special Judge sentenced her to three years' and two years' rigorous imprisonment in two corruption cases in October 2000. The Madras High Court acquitted her in these two cases on December 4, 2001.)

Jayalalithaa defeated Vaigai Sekar, her nearest rival, by an impressive margin of 41,201 votes, which is attributed to her hectic five-day campaign in the vast constituency, a string of promises that she made to the electorate, and the special treatment that the constituency received in terms of development work. Jayalalithaa pointed out that she won despite the fact that all her allies in the last Assembly elections, such as the Tamil Maanila Congress, the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India, had walked out of the AIADMK-led alliance and decided not to participate in the byelection.

The DMK put up a good performance, thanks to the united rearguard action by the rank and file and an effective one-day campaign by party president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. His sons M.K. Azhagiri and M.K. Stalin (Chennai Mayor) put aside their sibling rivalry and conducted a joint campaign.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) came a cropper again. Despite hectic electioneering by the party, led by general secretary Vaiko, its candidate V. Jayachandran received only 8,421 votes.

Out of 1,34,734 valid votes, Jayalalithaa received 78,437 votes; Vaigai Sekar 37,236; Jayachandran 8,421; and Dr. K. Krishnasamy (Puthiya Tamizhagam) 5,126. The independents together polled 5,514 votes.

Jayalalithaa's victory came on her 54th birthday. "It is the best birthday gift that I have received so far," she said, and declared that she would fulfil all the promises that she had made to Andipatti's voters. She vowed to make "Andipatti the No.1 constituency in the State, and Tamil Nadu the No.1 State in India."

Karunanidhi's reaction to the victory was tongue-in-cheek. He said, "I convey my good wishes to the winner on her birthday." He criticised the Election Commission for its "apathy and contradictory stances" regarding the DMK's complaints. The DMK, he said, would go to court against the "activities" of the Election Commission in Andipatti. Karunanidhi argued that the DMK's allegation that the AIADMK had enrolled 17,000 bogus voters in the constituency had been proved right by the fact that the AIADMK, which polled about 60,000 votes in the last Assembly election, had polled 78,000 now. The DMK president was unhappy with the Election Commission's decision to allow people carrying nativity certificates issued by Village Administrative Officers (VAO) to vote. The Commission had listed 16 documents as valid proof of the voters' identity, besides the photo identity card. But on February 19 it added the nativity certificate to the list. Karunanidhi said: "VAOs, in a pre-arranged move, sat near the polling booths and dispensed nativity certificates to bogus voters... This is an injustice (done to us)." Another document in the list was the post-office savings passbook. According to Karunanidhi, many savings accounts were recently opened in post offices in Andipatti.

Karunanidhi said: "We did not stay away from the democratic process. DMK cadres were up against money power, the misuse of official machinery and the Election Commission's prejudice." The more than 35,000 votes the DMK had secured, he said, were a morale-booster for partymen.

Vaiko alleged that the AIADMK had won by misusing the official machinery.

For the AIADMK, Jayalalithaa's victory was a foregone conclusion. Several days before the result was out, the Madras University centenary auditorium was reportedly spruced up for her swearing-in ceremony. However, Education Minister M. Thambidurai denied reports about this and said that the auditorium was undergoing "usual" maintenance works. A day before the counting, posters appeared all over Chennai with the message: "You (Jayalalithaa) are entering age 54. You are going to wear the crown just as people desired you to."

As counting progressed and the trend became clear, AIADMK workers burst firecrackers continuously before her residence in Poes Garden, Chennai. Ministers and party cadre made a beeline to her residence. They queued up and some of them prostrated before her in the portico.

During the campaign, Jayalalithaa made several promises: a new arts college in Andipatti; a medical college in Theni district; desilting of the Adhikari canal; construction of a reservoir at Theppampatti for which, she said, Rs.1.20 crores had been allotted; redress of the grievances of weavers; and so on. She evoked memories of the charismatic M.G. Ramachandran, or MGR, AIADMK founder and former Chief Minister, who was elected from Andipatti in 1984. She kept telling people that she was unnga veetu pillai (the title of a Tamil film starring MGR, meaning 'a child in your family'). Karunanidhi countered this campaign by saying that Vaigai Sekar was the "real child of your family and the son of the soil". Karunanidhi asked, "Why should an election be held from Andipatti when she could have contested from Saidapet or Vaniyambadi?" (While Thanga Tamilselvan, AIADMK legislator from Andipatti, resigned his seat to enable Jayalalithaa to contest from there, the Saidapet and Vaniymabadi seats fell vacant following the death of the MLAs representing them).

The message from Andipatti is : MGR's charisma still works in the constituency, 14 years after his death; people voted for Jayalalithaa on the expectation that Andipatti would enjoy benefits on account of being the "Chief Minister's constituency"; the non-participation of the TMC, the Congress(I), the CPI(M), the CPI and the Dalit Panthers did not materially alter any candidate's chances; and there is an underlying angst among the voters that they had unfairly punished the DMK in the last Assembly elections despite the development work that the Karunanidhi government had done from 1996 to 2001.

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