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Stunning victory

Print edition : Nov 18, 2011 T+T-
SAIDAI S. DURAISAMY, the new Mayor of Chennai Corporation, being presented the sceptre by D. Karthikeyan, Corporation Commissioner, in the presence of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, at his swearing-in ceremony in Chennai on October 25.-M. VEDHAN

SAIDAI S. DURAISAMY, the new Mayor of Chennai Corporation, being presented the sceptre by D. Karthikeyan, Corporation Commissioner, in the presence of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, at his swearing-in ceremony in Chennai on October 25.-M. VEDHAN

The AIADMK sweeps the local body elections in Tamil Nadu and emerges stronger than before.

THE ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) scored a spectacular victory in the Tamil Nadu local body elections held on October 17 and 19. The party was locked in a multi-cornered contest in which most of the political parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) contested alone. Elections were held for 10 municipal corporations, 124 municipalities, 31 district panchayats, 526 town pachayats, 385 panchayat unions and 12,524 village panchayats. (Elections to one municipality and three town panchayats were postponed following the death of candidates).

The AIADMK was voted to power in all the corporations and its candidates were elected Mayors in all of them. In the Chennai Municipal Corporation, the oldest such body in the country, Saidai S. Duraisamy defeated the DMK candidate and incumbent Mayor M. Subramanian to become the Mayor of the expanded 200-ward corporation. In 2006, there were only 155 wards in the corporation. AIADMK candidates were elected to the mayorship of Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchi, Salem, Vellore, Thirunelveli, Tirupur, Erode and Thoothukudi corporations. The party's candidates were voted chairmen of 89 municipalities and 285 town panchayats.

The DMK came second with its candidates getting elected as chairpersons of 23 municipalities and 121 town panchayats. Candidates of the Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the main opposition party in the State Assembly, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which contested as allies, were elected as chairmen of two municipalities each and three and five town panchayats respectively. Congress candidates failed to get elected to municipal chairman posts but were elected to head 24 town panchayats.

The Bharatiya Janata Party's candidates were elected chairmen of two municipalities and 13 town panchayats. Communist Party of India (CPI) candidates were elected chairmen of two town panchayats. MDMK candidates were chosen to head one municipality and seven town panchayats.

What added lustre to the AIADMK's big-ticket win is the victory of its candidate in the byelection to the Tiruchi West Assembly seat, held on October 13. The election was necessitated by the death of the AIADMK's Mariam Pitchai in an accident soon after the Assembly election results were announced in May. Pitcahi was to be sworn in as Minister, when he died. The DMK fielded its former Minister and local strongman K.N. Nehru from the constituency. In fielding Nehru, who was remanded in judicial custody in August on allegations of land grabbing, the DMK had hoped to cash in on the sympathy factor. But this did not work. Significantly, the AIADMK doubled its margin of victory. Even though the voting figures declined from 74.93 per cent in April to 61.15 per cent, M. Paranjothi, AIADMK candidate, won by a margin of 14,884 votes, that is a majority higher than Mariam Pitchai by 7,179 votes.

The AIADMK's stunning electoral performance in October has come on the crest of its landslide victory in the Assembly elections, in which it won 147 of the 234 seats. What is significant about the AIADMK's triumph is that it chose to contest the panchayat elections on its own strength without aligning with the DMDK, the CPI(M), the CPI, the Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) and the Manitha Neya Makkal Katchi (MNMK), which were its electoral allies in the Assembly elections. The DMK, which was in power until May, also preferred to contest alone. It showed the door to its main ally, the Congress. It did not engage in any negotiations on seats with another ally, the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK, or Dalit Panthers). The VCK leader, Thol. Thirumavalavan, took the hint. The PMK, another ally of the DMK, had turned its back on the DMK after the defeat of the DMK-led alliance in the Assembly elections.The AIADMK's strategy was simple. It needed allies to take on the might of the DMK-led combine in April. However, with former Chief Minister and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi announcing the DMK's decision to go it alone in the local body elections, the AIADMK decided that it did not need the allies this time. In its reckoning, it could easily capture the local body elections in a multi-cornered contest. Besides, by not having any partnerships, the AIADMK leadership knew it would be in a position to give the ticket for various posts to its own party men, which would greatly enthuse the cadre. In the event of the AIADMK forging an alliance, about 40 per cent of the seats would have gone to the allies. A political analyst said, The AIADMK estimated that its candidates would win in 75 per cent of the seats because the opposition was divided. Besides, in the local body elections, people normally vote for the party that is ruling in the State, for development is the agenda at the gram sabha level. The AIADMK wanted to capitalise on this.

The AIADMK made a pretence of negotiating with the CPI(M) and the CPI on seat-sharing. However, on September 19, it unilaterally released a list of its mayoral candidates even as CPI(M) leaders were meeting AIADMK leaders on the issue. The AIADMK released its list of candidates even as the talks were under way, said G. Ramakrishnan, State secretary of the CPI(M). We objected to the release of the list before completing the negotiations because it would create confusion among the party cadre, he added.

With the relationship between the AIADMK and the DMDK already on the downswing, the AIADMK reserved a similar shabby treatment for the CPI(M). But the CPI(M) and the DMDK lost no time in cobbling up an alliance. The CPI, another ally of the AIADMK, had, however, a touching faith in the party. The CPI was torn between its loyalty to the AIADMK and the idea of joining the CPI(M)-DMDK tie-up. The CPI soon discovered that its faith in the AIADMK was misplaced. By the time it hurried back to the DMDK, it was too late. While DMDK leaders were keen on sharing seats with the CPI, they found it difficult to convince the DMDK cadre who had been given the ticket to withdraw from the contest and make way for CPI candidates. So the CPI contested on its own but supported the CPI(M) and DMDK candidates whereever its candidates were not in the fray.

On the other side, bitter memories rankled the DMK about how the Congress bludgeoned it to part with 63 seats during the Assembly elections. The number was far higher than what the DMK was willing to set apart for the Congress and far exceeded its strength, the DMK felt. The Congress won only in five constituencies. Karunanidhi's design was to part ways with the Congress for the local body elections in order to expose how weak the Congress was as an organisation in the State. A DMK leader said, We gave marching orders to the Congress because it is not a vibrant party in Tamil Nadu.

Besides, the relationship between the DMK and the Congress had been worsening since November 2010 with the resignation and arrest of DMK's A. Raja, the former Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology, the arrest of Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi's daughter and DMK's Rajya Sabha member, the resignation of Union Textiles Minister Kalanidhi Maran of the DMK, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raid on the residences of Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran (both sons of Karunanidhi's nephew, Murasoli' Maran) all of them charged with involvement in the 2G spectrum scandal. Given this background, the DMK cadre welcomed the decision to jettison the Congress because it would enable a large number of DMK aspirants to get the party ticket to contest. Besides, the DMK cadre worked enthusiastically as purely local issues were involved in the elections.

For the PMK and the VCK, bitter was the parting of ways with the DMK. The PMK's founder, Dr S. Ramadoss, swore that the people of Tamil Nadu had entrusted the PMK with the responsibility of cutting at the root of the existence of the Dravidian parties from this soil. The Dravidian parties had destroyed Tamil Nadu in the past 44 years and the PMK was contesting alone to bring this chapter to an end, he said. Ramadoss asserted that the PMK will not have any relationship with the Dravidian parties at any point of time in future. He alleged that the DMK and the AIADMK did not want to provide quality education, medical care, transport or fundamental facilities to the people but had made the youth slaves to liquor and cinema.

Thirumavalavan was equally harsh with the DMK and the AIADMK. He accused them of using small political parties and discarding them after they had served their purpose. Their attitude smacks of imperiousness, he said. He alleged that both the DMK and the AIADMK had exploited the VCK's hard work and then discarded it.

Thirumavalavan alleged that the DMK never brought up the subject of local body elections with the VCK. After we were betrayed, I approached the Tamil Nadu people, he told the voters. The VCK formed a front with 19 minor Christian and Muslim organisations to fight the elections.

Vijayakant had projected the DMDK as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK. You have alternately voted for the DMK and the AIADMK in the past decades. Roads get flooded within just 30 minutes of a sharp spell of rain. We get dirty water in taps instead of drinking water. Storm water drains have never been desilted. Give us a chance, he urged the voters.

While both the DMK and the AIADMK are friendless now, it is the DMK that finds itself in a hapless position. Although it is still part of the United People's Alliance government led by the Congress at the Centre, the State Congress president K.V. Thangkabalu has become strident with his personal opinion that the Congress should fight alone in the Lok Sabha elections slated to be held in 2014.

We should fight alone in Tamil Nadu. This is my personal opinion. Our party men welcome this, he told reporters on October 24. While there is no knowing how the relationship between the Congress and the DMK will shape up in future, it cannot get any worse.