The return of Jayalalitha

Print edition : May 26, 2001

Jayalalitha's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam comes back to power in Tamil Nadu, leading a group of parties with proven electoral support.

THE simple arithmetic of the vote-share commanded by its allies swept the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to power in the most fiercely fought elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The AIADMK, headed by Jayalalitha, and its allies such as the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress(I), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and some other parties polled 49.89 per cent of the votes and crushed with no difficulty the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance. With the Bharatiya Janata Party and a band of caste parties on its side, all that the DMK could get was 38.03 per cent of the votes.

Tamil Nadu Governor M. Fathima Beevi swearing in Jayalalitha as Chief Minister on May 14.-N. SRIDHARAN

This gap of more than 10 per cent translated into a massive 197 of the 234 seats for the AIADMK-led alliance with the AIADMK alone winning 132, the TMC 22, the PMK 20, the Congress(I) 7, the CPI(M) 6, the CPI 5, and the All India Forward Bloc, the Indian National League (INL), the Republican Party of India and an independent backed by the AIADMK one each. The AIADMK alone thus won 14 more seats than what is required for an absolute majority. On the other side, the DMK won 28 seats, the BJP four, the MGR-ADMK and the TMC Democratic Forum 2 each, and the Dalit Panthers one.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which broke away from the NDA in the State and it went alone, did not win even one of the 211 seats it contested. It did not field candidates in 21 constituencies where the BJP was in the fray.

The DMK's defeat was comprehensive. It drew a blank in 11 districts, including important ones such as Madurai, Coimbatore, Erode, Dharmapuri, Dindigul and Tuticorin. Fifteen Ministers were defeated. A big upset was the defeat of the popular and respected Assembly Speaker P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan from Madurai West. Chennai, for long a DMK bastion, too was breached, with the DMK winning only 10 of the 14 seats. The AIADMK won 2, and the TMC and the CPI(M) one each min the capital. In Chennai's suburban constituencies of Tiruvottriyur and Alandur, the DMK's allies, the Thondar Congress and the MGR Kazhagam, were beaten.

The BJP lost in Coimbatore, the Niligiris and Kanyakumari districts, which were considered to be its strongholds. Its candidates C.P. Radhakrishnan was elected twice (1998 and 1999) from Coimbatore to the Lok Sabha. A poll analyst said: "The communal angle to the elections in Coimbatore district is gone now." The BJP could not retain Padmanabhapuram in Kanyakumari district. In the Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency, where the late Union Power Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam won last time, the BJP candidate M.N. Sukumar Nambiar lost to Dalit Ezhilmalai of the AIADMK.

Former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and his son M.K. Stalin.-T.A. HAFEEZ

The voters gave a drubbing to all the caste parties that emerged on the eve of the elections and made tall claims about their voter support. The DMK, which readily embraced these parties, gained nothing from them. These included the New Justice Party (NJP), which claimed to represent Mudaliars, the Makkal Tamil Desam (MTD - Yadavars), the Tamil Nadu Muthariyar Sangam (Mutharaiyars), the Kongu Nadu Makkal Katchi (Vellala Gounders), the All India Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam (Thevars) and the Tamil PMK (Vanniyars). A Dalit party called Puthiya Tamizhagam, an ally of the DMK, contested in ten and drew a blank. Its leader Dr. K. Krishnasamy contested from Ottaipidaram and Valparai and lost in both. The Dalit Panthers, also a partner of the DMK, contested in eight and only its founder R. Tirumavalavan won, from Mangalur.

The DMK leadership has to blame itself for the defeat. Its president and outgoing Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi did nothing to block the exit of the PMK and the MDMK from the alliance. Karunanidhi's gamble that people would vote the DMK again to power on the strength of its government's impressive peformance proved wrong. Voters everywhere appreciated his government's performance but this did not translate to votes.

The hurt on this score showed when Karunanidhi sarcastically said, "I consider the verdict a gift from the people of Tamil Nadu for the successive achievements of our rule in the past five years."

Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who campaigned for the DMK-led alliance, said it was defeated because the PMK and the MDMK deserted the front. While the AIADMK brought many parties into its front, the DMK lost its allies on the eve of the elections. Vajpayee said he could anticipate the defeat of the DMK-BJP alliance when he campaigned in Chennai.

A political observer summed up the DMK's defeat as a lesson for the DMK slipping from its ideology. After the DMK embraced the BJP, the TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI went away from it. With the PMK and the MDMK also going away, there was no chance for the DMK. Even taking the 1996 figures, the parties in the AIADMK front would have commanded a minimum of 42 per cent votes. The DMK, the BJP and the "untested" caste parties would have got only about 30 per cent.

Besides the numerical strength of its opponents, three other factors led to the defeat of the DMK-headed front. They were: the strong undercurrent of sympathy that Jayalalitha assiduously stoked after her nominations for contesting from four constituencies were rejected; the "lack of money circulation" that petty traders, auto drivers, real estate dealers, grocers and working class people complained about everywhere; and the fall in the price of agriculture produce.

Jayalalitha alleged during her campaign that it was Karunanidhi who engineered the rejection of her nominations so that the transfer of power to his son and Chennai Mayor M.K. Stalin would be smooth.

Karunanidhi said, "The verdict is the result of the sympathy generated by the false propaganda that we were responsible for the rejection of Jayalalitha's nominations although the rejections were done legally and as per the Election Commission's Order. Even after (Chief Election Commissioner M.S.) Gill said that the rejections were legally valid, it is the false propaganda (by Jayalalitha) that gained her victory." He thanked those who voted for the DMK-led alliance "even in this situation".

Jayalalitha said her victory was "expected." She claimed that the reasons for the DMK's defeat were law and order problems, water scarcity and an inefficient public distribution system. She alleged that the State's economy had been ruined, about a hundred factories had been closed and employment opportunities had dwindled. "These are the reasons for the DMK's defeat," she said.

President of the TMC G.K. Moopanar, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Ilangovan and PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said the people's verdict was that Jayalalitha should become the Chief Minister. Moopanar added, "We will keep a watch on her Government."

(The rejection of Jayalalitha's nominations and her consequent ineligibility to contest because she had been convicted and sentenced to three years' and two years imprisonment in two corruption cases had triggered a fierce debate about who would be sworn in Chief Minister if the AIADMK was voted to power. But Governor M. Fathima Beevi had no hesitation in swearing in Jayalalitha.)

N. Sankaraiah, secretary, CPI(M) State Committee, said the suffering and the discontent of the people because of the economic liberalisation and globalisation policies were the basic reasons for the defeat of the DMK-BJP front. The rejection of Jayalalitha's nominations papers also aroused the people against the DMK's leadership, he said. According to Sankaraiah, the secular democratic front headed by the AIADMK was politically and organisationally more powerful than the DMK-BJP front. The outcome would lead to political changes at the Centre, the CPI(M) leader said.

R. Nallakannu, secretary, CPI State Council, said the people wanted to put an end to the "anti-people and anti-secular policies of the DMK government." He alleged that the DMK had taken interest in the rejection of Jayalalitha's nominations. "Besides, our alliance was powerful".

L. Ganesan, BJP State general secretary, said the results were a manifestation of the wave in support of Jayalalitha. The verdict was not a vote against the DMK Government but in support of the AIADMK. Jayalalitha filed nominations from four constituencies because she somehow wanted her nominations to be rejected. "She, therefore, planned and engineered sympathy for herself, and the verdict is a victory for such efforts," Ganesan said. "A consoling experience was that the people rejected the caste parties," Ganesan said.

Karunanidhi underestimated the MDMK's strength, and that proved costly. General secretary of the MDMK Vaiko campaigned in all 234 constitutencies for 56 days from January 26, listing the DMK government's achievements and appealing to people to elect Karunanidhi Chief Minister again. But his party got out of the alliance following contretemps over the 21 specific seats that the MDMK wanted to contest. Karunanidhi said: "If the MDMK wants to get out of the alliance, it can go. We will not stand in its way." The MDMK went out because it did not want to contribute to the DMK returning to power and help a smooth transfer of power to Stalin at a later date.

Although the MDMK did not win a single seat, it spoiled the DMK's chances in at least 26 constituencies. In these 26, the MDMK candidates got more votes than the losing margin of the DMK contestants. For example, Palanivel Rajan lost to Valarmathi Jebaraj of the AIADMK from Madurai West by 708 votes, but the MDMK candidate polled 2,574 votes. In Lalgudi, Food Minister K.N. Nehru lost to S.M. Balan of the AIADMK by 1,010 votes but the MDMK contender got 4,665 votes. At Ottaipidaram, A. Sivaperumal (AIADMK) defeated Dr. Krishnasamy by 651 votes but the MDMK contestant secured 8,451 votes.

Vaiko alleged that it was "Karunanidhi's dynastic politics that was fully responsible for the DMK's defeat." About his own party's defeat, he said, "We will take it. We have got a tomorrow. People have affection for us. This will turn into votes one day."

A political observer said that the MDMK had a young cadre force and that if it had been with the DMK, the DMK-led front could have scraped through. Or at least it would have prevented the AIADMK getting an absoute majority on its own, he observed.

Caste Hindus voted with a vengeance against the candidates of the DMK, the Dalit Panthers and the Puthiya Tamizhagam. This was especially true in the southern districts of Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. While Dalits voted with fervour for DMK candidates, it appears that DMK cadres themselves did not vote en masse for the Puthiya Tamizhagam candidates.

The PMK, the vehicle of Vanniyars' aspirations, also learnt a lesson. It won 20 of 27 seats it fought, but it was able to do so because AIADMK votes accrued to it. Dr. Ramadoss used to boast that it was the PMK that decided the fortunes of the DMK and the AIADMK by aligning with either of them. Statistics show that it is the other way around. Whenever the PMK contested alone, it lost badly.

In the Vanniyar heartland, the DMK won seven seats and the Dalit Panthers and the TMC Democratic Forum one each. These include Cuddalore, Chidamabaram, Kurinchipadi, Kattumannarkoil, Mangalur, Villupuram, Thandarampattu, Katpadi and Tiruvannamalai.

Former Union Finance Minister and TMC leader P. Chidambaram, who founded the TMC Democratic Forum protesting against the alliance with the AIADMK, extensively toured the State campaigning for the DMK. A number of rebel TMC candidates were in the fray because the AIADMK had appropriated for itself 16 seats won by the TMC in 1996. But Chidambaram's brilliant, cerebral campaign and the presence of the rebel candidates did not materially affect the AIADMK front's chances.

Karunanidhi blamed DMK rebels' presence as candidates and the lack of enthusiasm among DMK cadres in the final days of the campaign as the reasons for the defeat. He pointed out that while the AIADMK front won 1.40 crore votes, the DMK front received 1.08 crores and the MDMK about 13 lakh votes. He said, "Voters and the public have not totally rejected us. These statistics (just a gap of 32 lakh votes) show that there is a relationship between the huge crowds that gathered at our election meetings and the votes we polled. The seats we have got may be fewer. But the hearts supporting us are more... We will continue our journey with hope."

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