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Jaya on way to convincing win in Tamil Nadu
   
March 28, 2011
 

The coming closely watched assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are a high-stakes political game for all the leading players, and have the potential to change forever the political landscape at both the central and state levels in unpredictable ways.

Will the wily, 86-year old chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi manage to break the pattern of no ruling party in the state being re-elected to power since 1984? Or, will a determined J. Jayalalithaa, riding a wave of public disgust over the brazen corruption and the stranglehold of the Karunanidhi family not only over government but increasingly over commerce, real estate, media and the entertainment industry, re-enter Fort St George and continue her vendetta against Karunanidhi?

A LensOnNews poll among a representative cross-sectional sample of nearly 3000 voters in 12 carefully selected assembly constituencies spread across the state provides definitive answers to these questions.

The poll shows a dramatic comeback by the AIADMK combine with a tally of 144 seats in the 234 member strong state assembly, which is well above the halfway mark of 117 seats. The DMK combine, despite an impressive line up of alliance partners, is trailing behind and may end up with a tally of 88 seats. As most parties are aligned with either of the two rival alliances, other parties and independents may win just two seats.

While the AIADMK alliance is expected to win a comfortable majority, the AIADMK as a party which is contesting about 160 seats is expected to win only 100 seats, well short of the majority mark of 118 seats. Thus, we are unlikely to see a single party majority government in the state.

Interestingly, the huge gap in the projected seats of the rival alliances is not reflected in their vote shares. The AIADMK alliance is projected to secure 47 per cent of the popular vote against 46 per cent for the DMK alliance. That is a gap of just 1 percentage point! Yet, it is delivering a rich harvest of seats for the AIADMK combine. Herein lies the crux of this election.

The distribution of the vote stands to benefit Jayalalithaa since the DMK alliance has a lot of "wasted votes" in terms of the huge margins it had piled up in some constituencies. In more of the constituencies where it had scraped through by thin margins the last time, a small negative swing (of 2 to 4% votes) can potentially tip a disproportionate number of seats into the AIADMK column.

The LensOnNews poll was concluded in the first week of March much before the wrangling over seat allocation among the parties in the two opposing coalitions, and that among party factions over their seat shares and particular seats, settled down.

The DMK had looked to be in an unassailable position just a few months ago when the 2G scam broke. After the Supreme Court's directions to the CBI, A. Raja's resignation from the cabinet and subsequent arrest, the DMK's standing was rapidly undermined and investigators are now knocking on the doors of both the "homes" of Karunanidhi – Dayalu Ammmal, the CM's second wife and mother of Alagiri and Stalin has been questioned; as also Kanimozhi, his daughter by his third wife Rajathi Ammal.

That the CM's family was neck-deep in corruption was no big revelation to the people of Tamil Nadu, but the scale of the scam (that tens of thousands of crores may be involved) certainly was.

However, the master strategist quickly set about to retrieve the situation. Karunanidhi played hardball with Congress in seats negotiation and managed to knock down its share of seats to 63 – from its demand of one-third seats in the 234-seat assembly and a share in the government.

He enticed back into his fold the prodigal PMK, the party of the Vanniyar caste dominant in the northern districts; added the VCK (the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi or Dalit Panthers) which had fought the 2006 elections from the AIADMK camp; the Indian Union Muslim League; and a multiplicity of small localized caste-based parties, many of whom will contest under the DMK symbol.

He has been generous to them beyond their expectation: to the PMK he has allotted 30 seats and promised one Rajya Sabha seat; to the VCK ten seats; 7 seats to the Kongu Munnetra Kazhagam (of the Gounder or Kongu Vellala caste, dominant in the Coimbatore region); 3 seats to the Indian Union Muslim League; and so on.

In exchange for this generosity these parties have made public announcements that they will support a DMK government in the state for the full five-year term without seeking a role in the government. This, in order to keep the Congress at bay and resist its insistent demand for a place in a coalition government.

Karunanidhi's sensational success in making good his 2006 promise of a colour TV to every household (at a cost of Rs 4500 crore to the exchequer), and a range of other freebies such as rice at Rs 2 per kg, free health insurance, free plots of land, pucca housing for slum dwellers, free gas connections, etc—have largely neutralized the public resentment over corruption and price rise. In his newly-released election manifesto, he has promised more goodies—laptops for school students, mixer-grinders for housewives, free bus passes for senior, etc etc.

Thanks to such populism, octogenarian Karunanidhi still remains popular and is the main force behind his alliance.

Shouldn’t all this populism and personal charisma have helped ‘Kalaignar’ to return to power? Well, it’s helping but is not proving to be enough. There is a reservoir of huge anti-DMK sentiment that is not dissipating, and which has nowhere to go but to the benefit of Jayalalithaa. The lady has matched promise for promise—laptops, mixer-grinders, free rice, etc, and even added four grams gold for each bride-to-be. And she has cobbled together her own alliance of sundry parties—caste for caste, Muslim for Muslim. The Left parties which split from the UPA-I coalition have joined the AIADMK alliance—a big loss to the DMK.

True, there is a lot of resentment in Vijayakanth’s DMDK at being short-changed by Jayalalithaa (it has been allotted 41 seats against its demand of 55); and Vaiko’s MDMK has felt so insulted that it has quit the alliance and decided to sit out the elections.

Both these leaders are setting their sights on a long-term horizon. Vijayakanth is in Jayalalithaa’s alliance, first in order to garner enough seats in this election to gain the status of a regional party; and secondly to inherit the AIADMK vote bank of Jayalithaa over the longer term as she has no second-line leadership in her party. Vijayakanth is targeting the constituencies where the PMK has been traditionally dominant, as he scored big in these areas in the last assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

As for Vaiko, he hopes Jayalalithaa wins and the DMK disintegrates, so that he can assume the mantle of Dravidian/Tamil nationalist leadership.

Karunanidhi's unease, that public opinion might be turning against him, is evident in the DMK abandoning Chennai and other urban areas to its allies and moving to 'safer' constituencies in the rural hinterland where voter mobilization with power and money would be easier.

One of the surprising, and significant, findings this poll has turned up is the greatly weakened support for the Congress party. In the southern districts where the Congress has traditionally been strong, two huge issues seem to loom large: Sri Lanka's genocidal war against its Tamil population; and the attacks on Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy.

While there is great resentment against the perceived indifference to these issues by both the state and central governments, the Congress party is held to be more culpable than the DMK. Indeed film director Seeman, the leader of the Naam Thamizhar (We Tamils) party, is leading a campaign to see that the Congress is defeated in each one of the 63 seats it is contesting and is forever banished from the Tamil country. Jayalalithaa is herself particularly targeting the Congress seats (AIADMK will fight 35 of the 63 Congress seats), as they are expected to be easy pickings.

The whole of Tamil Nadu, indeed the country, is waiting to see if Karunanidhi and the DMK, tainted and deeply mired as they are in the 2G scam, will return to power. If they do, what signal will it give about the state of affairs in India? Will there be deliverance, ever, for our dumb populace from the practice of politics as commerce, as family business? We will have to wait until the Ides of May, for the counting which is to take place on May 13.

 
K. Balakrishnan is Editor, LensOnNews and was formerly Research Editor, The Times of India.
E-mail : balakrishnan@lensonnews.com
 
Reprinting or republication of this story on websites is authorized by prominently displaying the following sentence, including the hyperlink to LensOnNews, at the beginning or end of the story: "Jaya on way to convincing win in Tamil Nadu ." is republished with permission of LensOnNews
 
 
 

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