Tamil Nadu Polls: All eyes on Amma

Despite no concrete development during her tenure, experts predict Amma’s tradition of freebies and a split in the opposition will make her win again

shivani

Shivani Chaturvedi | May 2, 2016 | Chennai


#Tamil Nadu assembly polls   #Assembly Elections   #Tamil Nadu Polls   #J Jayalalithaa   #Tamiil Nadu   #Amma Canteen  
Anjammal runs a tea shop at Pallikaranai. Her house and tea stall was submerged in December floods. However, Anjammal has no grudges against the ruling party. She was happy to receive a mixer-grinder and a fan from Amma’s government last year.
(Photo: Shivani Chaturvedi)

Tamil Nadu is witnessing a fierce battle between the AIADMK and the DMK as the state goes to polls on May 16. The BJP, however, it seems, has miles to go for even registering its presence in the southern state.

Governance Now spoke to a cross-section of people in Chennai; and it was clear that though the general sentiment favours J Jayalalithaa, yet her popularity has gone down by a few notches since the last election. The main opposition DMK has been facing a backlash from people for corruption charges, but since there is no other alternative before the voters, they may go with Amma once again.

Alamevelu, a resident of Seniamman Koil Street, Tondiarpet, part of RK Nagar constituency from where chief minister Jayalalithaa is seeking re-election, says that since parties need their votes, the administration has only recently started work to improve the condition of roads and ensure availability of water and electricity in their area. “Our demand for clean water was not met for so many years. This was even when the constituency remained an AIADMK bastion,” Alamevelu says. “Just one month ago water and electricity problems were solved,” she says. Alamevelu says all their votes will go to Amma, as the AIADMK leader is popularly called.

A Ravi, a retired employee, living in the same area, says residents – mostly working class people – were facing many problems due to bad drainage, erratic power and water supply. The situation, however, has improved in the past two months.

Everyone says that the changes in the area were only part of the election-time window-dressing yet they would vote for Amma.

However, there are people yearning for a change. Truck drivers Shanmugam, Sundaran and R Velumurugan, say not much has changed in terms of development in five years. “We should give BJP a chance,” says Shanmugam, others nodding in his support.

Manikkam, a resident of Devi Koil street who has been selling sundal and vada for 40 years, is unhappy with the ‘freebie culture’ in Tamil Nadu. “People accept cash and goodies and vote for the politicians, not realising it won’t help,” he says.

Mareesan, a resident of Old Washermanpet, says that Amma’s regime had failed to keep its pre-poll promises and unemployment still persists.

RK Nagar, the high-profile assembly constituency in north Chennai, was languishing till six months ago. This area is inhabited mostly by fisherfolk and other weaker sections and has not seen  development for years.

Many residents say that nothing has changed here since 2011 – when the last assembly election was held. Now, with the constituency becoming high-profile, the locals are seeing a transformation.

K Karthikeyan, a boat owner, rues that the government has not done much for his community. “But still it will be better if the ruling party returns to power as the previous one [DMK] was more corrupt,” he says.

Fishermen are happy to see the ongoing work on the Kasimedu fishing harbour which had been crying for upgradation for years.
Anjammal and her daughter Bharathiamma run a tea shop at Pallikaranai that falls in the Velachery constituency – carved out of Tambaram in the 2008 delimitation. Their house and tea stall got submerged in December floods. However, Anjammal has no grudges against the ruling party. She was happy to receive a mixer-grinder and a fan from the state government last year.

Karthik, who works as cashier at a chicken shop in Pallikaranai, is unhappy with the government. He blames it for not creating enough jobs. Karthik, who belongs to Namakkal district, has studied up to BSc and is forced to work at a shop since no good jobs are available. “We need jobs and not freebies,” he says. “I will exercise NOTA (None of the above),” he says with an aplomb.

Noorjahan, who works at an eatery, remains a diehard Amma fan. “Yes, we suffered a lot during the flood and we didn’t get much help from the government. But I like Amma and I have been casting my vote for her for years.”

Noorjahan is also content with her mixer-grinder freebie from Amma.

S Lokanathan has been selling flowers and puja items on the Velachery main road for the past two decades. He feels the municipal corporation’s performance was better during the DMK regime.

A political overview

Barring schemes like Amma canteens, Amma drinking water, Amma pharmacy and Amma cements, the Jayalalithaa regime has little to show in terms of its performance.

Chennai-based analyst BR Haran says, “Governance in these five years has been miserable; law and order has  been extremely bad. Jayalalithaa has done nothing remarkable in this term. However, because of the split in the opposition she will win.”

Jayalalithaa will sail through as the opposition is weak, feels Haran. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, AIADMK’s vote share was 44.3 percent; this time even if she loses 6-7 percent of it, she would easily sail through. However, in some constituencies there might be a tough contest, he adds.

Dr Sumanth Raman, a medical practitioner, feels that the people are not enthusiastic about the election. He feels the AIADMK would win only because of lack of alternatives before the voter. Dr Raman says the ruling party’s five-year term was a mixed bag; the social welfare schemes had gone down well, but the infrastructure development has not taken place.

On the other hand, opposition DMK is struggling to reclaim its lost ground. Observers feel that the party will have to address its leadership issues before it can do so. “The family split is wide open. It is unfortunate that the BJP did not capitalise on this,” says Haran. Though the DMK and Congress have joined hands this election yet they are unlikely to achieve much.

Another factor that would affect DMK fortunes is the absence of MK Alagiri, the elder son of DMK chief Karunanidhi, says an analyst. Alagiri is believed to wield influence in southern Tamil Nadu. Also this was one of the key reasons for DMK’s poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Alagiri had lost party leadership to his younger brother MK Stalin; his rebellion had led to his suspension and expulsion from the party.

The dichotomy of leadership in DMK continues as Karunanidhi still wields enormous power even though he has installed Stalin as his successor.

Amidst this the Congress appears to have become even more irrelevant. In the 2011 election, the Congress had lost its status as the third largest party and it no longer played the role of a game-changer between the two Dravidian majors. Many Congressmen privately admit that the party needs a major shakeup and end its infighting to stem the rot.

The BJP was never a force to reckon with in the state. Political analysts say that the BJP has miles to go in the state before it can emerge as a viable alternative.

According to Dr Raman, the Third Front comprising DMDK-People’s Welfare Front (PWF) combine will definitely eat into the vote shares of both the Dravidian parties. PWF consists of four political parties – CPI, CPI(M), VCK and MDMK. The PWF made an alliance with Vijayakanth’s DMDK and GK Vasan’s TMC.

However, some experts feel that this election could throw a fractured verdict. Professor Ramu Manivannan of Madras University says, “This time it is difficult to say that the ruling party will emerge as the single largest party in terms of seats.” According to Manivannan, in more than two-thirds of the assembly constituencies, it is going to be AIADMK vs DMK; while on 20 to 25 seats, it is going to be the AIADMK versus the Third Front. He predicts that in many constituencies the Third Front will emerge at the second or third position. “There is anti-incumbency wave in a limited way and even the December flood might play a spoiler for the ruling party,” he adds.

The issues

Experts say that poor governance is the key issue in the election. The drinking water crisis, lack of infrastructure, industrial slowdown and joblessness are weighing heavily on the minds of voters.

“The power situation has improved but only after the state purchased electricity at heavy rates. Only pending projects are completed and nothing has been done to augment the capacity,” says Dr Raman. He says that the power crisis would again crop up after two years since the state has not started a new power project. Similarly, the Metro rail project is running two years behind schedule.

Where Jayalalithaa clearly scores  is prohibition. “All the political parties have promised prohibition in their manifestos but AIADMK is the only party to have promised to implement it in phases – which is sensible. People have been drinking since 1967 and suddenly bringing in prohibition is not practical,” says Haran.

Sudarsan Padmanabhan, associate professor, IIT Madras, quotes a survey of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) to make his point that the general perception is that the ruling party had drifted from the agenda of governance and corruption has grown.
“Her government has not undertaken any new projects. There are a lot of issues in urban and rural development. Welfare schemes like Amma canteen can be a temporary solution and not a permanent one,” he adds.

The industry sector seems to be indifferent towards the election. City-based businessman P Krishnan says that nobody seems to be much bothered about its outcome. “In Tamil Nadu, things won’t change so soon. One is not too excited. As far as industries and infrastructure development are concerned, nothing much has moved. During the Global Investors Meet (GIM) in Chennai last year, a lot of MoUs were signed, but nothing happened after that.”

Krishnan points out that the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is more proactive in attracting investments.

DMK vs AIADMK

The Tamil Nadu voter has the peculiar habit of giving chance to one of the two Dravidian parties by turns. But the pattern may not hold true this time, says Dr Sumanth Raman. MG Ramachandran (MGR), Jayalalithaa’s mentor, won three back-to-back assembly polls in 1977, 1980 and 1984. The last time Tamil Nadu saw a chief minister win an assembly election was in 1984. Since 1989 the state has seen regime changes every five years.

Poll survey favours Jayalalithaa

Chennai-based digital news start-up Ippothu.com has predicted that the Jayalalithaa-led government will get a decisive victory in the elections. The pre-poll survey that was carried out across Tamil Nadu during the second week of April says that the AIADMK-led alliance will win 210 to 218 out of the 234 seats.

The survey, conducted by senior journalist Peer Mohammed, also predicts that the DMK-led alliance could face its worst defeat and bag only a few seats. The survey claims to be comprehensive as it was done on a sample of over 4,500 voters, keeping in view gender preferences and age groups, said Mohammed.

It seems that AIADMK will be repeating its success of 2011 because of the overwhelming support of the poor. Jayalalithaa’s welfare schemes that enable the poor to avail free education and public healthcare might pay off this time. The divided opposition in Tamil Nadu will make victory easier for the AIADMK, the survey says.

Mohammed says if the present trend continues over the next few weeks, AIADMK will create history by ending the pattern of regime change each election. The state has been seeing  this trend for 27 years [since 1989].

Another pre-poll survey by Times Now-India TV-CVoter also predicts a clear win for the AIADMK. The survey gave the ruling party 130 seats. Thus the survey predicts that Jayalalithaa will become chief minister for a record sixth time,  beating her arch rival M Karunanidhi [DMK] for five terms.

The survey said the AIADMK could get 39 percent vote share, which is a big dip from the 52 percent in the 2011 poll. The DMK is expected to get 32 percent as against the 40 percent scored in the last poll and get 70 seats.

The DMDK-PWA front led by Captain Vijayakanth is becoming spoil-sport for Karunanidhi, says the report.

However, the pre-poll survey done by Hindi news channel News Nation has predicted a close fight between the AIADMK and the DMK, giving the latter an edge. It said the AIADMK could win between 103 and 107 seats while the DMK may get 107-111 seats.

shivani@governancenow.com

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