Jayalalithaa has bucked the trend and is now back in the saddle in Tamil Nadu, where welfare measures like hugely popular Amma canteens seem to have worked in her favour
Shivani Chaturvedi | May 30, 2016 | Chennai
Jayalalithaa, 68, has come back to power for the second consecutive term, a singular achievement in Tamil Nadu which is otherwise known to alternate its rulers. The victory is significant, yet the road ahead may be difficult for her.
People are looking forward to good governance and investor-friendly policies. This time she also has to contend with a numerically stronger opposition in the assembly, unlike the previous term.
She needs to be cautious. It was not a landslide victory for her party and the fight between the two major Dravidian players was a closely contested one. It is time for her to deliver what she has promised.
Looking ahead, the challenge for the ruling AIADMK party will be to implement its poll promises; otherwise it will be caught in a credibility crisis of its own making.
Jayalalithaa also needs to become more accessible, say many.
Here is why Amma romped home:
• Jayalalithaa’s welfare measures reached a large number of people. It was particularly true for initiatives like distribution of sheep and goats, running Amma canteens, giving away laptops, cycles, school uniforms, and books. These goodies attracted people. She was able to keep her vote bank intact. So, close to an estimated 40 percent of AIADMK vote bank remained untouched.
• When all the political parties were talking of total prohibition, she kept quiet. At the last moment, she said she would bring prohibition in phases. This means she convinced non-drinkers to some extent and also pleased drinkers by announcing prohibition in phases and not overnight. So chunk of those votes were assured, argues S Janakarajan, an economist at Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS).
• When Vaiko’s MDMK, CPI, CPI(M) and Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), formed the Third Front, it had credibility. When they roped in DMDK’s Vijayakanth and announced him as their chief ministerial candidate, their own vote bank drifted away. “Anyone else is better than Vijayakanth. That is a kind of general sentiment among people,” says Janakarajan.
• Also, Vaiko’s abrupt move proved costly for the Third Front. He backtracked from the contest in Kovilpatti constituency without even consulting the allies. Earlier, he had made a casteist remark on M Karunanidhi, which is also believed to have done damage to the Front. All this immensely helped AIADMK.
• The absence of a grand alliance against the AIADMK worked in Jayalalithaa’s favour, according to Johny, a city-based political commentator. “There was no widespread anger against her. In absence of an anti-incumbency wave, a strong alliance against her could have worked for DMK. Also, if DMK and Vijayakanth would have joined hands, a different scenario would have been created. DMK could have put up a better show,” he argues.
• The Karunanidhi-led DMK’s strategy of facing the electorate with the Congress crashed in this election. Political commentator Sam Rajappa says the DMK committed a series of tactical errors which led to their defeat. There was a strong anti-incumbency wave but the DMK failed to encash it. DMK failed to rope in DMDK’s Vijayakanth as they were very sure of winning without him. DMK was not willing to concede to any of the demands of Vijayakanth. DMK could have sailed through with clever tactics.
• Political observer BR Haran says, “Opposition is split wide [open]. That was a calculated move of Jayalalithaa. She watched and waited. When GK Vasan of Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) approached her for alliance, she closed the doors.” Undoubtedly, money too has played a role this election, he says, adding that the election commission seized huge sums of cash and mostly AIADMK functionaries were caught distributing money to voters. “DMK too distributed money to voters. It is sad that people have become corrupt as they accept cash from these politicians. In none of the other states, there is so much flow of money during elections,” says Haran.
The bumpy road ahead
• State finances are in bad shape. Public utilities such as Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB), Chennai Corporation, Chennai Metro Water Board and Transport Corporation are not in a very comfortable financial position. The overall debt of the state electricity board is over Rs 80,000 crore. The Jayalalithaa government in the previous tenure had indicated that the Tamil Nadu government has a liability of Rs 4 lakh crore.
• Freebies were announced in the election manifesto. The freebies cost the state huge money and Tamil Nadu’s financial health is already in a bad shape. “Where is the money going to come from? How would the government take care of these freebies announced in the manifesto?” asks A Marx, a writer and activist. Janakarajan says, “As an economist I am really surprised, how a promise like 100 units of free electricity can be made by the government. But yes, this promise made in the manifesto has gone down well with the people and they are waiting for it. But I am wondering how the government is going to deliver on this promise, with the state electricity board facing a financial crisis and poor generation?” As far as promise of free scooters to women is concerned, many village women are wondering how they will benefit from it. Even if they buy one, their husbands would use it, he adds.
• This time, the ruling party also has to face an opposition which is numerically much stronger than in the past. The DMK is now a strong opposition party.
• Agriculture growth in Tamil Nadu is also in a poor state, which the government should address, says Janakarajan. There have been reports of farmers’ suicide in the state.
• The Jayalalithaa government needs to do a balancing act between introducing welfare measures and giving boost to industrial activity. In the previous tenure, the focus was entirely on welfare measures. In this term, she needs to focus on attracting more investments. The investment climate of the state should be made more conducive for the investors. The government needs to bring in a proactive robust industrial policy, attract more investment and create more industrial estates and special economic zones. Unemployment will become huge if she doesn’t deliver in the next five years and bring in industries, says Janakarajan.
• Tamil Nadu needs to be a power-surplus state. The government did achieve this target in the previous tenure and purchased power at high price, triggering allegations of a scam. Even the CAG came out with a report on it. In this term, it will be a challenge for her to make the state power surplus by bringing in new power projects.
• Among the concerns listed by industrial bodies in Tamil Nadu are development of infrastructure and revival of power utilities. Trade bodies in the southern part of the state also contend that frequent transfers of IAS officers dealing with small industries adversely impacted policy making and implementation.
(The article appears in the June 1-15, 2016 issue)
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