If the huge crowds and exuberant mood at the rallies addressed by J Jayalalithaa (Amma), 61, in the past few weeks are anything to go by, the AIADMK alliance has a clear edge as all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu go to the polls.
Electoral arithmetic too is on her side with the PMK, the MDMK, the CPI and CPI(M) — all of which have pockets of staunch support across the state — having joined her bandwagon. The AIADMK is contesting only 23 seats, sharing the rest with these allies. Major caste groups controlled by these allied parties — like the Vanniyars in the North, or the Goundars to the West — are expected to back Amma.
Most of these allied parties were with the DMK during the last Lok Sabha poll, which the alliance then swept, without yielding single seat to the AIADMK. This time the ruling DMK only has the VCK, a Dalit outfit, and the Indian Union Muslim League on its side.
The DMK is seeking votes on both the UPA’s record of performance in the past five years at the Centre and its own performance in the state, harping upon the central loan waivers and the rural employment guarantee scheme, as well as the free colour TV and cheap rice schemes it introduced at the state level.
But the quality of the rice provided has appalled consumers, who also insist that man does not live by rice alone. “What’s the use of cheap rice when the price of everything else is spiraling,” said a 40-year-old in Nagercoil, 660 km south of Chennai, unwilling to be named. The blame for the power crisis, which has led to many small units shutting down and thousands of workers being laid off, is also being heaped on the DMK government.
Over it all looms the shadow of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue, and the widespread feeling — specially in the region around Rameshwaram, which is closest to Sri Lanka — that the union government, of which the DMK is a part, has just not done enough for them. Also in the fray are the BJP and actor Vijaykant’s DMDK.