Odds stacked against her, J Jayalalithaa chose to go it alone and emerged a winner -- the first time in more than 30 years that a party has returned to power in Tamil Nadu.
The 68-year-old AIADMK chief powered her decision to seek a re-election on her own strength with a string of populist measures, including the promise of an alcohol ban, while turning the election into Jayalaithaa vs the rest -- shrewdly splitting the opposition.
Miscalculations by opponents came in handy. The DMK chose to go with the Congress and it backfired. Instead of bolstering the alliance, the Congress, which got only eight seats, pulled the senior partner down. Together they got 99 seats against AIADMK’s 133 in the 234-member strong House. Voting for two seats is scheduled for May 23.
DMK treasurer MK Stalin, it seems, sensed trouble. He, said sources, was against the Congress tie-up but gave in to his father’s wishes whose control of the party is absolute. The DMK, say observers, may have put up a stronger fight had Stalin been the CM candidate.
When Jaya sat down to plot her return in 2016, she was sure of a positive outcome in 217 assembly segments – she had fought off the Modi wave by winning 37 of the state’s 39 Lok Sabha seats two years earlier.
But state elections are a different game. The biggest foe was anti-incumbency and she took it head-on, unleashing freebies and welfare schemes that were implemented with a determined zeal.
Emergence of two new CM aspirants – Captain Vijayakanth of the DMDK and PMK’s Anbumani Ramadoss— played to her advantage.
With Vaiko teaming up with Vijayakanth to helm a six-party alliance, and the PMK going its own way, the opposition was already at war with itself.
Vijayakanth’s move left a section of the party furious that accused him of helping Jaya. In fact, Vaiko was even dubbed the “B Team of Amma”.
Karunanidhi tried to keep Vijayakanth on his side, but the actor-turned-politician chose Peoples Welfare Front. A folly, as the alliance drew a blank and Vijayakanth finished a poor third in Ulundurpettai.
If rivals lent a helping hand, Jaya’s record of keeping promises had the voters believing in the new ones. The prohibition promise found a resonance among women voters, who turned up in large numbers on Thursday to celebrate her victory.
Poor handling of floods cost her Chennai, with the DMK regaining its stronghold, but it will be Jayalalithaa who will be in control of the state for the next five years.