“Only a mother knows what her children want,” Jayalalithaa Jayaram said in her aggressive campaign speeches this month as Tamil Nadu arguably saw its most bitterly fought state assembly elections yet.
The children have spoken as unseasonal rains and an unforeseen victory visit Chennai.
While social media memes may poke fun at the AIADMK supremo for her larger-than-life image as ‘Amma’ of the state’s citizens, that she looms as a royal mother figure for her subjects is now a statistical fact.
Details of the verdict will tell us if she was aided by the idiosyncrasies of the parliamentary system of elections in which multi-cornered contests throw up significant minorities as clear winners, but early indications clarify one thing: It is the triumph of her personality.
Jayalalithaa is the woman who downed a 92-year-old Karunanidhi’s cadre-based party and its overarching media machinery with moves that checkmated the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies, including the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress.
Clues to her victory may lie in three factors – inspired populism to woo the young, plans to court farmers and an overall positive agenda that countered DMK’s substantially negative rants against her.
She replaced food ‘mixies’ that earlier wooed housewives with subsidies for mopeds and scooties for young women. She also promised reimbursement of education loans for students and offered free electricity of 100 units every two months, probably stealing an idea or two from Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party.
The chief minister announced a waiver of farm loans estimated at Rs 40,000 crore over five years, living up to the image of one who cleverly stitched together women and farmers as vote banks in a state where historically caste calculations have ruled. At the same time, her alliance with movie star R Sarathkumar’s Samathuva Makkal Katchi (People’s Party for Equality) must have helped her score with his Nadar community while her close friend Sasikala has been associated with the Thevars. Both communities are influential in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.
But, her biggest move on the electoral chessboard was perhaps her plan to phase out liquor sales in the state. Jayalalithaa had gained some notoriety for the mushrooming of state-blessed Tasmac bars, against which DMK led a popular movement. She took the wind out of the prohibitionist sails to blunt public anger.
Jayalalithaa has not only proved exit pollsters wrong but also undid the myth that high turnouts lead to defeats for incumbents, and how. About three-quarters of the voters turned up to cast their ballots.
Last but not the least, corruption charges against her including a conviction by lower courts that was overturned later do not seem to have bothered voters. Quite possibly, they saw a bigger case for corruption against the DMK, which was at the centre of the 2G spectrum scandal and led to the defeat of Congress-led UPA in the 2014 general elections.
One man who would be deeply saddened is DMK’s prince-in-waiting and Karunanidhi’s son, MK Stalin. We may well see strife within the DMK after Jayalalithaa’s return.
HT editors analyse election results