History was made in Tamil Nadu after AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa managed to return to power despite the efforts of bitter rival DMK, breaking a three-decade long cycle of anti-incumbency.
This is the first time since 1987 that an incumbent government has been re-elected in the state, after the enormous success of AIADMK founder, MG Ramachandran.
Several exit polls had predicted a loss for ‘Amma’, as Jayalalithaa is reverently called by her supporters, but the results definitively show that impact of the DMK’s campaign was overstated.
In the hotly contested election battle, here are five things that stood out:
1. The cult of personality works in politics
The entire AIADMK’s campaign, and indeed their government for the last five years, has been centered round the personality cult of ‘Amma’. Brand Amma was everywhere, adorning party flags, billboards, and even government legislation. This, coupled with her ‘Amma schemes’ that benefited the poorest sections of Tamil society – including the Amma canteens, Amma drinking water, and Amma salt schemes – seems to have worked.
2. MK Stalin needs to go back to the drawing board
More than his father, the 2016 elections were a referendum on the heir-apparent to the DMK’s ability to lead: Stalin has led the charge of the state’s oldest party since mid-2015. Massive campaigns and meetings both on and off of social media, such as the Namakku Naame (For us, by us), streamlining the DMK’s campaign machinery, and bringing in new blood failed to make a dent. His stature as a leader may also be under question after two consecutive losses for the DMK at the electoral level.
3. One party, one government politics still rule the state
The utter failure of the DMDK manned Third Front, and its CM candidate Vijayakanth, to gain a significant number of seats, has shown that the nascent idea of coalition governance has yet to take root in Tamil Nadu. Vijayakanth’s failure to even win in his own constituency reveals one clear fact – in Tamil Nadu, politics continues to revolve around the DMK and the AIADMK.
4. The future of the DMK and Kalaignar is questionable
Ill health and his advanced age forced the DMK patriarch into the back-seat these elections, forcing him to rely on his son Stalin to take charge. At 92, Karunanidhi is the grand old man of Tamil politics, and one of the few people who can lay claim to the legacy of Periyar and the Self-Respect movement. But it isn’t a stretch to think this may be his last election. It remains unclear whether Stalin can command as much respect and loyalty among the electorate as his father can, and did.
5. Jayalalithaa is here to stay
It isn’t all smooth sailing from here for the AIADMK chief, especially with the Supreme Court yet to deliver its verdict in the disproportionate assets case that has plagued her for more than a decade. But this most recent victory signifies that she has broken the cycle of alternating DMK and AIADMK governments. And by doing so, she has sent out a clear message — that she is here to stay.