A glacial, dictatorial leader was slated to be swept out, a shambolic hail-fellow-well-met one was meant to buck the trend and stay on in power. In the end, the reverse happened as AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa put paid to the hopes of nonagenarian DMK leader M Karunanidhi of recapturing Fort St George and the amiable Kerala chief minister went under weighed down by the poor company he kept, the burden of scandals that refused to go away and a half-baked prohibition scheme.
In Tamil Nadu, always in the thrall of the personality cult in politics, Jayalalithaa’s wizardry was evident in her creation of a number of welfare measures involving subsidised food for people, incentives for the girl child, pro-women programmes and hint at prohibition.
Though the DMK tried it best to keep up in the freebie war, the Amma-rath, mostly without her presence, rolled through the states showering the faithful with mixies, scooters, televisions and, to the Election Commission’s dismay, cash. The DMK, on the other hand, resembled a soap opera family, torn apart by internal frictions, with the leader projecting himself as the chief minister in the presence of his uneasy son Stalin. The result was a 135 seat victory for Jayalalithaa to the DMK’s rather poor 97. The BJP was nowhere to be seen.
In Kerala, the rockstar appeal of the Left nonagenarian VS Achuthanandan worked its magic, pushing the LDF to a resounding 91 leaving the Chandy-led UDF combine to a poor 47. Dogged by the solar scandal which reached Chandy’s doorstep early on, his persistent defence of a tainted former finance minister and a peculiarly evangelical drive against some forms of alcohol, the Congress got neither the support of the rank and file in abundance nor the heft of a distant high command. The central leadership dispatched to shore Mr Chandy up wilted in the merciless humidity of the state faced with a resurgent Left and an effervescent BJP.
That the BJP would get the one seat, which went to O Rajagopal, was almost certain, but with this the saffron party opens its account in the southern state. For the Congress, the loss means its national kitty has shrunk even more. And with the loss of its ally in Tamil Nadu, southern comfort is in short supply.