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Tried, but no longer trusted

The DMK-Congress alliance lost in Tamil Nadu due to a defensive electoral strategy and factional politics, writes Ramu Manivannan.

india Updated: May 17, 2011 22:34 IST

The people of Tamil Nadu have delivered a verdict consistent with the political culture and history of the state’s voting pattern. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chose to call this a silent revolution as there was no visible electoral wave. This was a mandate against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for its role in corruption, misrule, price rise, power shortage and, above all, nepotism.

The Congress — as the leader of the UPA government of which the DMK is a part — can’t escape responsibility for its failures that include multiple corruption charges and its foreign policy towards Sri Lanka. We can’t overlook the fact that the DMK was a minority party in the 13th state legislature with 96 seats and ruled the state from 2006-2011 with the Congress’ support, and has been an ally of the UPA since 2004. So the role of the Congress in this stunning debacle of the DMK can’t be washed away as a purely anti-DMK vote.

The electoral swing was as high as 12.36% with 202 of the total 234 seats going in the AIADMK’s favour. This reveals the magnitude of the electorate’s desire for change. It was validated by the high voter turnout of 78.12% — an increase of 7.3% than the previous assembly elections (70.82%) and the highest in the last 44 years. The size of Tamil Nadu’s electorate has gone up by about 11.5 lakh voters since the 2006 elections. Women voted in greater number in 101 of the 234 constituencies spread across 25 of the 32 revenue districts. The DMK maintained that the high women turnout was due to its popular welfare schemes and women-centered self-help groups. But their presence was in response to price rise, acute power crisis and corruption charges against DMK leaders.

The electoral strategy and campaign of the DMK was unusually defensive, engulfed as it was in an environment of suspicion, scams, investigations and trials. It virtually faced the polls under the shadow of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). There was a widespread consensus both within and outside the party circle that the DMK had conceded far too many seats to the Congress than it should have.

The Congress’ factional politics, combined with the poor leadership in the state and the absence of a clear campaign strategy, curbed its prospects beyond recovery. Congress candidates were confronted directly by a new generation of political activists spread across the state regarding its Sri Lanka policy. The routine killings of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy and the failure of the Centre to prevail upon Colombo to apply restraints went against the national party. The result: the Congress got five out of the 63 seats it contested — its worst showing in 40 years.

Given the social base and the votebank support enjoyed by the DMK and its allies, it was a formidable force. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Viduthalai Chirutaigal Katchi (VCK) enjoyed a strong votebank in the north, while the Congress held sway in the more traditional, though small, southern districts. The DMK also took steps to penetrate the AIADMK stronghold in western Tamil Nadu by allying itself with caste-based organisations. Despite the strong presence of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), the withdrawal of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) from the AIADMK front and the consequent boycott of the MDMK in the polls, the AIADMK’s performance was so overwhelming that in the end as many as 16 sitting ministers were defeated.

The DMK leadership was more than confident that the distribution of freebies would bring the party back to power. But it was more taken up with defending the 2G spectrum case than projecting its popular programmes. The panic was so intense that even the likes of M Karunanidhi either shifted to a safer constituency or moved to rural areas fearing a backlash from urban voters.

For over a decade, the final frontier in Tamil Nadu polls has been the ability of parties to purchase votes through bribing the voter. The proactive role of the Election Commission this time round scuppered this old strategy. For betraying their trust, a crucial political message packed with a decisive mandate has been delivered by the people.

( Ramu Manivannan is the chairperson, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, Chennai )

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: May 17, 2011 22:31 IST