Tamil Nadu is the only surprise in otherwise predictable electoral outcomes

The electoral outcomes in three states – Assam, West Bengal and Kerala – have gone on expected lines, but Tamil Nadu sprung a surprise. The voters in the two southern states – Kerala and Tamil Nadu – had stuck to the tradition of throwing out the incumbent government after every five years – this tradition had prevailed in Kerala since 1982 and in Tamil Nadu since 1991. Kerala stuck to this trend this time as well, but voters in Tamil Nadu broke with this practice by reaffirming its faith in Jayalalithaa to rule over them for another five years.

The anti-incumbency factor against the 15-year, three term Tarun Gogoi government in Assam was very much predictable. However, only die-hard Mamata-baiters believed that the TMC would bite the dust in the Assembly elections after the party’s spectacular show in the Lok Sabha and the civic polls in West Bengal in the last two years.

There was, of course, a view that what has gone on for three or four decades in southern states may not happen this time. It was especially so in the case of Tamil Nadu: Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi have alternated on the post of chief minister in the last 25 years. Both were in the contention this time as well. Some analysts argued that there was no perceptible anger against the incumbent Jayalalithaa (An exception was what came to be known as the Chennai floods; but then the disenchantment was a short-lived affair and the disenchantment with the government was largely confined to the capital city). Some believed that Amma (Jayalalithaa) had won the hearts and minds of the disadvantaged sections in both urban and rural areas with a series of pro-poor (what some of her critics would call ‘populist’) measures and therefore she would buck the tradition this time.

File photo of Jayalalithaa. PTI

File photo of Jayalalithaa. PTI

There was another major difference in the electoral scene in Tamil Nadu this year – it was not strictly bi-polar this time. Apart from the DMK and AIDMK, there was a third front led by DMDK chief Vijayakanth which was expected to muddy the electoral waters in the state in this election. No one expected the alternative front to win, but no one was sure if the new outfit would chip away more votes of Jayalalithaa or Karunanidhi. If Karunanidhi was to be the victim of the third front vote share, then Jayalalitha was expected to romp home. Clearly, that did happen.

Some Congress supporters hoped that their party government in Kerala would buck the trend of four decades and come up trumps again. They were counting on the internal strife within the CPM – which leads the alternative political formation, Left Democratic Front (LDF) – on account of the leadership tussle between V S Achuthananandan and P Vijayan. The communist-baiters were hoping that the LDF would be done in by the leadership issue. But that did not happen. In the run-up to the elections, the conflict subsided, and the party stood like a rock.

There was also a third front in Kerala for the first time. The BJP had tied up with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS), a local political outfit that espoused the cause of the backward Hindu community. It was, of course, not a potent political force. Anyway, the BJP-BDJS alliance was not supposed to cut the votes of the LDF; if anything, it was expected to adversely affect the UDF votes. This, along with the solar scam and the sexual assault and bribery charges against the chief minister himself -- were expected to halt the onward march of the Oommen Chandy government. That is what actually happened.

Assam is another state where the anti-incumbency factor has taken its toll. But, then, unlike Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Assam had a chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, who was bidding for a consecutive fourth term. He had to face the anti-incumbency of 15 years. That he was on a downslide was evident for quite some time. In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the Congress could manage only 3 seats out of the 14 in the state. The BJP, the eventual winner in this assembly election, had won seven Lok Sabha seats then.

That was not all. In the civic polls for the municipalities and town committees across the state in 2015, the resurgent BJP had again shown its prowess. It had won 39 of the 74 civic bodies whereas the Congress was a distant second at just 18. There were tell-tale signs in the last two years that the BJP had replaced the Congress as the prime political force in Assam.

The Congress had no discernible strategy to stem this tide. It had the opportunity to strike up an alliance with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), the party which came up in the last decade and which has taken away a major chunk of the Muslim support base (an overwhelming section of the Bengali Muslims). The political influence of the AIUDF was evident from the fact that it had won 3 Lok Sabha seats in 2014, the same number of seats that the ruling Congress got.

Sewing up an alliance with the AIUDF would have consolidated the Muslim votes which account for almost 30 per cent of the Assam population. In fact, the perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal, the founder of the AIUDF, said publicly several times that he was eager to go for an alliance with the Congress to defeat the BJP in the assembly elections. But Tarun Gogoi and his strategists had the smug arrogance that Muslims would solidly back the Congress to keep the BJP at bay and the AIUDF would fall by the wayside. The Congress chose to go alone, which was a surefire way to court disaster.

BJP, the resurgent party, was more circumspect. It went out of the way to court the regional outfits and managed to get on board Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) which was in power for two terms in 1985 and 1991 but which had a steep political fall on account of splits and dissensions. BJP also weaned away the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) which had been an ally of the Congress for several years. THE BJP-AGP-BPF alliance was a formidable political force against a lonely Congress with a dwindling support base. The election result was a foregone conclusion.

Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and the West Bengal chief minister, is the second incumbent leader in the current elections who has returned to power with a thumping victory. But, then, Mamata’s victory was again on expected lines, going by her electoral performance in the last three years. In July 2013, she had won 13 of the 17 zilla parishads in the panchayat elections. In May 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she repulsed the Modi wave in West Bengal by winning 34 of the 42 seats in the state. She repeated her spectacular victory streak again in April 2015 civic polls when she captured 70 out of 92 municipalities (including the coveted Kolkata).

In all these elections, the Left Front was the principal opposition and the Congress a minor player. In the current assembly election, there was one significant difference – the Left and the Congress struck an electoral understanding and presented a single candidate in 280 out of the 294 seats ( Left parties fielded 200 and the Congress 80 candidates). So there was a perception that the opposition unity might derail the Mamata juggernaut.

But Mamata’s electoral base proved to be bigger than the combined Left-Congress strength. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the TMC had secured 39% of the votes whereas the Left Front had approximately 30% and the Congress had 10%. But then it was always doubtful if the Left parties and the Congress, which were sworn political enemies in West Bengal for decades since independence, would be able to smoothly transfer votes to each other. Clearly, they miserably failed in that mission and, in the process, handed Mamata another landslide victory.

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Updated Date: May 19, 2016 13:34:21 IST

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