Tamil Nadu 2016: This may be Amma’s chance to break the re-election jinx
Will Jayalalithaa score a hat-trick of electoral victories in Tamil Nadu and buck the trend to win her second consecutive term in office?
Come 16 May and the fate of the two biggest Dravidian parties — the AIADMK and DMK — will be sealed in the ballot box. Three days later, one political front will emerge victorious in the election. The two parties have taken turns to rule the state since 1984. But will the trend change this time? Will Jayalalithaa score a hat-trick of electoral victories and buck the trend to win her second consecutive term in office? Only the result day will tell us that.
Jayalalithaa's current term — 2011 to 2014 and again from May 2015 onwards — has been characterised by a slew of welfare schemes. Moreover, prominent ones bear her sobriquet, "Amma"; which means mother in Tamil. "Amma Canteens", that provide low-cost Tamilian staple food, "Amma seeds" for farmers, “Amma cement” – subsidized cement, "Amma salt", "Amma laptops", ”Amma Pharmacy” – subsidised medicines, and many other kinds of "Amma" schemes. In her current term in office, she has utilised her sobriquet as a brand to market herself to the electorate, which paid her rich dividends in the 2014 general elections.
Her work has also captured the imagination of many marketing experts. In a report in The Hindu, Ramesh Jude Thomas of Equitor Value Advisory was quoted as saying, “It is all about positioning and the Tamil Nadu CM has positioned herself well against the opposition.” While advertising professional Ravindran Solomon suggested that "Brand Amma’’ might work among the economically weaker sections of the society which is a key vote bank.
A May 2014 Business Standard article stated that efficient governance – aided by welfare schemes – helped the agricultural and industrial sector. At a time when the UPA-ruled Centre was seemingly failing to curb inflation, AIADMK government with its pro-poor measures helped poor masses fight inflation.
Indeed, it seemed that the “Amma” dole-outs did contribute to her party’s victory in the Lok Sabha polls as the AIADMK won 37 out of 39 seats in the state. Her rival Karunanidhi’s DMK could not even open its account.
AIADMK has edge in multi-cornered fight
Another reason for the stupendous success was her equal distance from both the Congress as well as the BJP. This helped her keep away from the taint of Congress-led corruption and also provide a feel-good factor to the minorities wary of Modi, a DNA article pointed out.
This may well help her in the upcoming assembly polls, since the AIADMK is yet again standing alone – contesting 227 seats and the rest by candidates affiliated to the party.
Whether the welfare schemes that apparently helped her win in 2014, will also facilitate her success in the upcoming polls is something to wait and watch.
Jayalalithaa seems to be enjoying a definite edge in the run up to the assembly election.
There are many factors behind this.
This time the election is seeing a multi-cornered fight – the ruling AIADMK, the DMK-Congress alliance, the Vijayakanth-led People’s Welfare Front (PWF) - DMDK - TMC alliance and the Anbumani Ramadoss-led Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). BJP is considered the fifth force.
The Hindu Business Line reported that with five major alliances/parties in the poll fray – including the BJP, the anti-incumbency votes will fail to consolidate. In the absence of it, there may be a good chance for Jayalalithaa to claim her second consecutive term in office.
A special report aired on India Today TV said that Jayalalithaa has denied tickets to a large section of her sitting MLAs, many of whom are also members of the state cabinet. This, the report claimed, may help her keep anti-incumbency against particular MLAs at bay and improve her chances of returning to power.
Politically, her major rival M Karunanidhi has not really been able to cash in on any anti-incumbency wave across the state. This is evident from the fact that the DMK failed to create a “rainbow alliance” to take on the ruling party.
“More than anti-incumbency swings, it is the political arrangements that have decided elections in Tamil Nadu,” psephologist Venkatesh Athreya was quoted by The Hindu as saying.
Jayalalithaa has been raising the 2G scam to lash out at the DMK, while also dubbing its alliance with the Congress as the “loot alliance.” The chief minister is clearly making sure that the scams under the previous UPA government remain in voters’ minds.
However, Amma has some potential threats, not only from political rivals but also from the judiciary.
A Times of India report said that since the 2011 polls, the state has added more than 1 crore new voters. Around 25% of the voters this time will be youth.
Youth power along with the fence sitters can become the deciding factors for both parties.
The alleged mishandling of the floods in North Tamil Nadu and the “Nammaku Namme” campaign led by DMK leader MK Stalin may spell a surprise for the AIADMK, while the disproportionate assets case may turn out to be the Achilles heels for her. With the Karnataka government's appeal now in the Supreme Court, a judgment convicting Jayalalithaa may spoil her chances at enjoying a consecutive full five-year term.
However, as of now, all eyes are on whether a divided opposition can succeed in unseating Amma from her throne. As judgment day for the political parties draws near, the dance of democracy plays on.
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