ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tamil Nadu: Lessons for the Future

Lessons for the Future The recent assembly elections was not only historic in many ways, it also marked several firsts. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, M Karunanidhi, was sworn in for the fifth time as chief minister. Also, for the first time since Rajagopalachari


Lessons for the Future

he recent assembly elections was not only historic in many ways, it also marked several firsts. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader, M Karunanidhi, was sworn in for the fifth time as chief minister. Also, for the first time since Rajagopalachari’s government in 1952, a minority government has been sworn into power, supported from the outside by its alliance partners, the Congress, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), and the two Left parties. And in sharp contrast to the overwhelming victory recorded by the DMK alliance in the 2004 general elections, the difference in vote shares between the two leading alliances this time was a mere 4.67 percentage points (CSDS poll analysis); the DMK alliance secured a 44.73 per cent share and Jayalalithaa’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance was not far behind with 40.06 per cent. The closely fought contest in itself was not surprising, even opinion polls barely a fortnight before the elections had accorded the AIADMK incumbent government a distinct advantage over the opposition. In another first, the DMK, one of Tamil Nadu’s two main parties fell 22 seats short of the necessary 118 seats for attaining a majority in the assembly. In what can only be welcome news for the UPA government at the centre, the DMK in power is dependent on the support of its allies, i e, the Congress (34 seats), PMK (18), CPM (9) and the CPI (6).

Apart from the historic yo-yo nature of Tamil Nadu elections where power has oscillated between the two main parties, the DMK’s victory in these elections has been attributed in part to its sound cementing of pre-electoral alliances with other parties, and also to its innovative electoral manifesto, that prompted a change in electoral tack on the part of the AIADMK. The generosity with which the DMK sewed up its alliances

– after Vaiko’s MDMK walked over to the AIADMK – stood it in good stead. Further, the earlier electoral emphasis on her government’s post-2004 performance by Jayalalithaa was altered in favour of seeking to outmanoeuvre the DMK alliance in extending various sops to the voters. Thus, heavily subsidised rice, free colour television sets for rural women and waiver of cooperative loans were countered by the AIADMK coming out with promises of gold and computers.

While elections in Tamil Nadu have been replete with symbolism, as these elections and its sop-rich manifesto demonstrated, there are also signals of more far-reaching changes conveyed by these elections that could have an impact in future state elections. An initial analysis of the results shows that more than caste alliances and loyalties, the nature of party dominance varied in the different geographical regions of the state, which in turn is reflective of a shift in voting patterns. It appears that the DMK alliance’s lead of nearly 20 per cent in vote share patterns in the southern districts narrowed substantially towards the north, as well as in the west and in the Cauvery delta region in the east. This is also evident in the fact that the thevars, a strong support base for the AIADMK, did not vote uniformly; in the west and Cauvery delta region, their votes moved towards the DMK alliance. The AIADMK as well as actor Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) stole into the PMK’s substantial vanniyar vote, especially in the upper north region. These regional variations in voting follow from the perceived economic and other benefits that have accrued to different regions in recent years.

What also emerges from these elections, is the fact that in spite of the avowed antipathy the two main parties bear towards each other, there is a broad similarity in the sympathies they espouse, which is also underscored by prevailing political compulsions. The DMK, largely a party with a middle caste support base including small property owners, as well as the small and middle farmer, is thus reaching out to the very groups the AIADMK claims as its avowed support base, i e, the poorer, more marginalised groups. Traditionally, successive governments in Tamil Nadu have followed welfare-oriented measures balanced by fiscal prudence. It remains to be seen whether the DMK will continue to profess a similar approach or if its attempts to reach out to varied sections of the populace will cost the exchequer dear. Further, elections in Tamil Nadu have been largely state-centred in nature, whether in matters of issues or personalities. But the DMK’s victory is partly because of the fact that the party is an important constituent of the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre. There is thus an emerging duality in the Indian federal polity; even as regional entities/parties surge to power in various states, central concerns continue to exercise a vital pull.

Economic and Political Weekly May 20, 2006

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