Chennai: The burst of crackers outside Tamil Nadu chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) head M. Karunanidhi’s home in Gopalapuram was a sign of not just jubilation, but also one of relief.
Mixed verdict: Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi. AP
While the party and its allies had won all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu in the 2004 general election, it was not a clean sweep this year, and early trends were hinting at a split in the state. Rival J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) had won or was leading in nine constituencies around 8pm, while the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, had won or was leading in two.
The Congress party wrested eight seats and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partner DMK had won or was leading in 18, giving them a combined win in 26 constituencies.
Elections in Tamil Nadu have mostly been dominated by either of the two Dravidian parties, a trend that’s missing this time.
“We have seen a mixed verdict in Tamil Nadu and that is good because it proves three things: that the DMK cannot afford to be complacent, the Congress has to rely and ride on the back of a Dravidian party in Tamil Nadu, and Jayalalithaa cannot hope that plain charisma will work in her favour,” said V. Geetha, a social historian who has written widely on gender, caste and politics in Tamil Nadu.
The key issue that had threatened the prospects of the ruling DMK-Congress combine was the ongoing battle between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan army.
The issue became a bigger irritant for, DMK after Jayalalithaa voiced her support for a separate Tamil state for Sri Lankan Tamils. Jayalalithaa, who previously never supported a separate state, went on a one-day fast to show her sympathy for the Tamil neighbours.
“She wanted to send out a strong message saying that she would send an army to sort out the issue,” said N. Sathiyamoorthy, a political analyst and director of the Chennai chapter of Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. “But that left a bad taste in the urban middle-class Brahminical voters.”
The analyst quoted two key points that may have helped DMK win more seats: a “positive campaign” and “good poll management”.
“They spoke about the schemes that they have launched like the Re1 for 1kg rice, while BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and AIADMK had negative campaigns,” explained Sathiyamoorthy. “While Jayalalithaa is a more charismatic leader than that of DMK or others put together, she hopped into major towns only in helicopters whereas M.K. Stalin visited the interiors.” Stalin is the son of the 85-year-old Karunanidhi and Tamil Nadu’s minister for rural development and local administration.
“The good thing about the elections is that it has proved that the Sri Lankan issue is not a poll issue,” said Cho Ramaswamy, political analyst and editor of popular Tamil magazine Thuglak.
V. Gopalsamy, popularly known as Vaiko, an aggressive advocate for the Tamil Eelam cause and general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, too, failed to win in Virudhunagar while his party won a solitary seat.