Home >politics >policy >Tamil Nadu election results: Jayalalithaa breaks the re-election jinx

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa has created history—returning to office for a second consecutive term in a state where such a feat has not been achieved in nearly three decades.

Since the 1989 assembly election, the state has routinely seen Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and its principal opponent, the M. Karunanidhi-led Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), alternating as the ruling and opposition parties.

Bucking that trend, ‘Amma’, as she is popularly known, returned to power on Thursday, though with not as large a majority as in 2011, when her party won 150 seats in the 234-member assembly. This time around, the party has won 134 seats. The DMK had won 89 seats.

“I’m overwhelmed by the resounding victory that people of Tamil Nadu have given us. My party and I are indebted to the people of Tamil Nadu," a visibly relieved Jayalalithaa told reporters at her Poes Garden residence in central Chennai. “After 1984, no ruling party has won (a re-election)," she said, adding, “I want to express my gratitude to my party members, cadres and alliance partners."

There was no strong wave in her favour in the state ahead of the 16 May polls. In fact, there was disenchantment over the seeming absence of governance when she was convicted in 2014 on charges of possessing assets disproportionate to her income, disqualified from holding office and sent to jail, before being acquitted by the Karnataka high court and restored to office last year.

There was also anger against the AIADMK government’s mishandling of the November-December floods in Chennai.

“If you look at the margin of victory, it is small. So, she has fewer seats compared to 2011," said P. Radhakrishnan, a former professor of political science from the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

A Kannadiga by birth, Jayalalithaa entered Tamil Nadu politics in the 1980s after starting out as an actress in the Tamil film industry. Despite reports of ill-health, the 68-year-old is more visible in public now than she had been since 2011, when her party won a thumping majority.

Critics describe her as “aloof" and “authoritarian", but to her followers, Jayalalithaa is Amma—their benefactor who makes meals available three times a day at subsidized rates of 30 through special Amma kitchens, distributes gold coins to girls from poor families and offers free mixer-grinders and fans during election season.

In a bid to woo voters ahead of the assembly polls, Jayalalithaa announced a number of freebies such as free SIM cards to all those who had ration cards, a provision of 50% subsidy for women buying two-wheelers and the promise to provide 1 million houses through various schemes.

But, according to analysts, the freebies may not have swayed voters towards her as much as a fractured opposition worked to her advantage.

“I think the fact that the opposition was dispersed worked to Jayalalithaa’s advantage," said S.N. Karuppu, professor of political science at Chennai’s Presidency College.

He was referring to the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and actor Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) turning against their former senior partners—the DMK and the AIADMK, respectively—and going it alone in the polls.

The DMDK is leading an alliance that includes the Tamil Maanila Congress, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the communist parties and other smaller groups.

Both the PMK and the DMDK-led front have drawn a blank in the polls.

“This shows that the voters were not convinced by what they had to offer," said Karuppu, adding that the major political forces in the state continue to be the two main Dravidian parties.

According to Radhakrishnan, one reason for the main opposition DMK’s loss could be party chief Karunanidhi projecting himself as the chief ministerial candidate at the age of 92.

This is not surprising given that almost 40 million of Tamil Nadu’s 58 million eligible voters are below the age of 50.

To be sure, even in defeat, the DMK has managed to increase its seat count almost fourfold from 23 seats to 89.

“The DMK has not fared badly though it has not won the polls. It can play its part as a healthy opposition, which is good for democracy. As an opposition, the DMK will be very strong," Radhakrishnan said.

But it could have done much better if Karunanidhi had managed to persuade his eldest son, M.K. Alagiri, to support the party, he added.

Inflighting between Alagiri, former deputy chief minister M.K. Stalin and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi—all three children of Karunanidhi—has frayed the party, though it is to the DMK patriarch’s credit that he has managed to hold it together.

The DMK’s defeat to Jayalalithaa is likely to hasten the generational shift in the party, Radhakrishnan said, with Karunanidhi handing over the party’s reins to Stalin, a move that is likely to further upset Alagiri.

Stalin was named the deputy chief minister when the DMK was in power between 2006 and 2011, with Karunanidhi as chief minister.

This created tension between him and Alagiri, who was the Union minister for chemicals and fertilizers then.

In the run-up to the 16 May election, Alagiri, who did not contest the polls, was absent from the campaign too. In contrast, it was Stalin who was at the forefront of the campaign with Karunanidhi and Kanimozhi bringing up the rear.

“The DMK is already a divided house. With the defeat, the party could be formally divided," said Radhakrishnan.

“Alagiri could stake a claim to the leadership of the party or break away and form his own party," Radhakrishnan said, adding that Alagiri’s support base is concentrated in central Madurai district, while Stalin’s base is in north Tamil Nadu, around Chennai.

“The other DMK cadres could go to the AIADMK," he said.

On the positive side, the DMK has a second-rung leadership, though it comes from one family, Radhakrishnan said, a view supported by Sampath Kumar, a professor at Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism.

Both agreed that the DMK was better off compared to the AIADMK, with an established second line of leaders.

“There could be a lot of opposition and political rivalry within the DMK family about the next political heir. Stalin may not have the charisma or cannot be a Chanakya like his father, but he has clearly established himself, and the next elections will be a cakewalk for him," Kumar said.

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