The resounding victory of the AIADMK is the handiwork of its leader J Jayalalithaa. Single-handed she strategised the campaign, led it, and won it so decisively. In this she has also set up several records: after 32 years, a party in power managed to retain power. The ghost of anti-incumbency was exorcised.
Jayalalithaa opted to fight the election alone. Even the few seats she allotted for small parties was on condition that they would contest on her party symbol. In this, she ensured there would not be any claim in the success by alliance parties. Remember such claim made by Vijayakanth and his DMDK in the 2011 elections when his party was part of the coalition led by AIADMK?
A favourable factor for AIADMK was the failure of the Opposition to fight together. There were thus five fronts - AIADMK, DMK, PWF, PMK and BJP. The solid, cohesive work by the party was far superior to that of the
others. In the bargain, the DMK, which also commanded a sizeable cohesive organisational strength, emerged stronger than it did in the earlier polls. The elections turned out to be a tight contest between the two Dravidian parties and made other parties irrelevant. The DMDK and the PMK, which announced their chief ministerial candidates, the BJP, the TMC, the CPM and the CPI, all drew blank. In the end, the state legislature has become bi-cameral with just two parties represented.
For the first time, the Communist parties are not represented. The PMK that was the first to start the campaign district-wise over a year ahead of the polls and contested in all constituencies, could poll a little over five per cent of total votes. The DMDK that had over eight per cent share in the previous polls, claimed its position as a kingmaker but later had ambitions of becoming the king; it suffered the most. Its vote share was just around two per cent and would lose its recognition by the Election Commission.
Elections in Tamil Nadu have become increasingly expensive, restricting the field to the wealthy. The interviews for the selection of the candidates involve hefty fees and are weighed by the capacity of the aspirant to spend on the campaign. Significantly, of the 232 elected candidates, there are 170 crorepatis with two of those declaring assets more than Rs.100 crore (Jayalalithaa over Rs 113 crore, H Vasanthakumar Rs. 337 crores). AIADMK and DMK spent sizeable amounts in advertisements through television and mass circulated dailies. These parties have also been spending massive amounts on mobilising the cadres for attending public meetings. The per head expenditure for such ‘volunteers’ is estimated at Rs.1000. There have also been widespread complaints on disbursing cash for votes. The Election Commission seized over Rs.100 crore of money purportedly taken for such distribution. It is widely believed that it’s a small fraction of the humongous sum distributed to entice voters.
Money power has thus become a crucial factor in winning elections to Tamil Nadu. Despite the widespread criticism of this pernicious practice, it has come to stay as a winning strategy. Understandably, the huge expenditure incurred had to be earned back and also to build reserves for future elections. Can corruption be held back?
The new cabinet of 33 ministers selected by Jayalalithaa has a mix of experience and fresh blood. As many as 13 in the cabinet had served earlier as ministers. With the TN civil service known for its efficiency, one can expect the new team to settle down in quick time and focus on development issues.
Dravidian parties have been lavishing the citizens with a vast range of welfare measures. Many of these like the midday meal scheme, the Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme have been socially ameliorative and are adapted at the national level. The focus on women, child welfare, and public health has won well-deserved appreciation for the state. The new administration should now concentrate on development issues that would increase revenues to fund such welfare.