For close to five decades from 1967, Tamil Nadu has been ruled by the Dravidian parties – the DMK from 1967 to 1976, the AIADMK from 1977 to 1989 and subsequently, alternately ruled by the DMK and the AIADMK. Since 1989 the anti-incumbency factor has been working to clock-like precision. Another characteristic has been the sway of film personalities to head the successive governments with their uncanny knack to read the pulse of the people.
The state has been blessed with a single party rule that had been contributing to decisive leadership. Heads of the government in this period - C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, M G Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa all commanded unquestioned following and loyalty. Blessed also with an efficient civil service, Tamil Nadu could focus on development. But the over-emphasis on welfare and distribution of the spoils of power have been contributing to diminishing resources for development. The increasing quantities of freebies under various heads, expanding content of social welfare and under-pricing of public services, be they relate to power, public transport… have been impacting severely on the state’s financial health. An index of this should be visible from the public debt of the state snowballing to over Rs. 200,000 cr with the losses of electricity board alone accounting for nearly half of this. The three items of expenditure – freebies, employee costs including pensions to government servants and debt servicing – together consume the state’s total revenue. The compulsions of competitive politics to win elections come in the way of correcting this serious lacuna.
Both the national parties, the Congress and the BJP, have little base at the grassroots and for long the national parties have been content to ride piggy back on the two regional parties. In recent times, there have been efforts by several other regional parties (there are quite so many!) to dislodge both DMK and AIADMK from power. This has not been easy though.
The DMK came to power first in 1967 on the Rajaji arithmetic of bringing together all parties then opposed the Congress. The Maha ghatbandhan or Maha Koottani had its origin in Tamil Nadu. In successive elections until recently both the Dravidian parties appreciated the value of this; but unlike Kerala, where a large number of parties and splinter groups formed such koottani were accommodated in the cabinet. In Tamil Nadu the clever leaders managed to exercise full control and succeeded in not sharing power with other parties in the Koottani.
The AIADMK swept the polls in the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha (it won 37 out of the 39 seats) thanks to the division of votes among several parties in opposition. With his party not winning a single seat, DMK supremo M Karunanidhi was keen to build a Maha koottani. With the ambitious leaders of the smaller parties like MDMK and PMK also aspiring for chief ministership and demanding a fair share in the government, MK could not succeed. Thus Tamil Nadu would witness multi-cornered contests in all the 234 constituencies.
This should be to the tremendous advantage of the AIADMK. The arithmetic of votes looks like this: AIADMK getting support from odd and sundry parties including perhaps the TMC will command 38 – 40 per cent of votes; DMK – Congress and other sundry parties – around 35 per cent; DMDK, MDMK, VC and Communists 14 – 15 per cent; PMK 4 - 5 per cent; other parties 5 per cent. Thus multi-cornered fights would go to the benefit of AIADMK which is likely to gain control again. The maha ghatbandhan formula that worked for Nitish Kumar - led group in Bihar, another successful instance of the soundness of the Rajaji formula, could not be built in Tamil Nadu due to the over-sized ambitions of the leaders, especially DMDK and PMK. Jayalalithaa should indeed be pleased over their intransigence. -SV