Amma Still the Reigning Queen
The local body election results proved that CM Jayalalitha has retained her magic with voters. Her party got a whopping 9,966 out of a total of 20,122 seats it contested in Corporations (Mayors and Councillors), Municipalities (Chairmen and Councillors), Town Panchayat (Chairmen and Ward members), District Panchayat (Ward members) and Panchayat Union (Ward members). Her overwhelming victory meant her party got 39.02 per cent (assembly: 38.4 per cent) of the votes. In contrast the DMK got 4,097 seats thereby securing 26.1 per cent of the votes. Interestingly, the DMK upped its vote share over the 22.38 per cent it got in the assembly.
What she must have relished is that in Tiruvarur, which gave former CM Karunanidhi a victory margin of 50,000 votes in the assembly, the AIADMK swept all the four municipalities and seven panchayats. There was also glee that her party trumped Vijaykanth in Madurai, his hometown where he is very popular. He lost all 84 seats his party contested for the Madurai Corporation. The icing on the cake must have been Congress candidates faring poorly (lost in three municipalities and 12 town panchayats) in union home minister, P Chidambaram’s Sivaganga. And Schadenfreude must have also come when PMK was defeated in Tindivanam, party founder Dr S Ramadoss’ hometown.
Jayalalitha claimed that her governance had brought victory to her party but, while she is bound to claim that, the results are because of several reasons. Firstly, the AIADMK is the ruling party and voters in corporation/ municipality/ town panchayat don’t want to vote for a candidate of an opposing party because money will dry up. Secondly, the results were also more a reflection of the anger at the DMK still as the assembly results showed. The anger seems to have only got worse with all the land grab and disproportionate assets cases that have revealed that the then ruling party gave a free hand to its leaders and ministers to run amuck.
That’s why people issues like power which is still in a precarious state (with Chennai even seeing load shedding for an hour everyday till the North East monsoon set in this week) saw Amma not being punished by the voter. Again anger against the DMK resulted in overcoming the militancy among Dalits incensed over the police firing at Paramakudi (Ramanathapuran district) last month that led to seven of them being killed. The voter also forgot Amma’s adamancy in not implementing Samacheer Kalvi (Uniform Syllabus) till the Supreme Court ordered her to, resulting in schoolchildren losing almost two months of the academic year.
Having said that, one should add that all of Amma’s erstwhile alliance partners for the assembly elections fared poorly this time cementing the common assumption that the others had ridden piggy back on the AIADMK to relative success in May. Another high for her this election is that there’s a clamour among Independents who came fourth winning 3,326 seats(9 per cent) to join the AIADMK. The AIADMK is welcoming most of them with open arms.
Not Right To Go With the Left
Vijaykanth, who attained the status of Opposition Party leader with 29 MLAs, was written off in the first two days after the local body results came in. Everyone said he had lost his magic among the youth and that’s why he had fared poorly.
“Crop failure in one season does not mean that the land is not fit for cultivation. The farmer also does not give up hope,” DMDK chief Vijakkanth said. His (and his wife, Premalatha's) frenetic campaign only brought the party 868 posts. Graceful in defeat, he did say it was quite “natural” for voters to prefer the ruling party which controls the purse strings whether it comes to sops or development projects. But Vijaykanth still feels his party “has become the hope of the youth.” The fact is that unlike the assembly election when young and old, rural and urban voters came out to vote in droves constituting close to 80 per cent voting, this election saw 76.3 per cent voting (3.6 crores of an electorate of 4.71 crores) and even that was because rural voters exercised their franchise whereas many urban voters slipped back into ennui.
And apparently his hope that the third front will cause ripples at the ballot box was misplaced with the CPI winning 99 posts and the CPIM bagging 159. So clearly, the third front is an idea whose time has not come as voters seem to prefer the two Dravidian majors. Perhaps if he joins forces with the Congress which bagged 740 posts, he might create the right dynamics within the electorate.
Not as Bad as it Seemed
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the DMDK still is a party to contend with among rural voters managing 11.93 per cent of the votes as opposed to the 7.4 per cent it got in towns. In fact the figures tell the story that all is not lost for the DMDK. From the 7.88 per cent it got in alliance with the AIADMK in the assembly polls, the DMDK came third this time getting 10.11 per cent in the local body elections. And what’s more, barring the assembly polls, whenever it contested alone, the DMDK has improved from election to election: 2006 assembly polls (8.38 per cent), 2009 Lok Sabha poll (10.08 per cent) and now 10.11 per cent. So, perhaps the message he will take away is that he should carve his own political future independent of the Dravidian majors even if going with one of them brings his party more seats – the DMDK got 29 seats in the assembly election.
How the Others Fared
The PMK, in contrast, appears to be stagnant. It got 5.23 per cent in the local body elections as compared to 5.65 per cent in 2006 when it tied up with the DMK and 5.72 per cent in 2009 when it tied up with the AIADMK. The Congress got 5.71 per cent of the votes. TNCC president K V Thangabalu mouthed his usual platitude – “All of us should own up responsibility. We will analyse the reasons.” While the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi drew a blank just like in the assembly elections, what was surprising was that the Nationalist Congress Party won one corporation councilor's post! In other words, Sharad Pawar has more reach than Thol Tirumavalavan among Tamil Nadu voters!
Adversity Brings Friends Closer
Perhaps the results had a sobering effect because former CM M Karunanidhi even called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi – which he had declined to on his previous two visits following the arrest of his daughter Kanimozhi in the 2G scam in May – weeks after he delinked his party from the Congress for the local body elections. After taking several digs at the Congress in the interim, Karunanidhi met Sonia accompanied by Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi Ammal hoping she would put in a good word to get his precious daughter out on bail before Deepavali.
Interestingly former minister (and recently raided by the CBI) Dayanidhi Maran who had gone along with Karunanidhi was asked to wait outside at the instance of Rajathi Ammal, when she and her husband met Sonia. She is believed to have done all the talking – translated by MP T R Baalu – to Sonia. Sonia is believed to have bowed to a mother’s emotional appeal and said she would talk to the PM “to do whatever is possible”.
But the bail hearing is set for November 3 although the CBI did not oppose it. Sources are now saying Karunanidhi got bad advice in being seen meeting the PM and Sonia. It sent out bad signals that her getting bail was in their hands!
But still the disappointment of not being able to spring Kanimozhi from jail – that too when he had been led to believe that he will be able to take her home – led to Karunanidhi resorting to his old trick of saying something cryptic when he returned from Delhi. He said, “There is never anything without a reason, but I don’t know if there’s any political reason behind delaying bail.” Asked how he felt about the bail delay, “Leave alone how I feel as a father, even as a human being, taking into account the right and the wrong, you know how I feel.”
Wading Into Muck
Women have done very well in the local body elections. In Chennai’s corporation, more than one-third women have taken charge (71 out of 200). Six of the 10 mayors are women, and all from the AIADMK because that party swept all the 10 posts.
Incidentally, Chennai which has turned into a megapolis got an AIADMK mayor for the first time. The new mayor, Saidai Duraiswamy, will preside over a council which will see his party having a brute majority (168 out of 200 while the DMK won only 24 seats). Saidai won by a margin of 5.19 lakh votes beating incumbent mayor Subramaniam, while the remaining 30 candidates lost their deposits. Saidai is not only the first AIADMK mayor (in the party’s 40 year history) of Chennai, he is also the first mayor of the new and expanded Greater Chennai Corporation that now has 200 wards spread over 425 sq kms.
But soon after being sworn in this Tuesday, he tucked up his dhoti and waded around the flooded streets of Chennai which saw 76.6 mm of rain in a 12-hour period beginning from 8.30 am. He says he intends to keep his promises of “clean administration and clean Chennai”. He says, “During the election campaign, I saw heaps of garbage in several areas of the city. I will ensure that they are removed as early as possible.”
In fact, even before he took over, there was mass absenteeism by the 2,500-odd employees of Neel Metal Fanalca which is responsible for removing garbage from four zones in the city – Triplicane, Adyar, Kodambakkam and Pulianthope. NMF has managed to move only 400 metric tonnes in the last two weeks against its daily average of 1,700 metric tones. And because, civic employees were roped in for various jobs during elections, the remaining six zones which the corporation is responsible for has seen mounds of garbage collecting.
Her charisma may have left the Supreme Court cold and that is why CM Jayalalitha may have had to go to a Bangalore court for the hearings in the disproportionate assets case against her, but it still got her votes in Tamil Nadu as was revealed when the AIADMK candidate, M Paranjyoti won from Tiruchi West defeating former DMK minister K N Nehru by over 14,684 votes.
Interestingly, while her candidate doubled his victory margin when compared to the 7,179 vote margin that Mariam Pichai (whose death in a road accident necessitated the current bypoll) in TN, the story was totally different in neighbouring Puducherry. Tamilselvan, the nephew of CM Rangaswamy, managed only half the victory margin in Indiranagar that his uncle got in the April assembly poll. Rangaswamy had resigned from the Indiranagar seat and fielded his nephew. And unlike the assembly poll, Rangaswamy’s AINRC had split from the AIADMK for this bypoll.
Nehru, who was in prison so much so that former deputy CM Stalin filed his nomination, did not campaign even after he was released the day before the poll. Instead he took out an advertisement in the newspapers which said, “Ever since I became conscious of worldly affairs I have never been inclined to the idea of taking over others’ properties, nor did I ever covet others’ wealth.” It’s obvious that this was a claim that a majority of voters did not believe because he lost for the second successive time in a constituency which was considered the DMK’s stronghold because of his power and influence.
Hands Tied Behind His Back?
The AIADMK managed a higher victory margin although only 61.15 per cent voters turned up as compared to the 74.93 per cent in the April assembly elections. Also the turn-out showed that with the DMK going out of power, the Thirumangalam formula lost its currency. Cash for votes, fashioned by Karunanidhi scion M K Azhagiri, had seen a turn-out of 90 per cent in the Thirumangalam by-election in January 2009 and more than 80 per cent in subsequent bypolls as the winning formula was apparently used.
Both the AIADMK and the DMK went into election alone (unlike in the assembly election) but the latter had support from the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and rumours had it that the DMDK was tacitly supporting the latter.
The result showed that despite the DMK appealing in different fora – the president, governor, and the people – that the land grab cases against it were a manifestation of Jayalalitha’s vendetta politics, it did not wash. Although Karunanidhi gave the spin that the victory margin showed that the DMK was still up because “K.N. Nehru faced the by-election from prison and it was like asking a person to run a race after tying his legs”, there were few takers for his theory. In fact, Nehru’s loss showed that “the CM of Tiruchi” has no sympathizers.