Debating India


An AIADMK sweep

Saturday 21 May 2005, by SUBRAMANIAN*T.S.


Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s party, which was thrashed in the Lok Sabha elections last year, makes a remarkable comeback by winning the byelections on May 14 single-handedly.

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Jayalalithaa distributing sweets to mediapersons in Chennai on May 16 after the results were announced.

IN fiercely fought byelections held on May 14 to the Tamil Nadu Assembly, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) retained the Kancheepuram and Gummidipoondi seats defeating its arch rival, the main Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). The victories are remarkable because the AIADMK fought the byelections alone and was ranged against a formidable seven-party alliance led by the DMK, the Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA). The other parties in the alliance are the Congress, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Indian National League (INL). Exactly a year ago, this alliance won all the 40 seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections - 39 from Tamil Nadu and one from Pondicherry. The AIADMK then drew a blank.

The victories have given the AIADMK general secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa an opportunity to assert that the verdict was a referendum on the performance of her government and that people have endorsed a number of welfare measures that she initiated for the benefit of farmers, hut-dwellers, construction workers, weavers, mid-day meal scheme workers, milk producers, members of the Scheduled Castes, and schoolchildren. During her election campaign, she repeatedly listed before the electorate these welfare measures. She promised the people of the two constituencies that if they voted for the AIADMK candidates, her government would do a lot of development work in the coming year. Simultaneously, she kept alleging that the 12 Union Ministers belonging to the DMK, the Congress and the PMK were sticking like "leeches" to the Union Cabinet and wanted the electorate to teach the seven-party alliance a lesson.

Jayalalithaa described the verdict as "great victories" and claimed that they were the people’s endorsement of her government’s policies. She remarked that the results were "a forerunner" to the Assembly elections which should come next year. "The votes we got are for our party. The votes received by the DMK are the votes for the seven parties. We have still won and it shows the people are with us," the Chief Minister said. "In a democracy," she said, "the final arbiters are the people."

M. Karunanidhi, DMK president and DPA leader, indirectly accused the Election Commission of India of having failed to prevent the distribution of money to voters by the AIADMK. In a statement, he also accused the AIADMK of "hoodwinking" the Election Commission and pumping in crores of rupees in development work in the two constituencies. Besides, Karunanidhi alleged that the AIADMK had paid Rs.100 to Rs.500 per voter. The former Chief Minister insinuated a conspiracy between the Election Commission and the AIADMK. "The agreement was that you (the Election Commission) pretend to beat me, I shall pretend to cry and get things done," he said.

WITH the May 14 verdict, the AIADMK has won all the byelections held to the Assembly after it returned to power in May 2001. These constituencies include Saidapet, Vaniyambadi, Acharapakkam, Sathankulam and Andipatti.

Ironically, the AIADMK was not keen that the byelections to Kancheepuram and Gummidipoondi seats should be held. It was rather diffident about the outcome and wondered why the polls should be held when the elections to the State Assembly were only a year away. The party was upset when the Election Commission announced the byelections. It was the DMK and its partners that were enthusiastic about the byelections because they thought that victory in these two constituencies would keep the seven parties together for the coming Assembly elections.

The byelections saw an unusually large turnout of voters. It was as high as 76 per cent in Gummidipoondi and almost 70 per cent in Kancheepuram. A sizable number of women stood in long queues in the scorching sun to cast their votes.

The seats fell vacant when S.S. Tirunavukkarasu, the AIADMK legislator from the temple town of Kancheepuram, died of cancer in November 2004. K. Sudarsanam, who represented Gummidipoondi, was shot dead by dacoits at his residence in January 2005. The AIADMK fielded Tirunavukkarasu’s wife T. Mythili from Kancheepuram while Sudarsanam’s son K.S. Vijayakumar got the ticket for Gummidipoondi. The DMK’s candidate for Kancheepuram was M. Kumar, whose late father Murugesan represented the constituency as a DMK legislator from 1989 to 1991. The party fielded P. Venkatachalapathy, an advocate, from Gummidipoondi. The Dalit Panthers of India fielded N. Elanchezhiyan from Kancheepuram and S.K. Viduthalaichezhiyan from Gummidipoondi.

At Kanchipuram, D. Venkatesa Mudaliar of the New Justice Party, which represents the interests of the Mudaliar community, inexplicably withdrew from the contest. Kanchipuram constituency has a sizable number of Mudaliars and it was alleged that the AIADMK had promised the community that it would be declared a most backward community in return for its support. Mythili is a Mudaliar. There were 17 independents in Kancheepuram and 13 in Gummidipoondi.

The results showed convincing margins of victory for the AIADMK. Mythili defeated her nearest DMK rival, Kumar, by 17,770 votes. While she received 87,279 votes, Kumar secured 69,509. In Gummidipoondi, Vijaykumar won by a margin of 27,162 votes. He polled 83,716 votes and Venkatachalapathy 56,554.

The two parties took the byelections seriously. If 12 AIADMK Ministers took part in the campaign in Kanchipuram, about 10 Central Ministers were in charge of electioneering in Gummidipoondi. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram of the Congress, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss of the PMK, and Union Communications and Information Technology Minister Dayanidhi Maran and other Ministers of the DMK campaigned in both the constituencies. Karunanidhi addressed two public meetings, at Kancheepuram and Gummidipoondi. Jayalalithaa undertook an intensive campaign for six days, three days in each constituency.

The DPA demanded that the Election Commission deploy paramilitary forces. Eight companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guarded the two constituencies. The police were asked to shoot at sight those who used violence.

The Election Commission deputed K.J. Rao as a Special Observer for the two seats. He went about his work with evangelical fervour. He removed illegal display of party flags and festoons. Videography of voting was done in every polling booth. Whenever the DMK or the AIADMK made allegations that the other party was dispensing blandishments, Rao rushed to that place. The police ordered that marriage halls and community halls should be let out only to celebrate "auspicious functions" and that outsiders should not be allowed to stay in them. The police asked houseowners not to entertain "unknown guests". After the campaign came to an end on May 12 evening, the police raided marriage mantaps, community halls and lodges to see whether "outsiders" were staying there with a view to taking part in bogus voting. When Rao received information that such persons were staying in some places, he raided them with the help of the police.

All Ministers and legislators were told that they should get out of the constituencies before May 12 evening, when the campaign ended. The police arrested A.K. Moorthy, Lok Sabha member of the PMK and former Minister, and N. Balaganga, AIADMK leader and Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, who were found in the Kancheepuram constituency on polling day. Moorthy said he had come to take part in a temple function.

Jayalalithaa campaigned hard for six days. She called herself the "beloved sister" of the voters and claimed that she worked "20 hours a day". Her election plank was her government’s achievements: it made Tamil Nadu "a peace park", restored free electricity supply to farmers and hut-dwellers, reduced electricity tariff to domestic consumers, distributed free saris to 1.11 crore women and free dhotis to 1.11 crore men, distributed new ration cards to 37 lakh families, increased the procurement price of milk by Re.1 a litre, provided free bus passes to schoolchildren, and decided to give free textbooks to the pupils of first standard to tenth standard in government schools and bicycles to girls belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Most Backward Classes and Denotified Tribes and studying in plus two classes.

Interviews with voters revealed that what won their appreciation was the AIADMK government’s crackdown on the illicit liquor trade, ban on the sale of lottery tickets, ban on usurious interest charged by moneylenders, and the takeover of the sale of Indian Made Foreign Liquor and the quarrying of sand from river-beds.

Karunanidhi’s campaign was more generalised. He portrayed the elections as a battle between democracy and dictatorship. He specified some issues, though. He said it was the DMK candidate Kumar’s father, Murugesan, who solved Kancheepuram town’s drinking water problem when he (Murugesan) was the DMK member of the Assembly from 1989 to 1991. It was he who got two bridges built across the Palar river in the constituency for Rs.40 crores, he claimed. The DMK president alleged that the present AIADMK government had taken no action to sell the silk textiles lying in cooperatives.

In his campaign, Chidambaram specified how the Centre had distributed farm loans amounting to Rs.9,378 crores in Tamil Nadu alone. It had disbursed relief worth Rs.5,018 crores to the tsunami victims in Tamil Nadu. Chidambaram said he was sure that "Tamil Nadu voters have not been swayed by saris, dhotis and silver anklets." PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss called the AIADMK government’s ban on fresh recruitment in government anti-people. He alleged that there were 2.5 lakh government jobs vacant in the State. About 40 per cent of the teachers’ posts were vacant, the PMK leader said. MDMK leader Vaiko also campaigned hard for the DMK candidates.

What effect will these results have on the unity of the DPA? Will the AIADMK’s victories fracture the unity among the seven parties? Will these parties rethink their strategy to take on the AIADMK in the May 2006 Assembly elections? The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced that it will go it alone for the 2006 Assembly polls.

A seasoned political analyst said, "The BJP’s decision is a sensible one because it wants to occupy the space created by people’s disillusionment with the two Dravidian parties (the DMK and the AIADMK)." Conversations with voters revealed that people in Tamil Nadu are looking for an alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK. Will there be a new front sans the DMK and the AIADMK to provide such an alternative?

See online : Frontline


Volume 22 - Issue 11, May 21 - Jun. 03, 2005

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