Both the opinion polls and the exit polls had predicted that J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK would get the major share of the 39 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu. But nobody saw her crushing her opponents so completely. She announced several months ago that her party would get all 39 seats in the state and it has got 37. She also decided to fight alone and broke with the Left parties which were allied with her in the assembly elections.
It has paid off. Traditional rival DMK has suffered the ignominy of winning no seats. As always, Tamil Nadu is different. People seem to like and respect Modi, but there has been no Modi wave.
Jayalalithaa has scored a record victory this time. Despite the fact that she has been Tamil Nadu chief minister for three years, there is no discernible anti-incumbency sentiment in the state. There have been allegations of money power being used in these polls and of the Election Commission being partisan. Even if true, it cannot account for this kind of a landslide win.
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Jayalalithaa got into election mode almost a year ago. She distributed freebies through panchayat presidents and ministers were not allowed to interfere. Every promised goat and cow was delivered to the target populations more than six months before the elections, when the EC clamps down on freebie distribution. Amma canteens and Amma water also caught people’s imagination. Jayalalithaa also cracked down on inner-party rivalries. She was the first to start campaigning and the only politician to visit every nook and corner of the state. She talked about governance, inclusive growth and the Tamil Nadu model.
In contrast, the DMK was in total disarray. M.K. Stalin’s leadership was opposed by his own brother and former Union minister, M.K. Alagiri. Alagiri had predicted that the DMK would be routed as the party was betting on the wrong candidates. And the heat and dust of the campaign trail seemed to prove too much for the aged patriarch, M. Karunanidhi. Giving tickets to tainted former ministers like A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran did not go down very well with voters either. The DMK now has a major image-building exercise on its hands. People everywhere are rejecting both dynastic rule and corruption.
The BJP’s rainbow alliance had starting trouble. “Captain” Vijayakanth’s DMDK, which was being courted by the DMK, the Congress and the BJP, finally joined the BJP coalition. It was given seven seats, none of which it could win. Captain’s brother-in-law, L.K. Sudhish, who calls the shots in the party, also lost. The party appears to be shrinking fast. It has already lost 22 members who contested in the parliamentary elections last time and polled over one lakh votes each. The other prominent member of the alliance, Vaiko, leader of the MDMK and a staunch supporter of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause and the LTTE, was widely expected to win this time. His defeat proves that sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils cannot be translated into votes.
The only two seats won by the opposition went to the BJP and the PMK (part of the BJP coalition). The BJP’s Pon Radhakrishnan won from Kanyakumari and the PMK’s Anbumani Ramdoss from Dharmapuri. Both these places are communally fraught. In Kanyakumari, the non-Hindu votes got split three ways. In Dharmapuri, still recovering from the Dalit-Vanniyar confrontation of 2012, there was major Vanniyar polarisation.
It was widely believed that the Muslim and Dalit vote would go to the DMK. But these votes were also split and neither of the Dalit parties in the DMK coalition won. People recall Jayalalithaa’s mentor M.G. Ramachandran, under whom these votes were always consolidated. Apart from these two constituencies, caste and community have hardly played a role in Tamil Nadu this time.
The Congress has been wiped out in the state. Its candidates have lost deposits in most seats. Will the state Congress launch a splinter party, as G.K. Moopanar did years ago? There is some talk of such a possibility. Will all the smaller parties that are in danger of losing their election symbols merge with the BJP? That may be the only way out for them.
Although Jayalalithaa and Modi mildly attacked each other towards the end of their campaigns, they have now congratulated each other. Jayalalithaa is likely to attend his swearing in. She is also the leader of the third-largest party in the Lok Sabha. But will that be enough for Jayalalithaa?