Several months ago, the AIADMK announced that the next prime minister of the country would be from Tamil Nadu. It was clear they meant that the chief minister and AIADMK leader, J. Jayalalithaa, was going to be that leader. The state erupted in a flurry of posters and flex boards, extolling her virtues and saying how Parliament was waiting to be graced by her footsteps.
One doesn’t know whether the enigmatic Jayalalithaa approves of exuberant displays of sycophancy. One assumes she is letting her cadre dream the dream to keep them motivated. Months ahead of other party leaders, she had also announced her Lok Sabha plans — her party would contest alone and capture all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu.
There was a brief period for which it appeared that the CPI and CPM would be her allies and help out if a Third Front emerged. But with the collapse of the Third Front, their short-lived association came to an end. Now the Left parties are contesting alone.
Much has happened since Jayalalithaa made her prime ministerial ambitions known. For the first time in many decades, there is a five-cornered fight in Tamil Nadu — if one includes the fledgling AAP in the count. Vijayakanth, who heads the DMDK and is also known as Captain, was being courted by the DMK, Congress and BJP. He finally threw in his lot with the BJP. Though he didn’t win any seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, he managed to get a 10.3 per cent vote share. It is this magical number that makes him attractive to everybody.
The BJP, which has always needed to hang on to the coat tails of one of the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu, has now cobbled together a “rainbow coalition” with the DMDK, PMK, MDMK and some other smaller regional parties.
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This is what Jayalalithaa would have wanted. A DMK, DMDK, PMK and Congress alliance would have been formidable. But the DMK didn’t want to partner with the Congress, and Vijayakanth chose the BJP. Tamil Nadu will now witness a five-cornered contest.
But several recent surveys predict that the AIADMK may get only 20-25 seats. Closer to the elections, these numbers are predicted to drop further. In her campaign speeches, Jayalalithaa has no longer been asserting that the next PM will come from Tamil Nadu. Instead, she is now emphasising that regardless of who wins, they will need her support to form government, and this will enable her to bargain for benefits for Tamil Nadu.
There are several reasons for the perception of the AIADMK’s dwindling numbers. Barring a few exceptions, Jayalalithaa has chosen completely unknown candidates, whom even her party members are unfamiliar with. There are stories about infighting and anonymous letters doing the rounds, which provide fodder for opponents.
There is also some anti-incumbent sentiment, although, unlike the last time Jayalalithaa was CM, no major issue that could force the AIADMK out of power has erupted yet. One of the major problems Jayalalithaa might face is the power crisis, which has been around since the DMK’s time. The government has had to resort to major power cuts once again. The western districts, traditionally an AIADMK stronghold, are the worst off. Many small industries and shops have had to shut down.
Though Jayalalithaa does not mention the BJP or Narendra Modi in her speeches, she is thought to be Modi’s friend, who will back him after the elections. This feeling is expected to take the minority vote away from her. Four small Muslim outfits and the Dalit party, VCK, are going with the DMK. The DMK is a cadre-based party and its members have been against an alliance with the Congress for a long time. They seem quite charged up this time because they don’t have to campaign for Congress candidates.
Corruption does not seem to excite anybody at the moment. If Jayalalithaa goes on about the UPA and DMK’s misdeeds, the latter two use her ongoing disproportionate assets case to criticise her. The DMK papers cover the trial with great enthusiasm, while the mainstream media largely ignores it.
But one cannot underestimate Jayalalithaa. She was the first to name her candidates, issue her manifesto and start campaigning. As always, she draws huge crowds. She is known for her intelligence and quick grasp of facts and figures. She has also made sure that all the benefits and freebies announced reach the intended recipients. Freebies do not necessarily help win an election. In spite of distributing free TVs, the DMK got trounced in the assembly polls. Most importantly, Jayalalithaa is the undisputed leader of her party. AIADMK leaders never speak in different voices.
Jayalalithaa is unpredictable and can easily pull off the unexpected. It will be worthwhile to remember that during the assembly elections three years ago, polls predicted Jayalalithaa might win with a small margin. Instead, she simply swept the elections.