A divided opposition and the steadfast loyalty of her core support base seem to have powered AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa’s victory, giving her a historic second consecutive term as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. A Lokniti-CSDS survey for this newspaper reveals that her win was despite a significant rise in the number of people dissatisfied with the performance of the government over the last two years. With the difference of vote share between the winner and the loser a mere three per cent, the 10 percentage point gain the AIADMK had over the DMK with regard to support among women may have tilted the scale in Jayalalithaa’s favour. Women respond positively to welfare measures, especially those aimed at children, and steps aimed at curbing alcoholism. Not surprisingly, the first few decisions Jayalalithaa took after being sworn in on Monday were aimed at this constituency. She expanded the welfare net to include breakfast for children in government schools and closed down 500 liquor shops in the state. She also wrote off farmer loans in a bid to address agrarian distress in the state.
These steps are in line with the AIADMK manifesto, but the economic costs of these decisions would put a further strain on the state’s finances. Though Tamil Nadu runs a large revenue deficit, its finances are in better shape than most other big states in the country because of the early strides in industrialisation the state made in the first few decades after independence. However, the last few years have seen a slowdown in industrial expansion. Besides, regional imbalances in the industrial sector and the impact it has had on the environment have now come to the fore. Industry in Tamil Nadu continues to be concentrated around Chennai and the western region, which has triggered large internal migration, especially from the southern districts. Power scarcity and industrial slowdown have scarred the state’s manufacturing landscape which is dotted with small and medium-sized enterprises. More and better-paying jobs could help Jayalalithaa address the social tensions exacerbated by the crisis in farming and manufacturing.
Jayalalithaa’s previous governments did well to protect the state’s forests and curb unregulated mining. It now needs to go beyond mere reactive action and work out an environmental policy with the focus on reviving the state’s rivers and waterbodies, most of which are dead or dying. This should augment steps to repair and expand the irrigation infrastructure in the state. The best of plans to revive industry and create jobs will fail if water continues to be scarce.