His Majesty's Views

Pendulum swings again in TN

Many people have been expecting a change of guard at Fort St. George, as recent history has formed a pattern of change of guard every five years in the state. It is not as if the state has a very long history of such pendulum swings. The AIADMK government of Jayalalithaa, which ruled from 1991 to 1996, was voted out in 1996 amidst the ostentation of the wedding of her foster son.

The following DMK government of 1996 to 2001 was again voted out and Jayalalithaa returned to power. After her term, the DMK came back in 2006 but with only a majority in alliance and the party on its own was in a minority.

Before 1996, such changes were not witnessed in Tamil Nadu. After the Congress rule was ended in 1967, the DMK had two terms before Karunanidi’s government was dismissed during Emergency.

M G Ramachandran formed the AIADMK government in 1977 after he founded the party, splitting from the DMK. He remained in power till his death in 1987. The 1989 elections were won by the DMK but there was no opposing AIADMK with Two Leaves symbol. Hence, the theory of change of guard cannot be applied to the elections before 1991.

Another important aspect of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections verdict is the decisive mandate given to the winning parties. The party in power had enjoyed a comfortable working majority all along. The 2006 election was different in that it returned the DMK alliance to power but the DMK formed a government on its own with a minority status and was supported by its allies from outside. This has come about due to the alliance politics which the state has been witnessing for sometime.

Given this background, many had predicted a close, neck and neck fight between the two alliances and a good number of exit polls/post-poll surveys had predicted a close finish. This was contrary to the normal trend of electoral results in Tamil Nadu and one hoped that the state would get a firm and stable government.

The mandate of the people came loud and clear with the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK alliance sweeping the polls with 203 seats in the 234-member Assembly. This had surpassed even the more optimistic estimates given in favour of the alliance.

How does one look at the results? Let us start with the 2006 election results as the base. The big difference between 2006 and 2011 elections is the Vijayakanth factor. Vijayakanth’s DMDK had contested the elections on its own in 2006 but was aligned with the AIADMK in the current one. The DMDK had polled 8 to 9 per cent votes in the last elections and this has significantly impacted the electoral outcome.

In fact, the margin of victory in around 80 seats was less than the votes polled by the DMDK in that election. If the DMDK had not contested alone and aligned with one of the parties, the results would have been far different. Factoring this difference itself would mean a big swing in favour of the AIADMK-led alliance from the DMK-led alliance and normally the tables would have been turned. This should have given a comfortable majority to the AIADMK alliance.

Normally, one has to reckon with the anti-incumbency factor. In 2006, it should have been negative for the AIADMK, whereas in 2011 it should be positive to the AIADMK. This should mean an additional swing in favour of the AIADMK and more seats to the alliance. Vijaykanth plus anti-incumbency should have fetched at least 150 to 170 seats-plus to the AIADMK alliance.

The 2011 elections were fought in the backdrop of the 2G spectrum allocation scandal and allegations of nepotism/family rule indulged in by the DMK. The extent to which this adversely affected the DMK is measurable by the additional seats won by the AIADMK alliance after discounting the Vijayakanth impact.

If one were to assume that its alliance partners were able to transfer their votes to each other without dent, then one could conclude that at least 40 seats change hands due to the anti-incumbency factor and the negative fallout of the allegations against the DMK rule.

Of course, there have been a few changes in the alliance formation between the previous and this election such as the MDMK staying out of the fray but these have been ignored in these gross conclusions. The alliance differences would impact both the fronts and, perhaps, would have compensated.

Also, one needs to look at the impact of the bickerings between the DMK and the Congress over the allocation and constituency identification before the elections. The fact that the Congress had faired so badly signals to us the adverse impact on account of this. It is also a moot point whether the two cadres worked together in synchronisation after the skirmishes. Factionalism in Congress is nothing new, and, hence, cannot be a factor that would have altered its course significantly.

The electorate of Tamil Nadu had once again given a decisive verdict – for a change of government. Proving many an analyst wrong, the public have stood by their tradition of clear and loud and decisive opinion on who they repose faith for the next government.

Psephologists have often said Tamil Nadu is their graveyard and once again this has been proved. Though the change of government has taken place and the pattern continues as in the last few elections in the post-M G Ramachandran era, the 2011 elections cannot be dismissed as one of history repeating itself.

Two factors are very significant – one, the politics of alliances and arithmetic, and, two, the impact of corruption/nepotism. For a long time, it was said the party that allies with the Congress has the numbers and that was true in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The decline of Congress nationally would have its reverberations and this election proves that it is more important to have the numbers with an emerging political force such as the DMDK.

The aspect of corruption/nepotism has again taken centrestage in Tamil Nadu through this election. After the Sarkaria Commission fallout, in the post-Emergency scenario in Tamil Nadu, this is the first election where corruption had occupied a major place. One cannot ignore the impact of price rise on the electoral verdict, but then that always goes with the anti-incumbency factor every time.

In summary, 2011 marks a significant landmark in the Tamil Nadu polity and what this forebodes for the 2014 parliamentary elections remains to be seen in the coming days.

May 19, 2011
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