Originally Published 2010-07-15 00:00:00 Published on Jul 15, 2010
Given the existing alliance pattern involving the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu and its partnership in the Congress-led UPA coalition at the Centre, people's perception of issues like price rise could become a double-jeopardy for the alliance in any election.
Indifference to price rise can irk voters in Tamil Nadu
Independent of a host of welfare schemes that have caught the imagination of Tamil Nadu voters, the perceived indifference of the governments in the State and at the Centre could well irk the voters when Assembly elections are held in the State. It is not about what has been done, but what more needs to be done.

The ruling DMK seems to have taken it easy on the price front, owing to the ongoing schemes like subsidised rice, health insurance and ambulance schemes, all for the poor, and also the free cooking gas and free television. The rural poor in particular have a lot to benefit from the schemes, and for the first time after the late actor-politician M G Ramachandran broke away to form the AIADMK, the parent party could hope to rope in women voters in large numbers.

Yet, that necessarily may not be the case if the Governments of Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continue to give the impression that they are indifferent to the sky-rocketing prices of commodities, and keep scaling up petrol and diesel prices without any great consideration for the plight of the common man, particularly the salaried urban middle class. At the end of the day, these sections form the core of opinion-makers in the community and influence voting patters in a substantial way.

Post-reforms Tamil Nadu is alive to the global players and influences that mark price-rise and inflation, and the voters are thus ready to condone their rulers. Free television even to poor homes that could not afford the same earlier has taken the message as only the urban population and the rural elite used to be aware. Not any more. Today, the message needs to be supplemented, if not substituted, by information that their governments are totally helpless in the matter and are otherwise committed to doing their best.

Distracted Attention

There are reasons now for the voter to believe that the work of the government, particularly in the State, got distracted by two major non-developmental schemes that did not touch the people’s daily lives, otherwise. Price-rise and inflation did, instead. For over six months, if not more, the entire State machinery was hooked on to the construction and inauguration of the new Secretariat Complex in Chennai, and the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore. The local media even pushed out more juicy news and gossip about sibling-rivalry in the ruling party’s ‘First Family’ and the mass exodus of Opposition AIADMK leaders to the DMK, to play up the two events.

Personal projects of Chief Minister Karunanidhi, who was caught on with their successes, the Secretariat work and the Tamil conference were also seen as opportunities for him to divest greater responsibilities to Deputy Chief Minister M K Stalin and prepare him for a larger role in party and government. However, the end-game on both occasions saw not only the Chief Minister and the entire Government but also the Deputy Chief Minister focussing exclusively on the completion of the works on the two projects and also their successful completion.

This contrasts with the earlier years of the fifth Karunanidhi Government, when the official machinery acted like a well-oiled team to deliver welfare benefits to the identified sections without any let-up or complaints. This was unlike any earlier Karunanidhi innings as Chief Minister, when the Government machinery was wanting on the delivery front in matters of social welfare and developmental activities of the government. With Assembly polls due in May 2011 – and also the speculation that it could be advanced – the non-developmental priorities of the government has brought back to memory the importance that Chief Minister attached to the construction and inauguration of Tamil savant Thiruvalluar’s statue on a rock in the Kanyakumari seas, ahead of the Assembly polls in 2001. Once the focus of the Government shifted away from people-centric issues such as crashing prices of coconut and tea, and also perceptions of ‘poor money circulation’, the deed was done. The DMK-led alliance lost the polls after Karunanidhi had completed his first full five-year term as Chief Minister in four innings.

Double Jeopardy?

Given the existing alliance pattern involving the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu and its partnership in the Congress-led UPA coalition Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, people’s perception of issues like price rise could become a double-jeopardy for the alliance in any election. Already, there are those in the State Congress who would want the party to return to the AIADMK fold, but on the former’s terms or float a third front, with or without the DMDK of actor-politician Vijaykanth. Reports are that a section of the national leadership of the Congress may not also be averse to considering the possibility. However, with price-rise as an issue, it is anybody’s guess if any new electoral arrangement involving the Congress would at all be a boon for the other party or parties.

If someone thought that the vote-bank arithmetic would work in their favour if they formulated the right electoral alliance, they often forget that individual parties make their preferences known only after reading the voter/cadre mind. Elections in 2001 was a proof of the same when the now-defunct Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) of the late G K Moopanar and its parent Congress were forced to align with the Opposition AIADMK. Moopanar earlier had to walk out of the Congress after the Narasimha Rao leadership decided to stick with the ruling AIADMK for the 1996 twin-polls to the State Assembly and Parliament. The AIADMK-Congress alliance was mauled and AIADMK leader Jayalalitha, as Chief Minister, lost her own seat – only the third one in the State’s chequered political history.

Piqued by the forays that the DMK has been making in her traditional stronghold of western districts, Jayalalitha addressed a massive rally in Coimbatore this week. It was was aimed at offsetting the loss of second-line leaders from the region to the DMK in recent months and also to rubbish the crowds that gathered for the Classical Tamil Conference in the ‘Textile City’ only a month earlier. Jayalalitha’s insipid speech may not have impressed the common man as yet, but her presence still rejuvenated the demoralised voter, who had become clueless and rudderless in the interregnum. How far does Jayalalitha take up the upcoming electoral challenge in the coming months will determine the kind of allies that the AIADMK may attract for the Assembly polls.

Yet, having whipped up anti-government sentiments on people-centric issues like price-rise and inflation, it is anybody’s guess how she would be able to defend an alliance with the Congress, which is ruling at the Centre, if she were at all able to woo the party away from the DMK-led combine in the State. It is another matter as to what kind of message that any break-up with the existing electoral alliance with the DMK would send out to other electoral allies of the Congress at the national-level, particularly the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, where Assembly polls are due next year, and where party chief Mamata Banerjee would continue to call the shots in alliance politics!

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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