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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Decoding Jayalalithaa’s historic win


Anjalatchi works in the salt pans of Marakkanam in Villupuram district. She gets Rs 150 as daily wages. “We are poor as we did not get formal education. But, we want our children to be educated. My child could drop out of school if I cannot afford to buy a new set of uniforms for her. No longer do I have any such fear.” The reason: the Jayalalithaa government’s scheme of providing four sets of school uniforms, text books note books, other educational kits and footwear, all of which would be worth Rs. 3,000. Each school student in government or government aided school is covered under this scheme every year. This has helped reducing the drop out rate of students.

“No other chief minister has done this” Anjalatchi goes on, elaborating. This salt pan worker is one of many such persons I came across during my survey of people across Tamil Nadu during the second week of April 2016 to understand the possible voting behaviour of people and the likely verdict of the May 16 Assembly polls. This partly explains the AIADMK’s hold over the rural electorate across Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK has swept the rural districts of Theni, Erode, Ariyalur and Perambalur. The hold is near total in the rural districts of Salem, Madurai, Nagapattinam, Namakkal and Thoothukudi.

“She has been doing good; Given another chance, she would do more good for the public,” said Meharunnisa, a senior citizen in Cumbum, getting a monthly pension of Rs. 1,000 since 2011. The AIADMK wrested Cumbum this time from the DMK.
When I visited villages along the Cauvery river in Tiruchi district, I could see the impact of the free cattle scheme of the AIADMK regime. “I am a poor woman. When I got the free milch cow from the government, my status in the village went up” said Ammasi in Arasangudi village, indicating how economically empowered she has now become. Such accounts of woman -only households getting empowered are not in isolation as I discovered during my journeys across the state. These poor people live far beyond the media-
managed perceptions of “an arrogant” and “autocratic” Jayalalithaa.

After I published the survey results in the digital news outlet (ippodhu.com) I manage, those who are close to the DMK treasurer M.K.Stalin wanted to know whether I was telling “the truth.” I explained in detail what I witnessed as the “near total support of rural Tamil Nadu” for Jayalalithaa. I also told them that “The ‘DMK’ villages have converted themselves into AIADMK villages. ‘Communist’ villages are now ‘Amma’ villages.” I learnt subsequently that the DMK functionaries took my feedback seriously and tried to reach out to the rural electorate in Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Tirunelveli.

The voters, when asked about the Vijayakanth-People’s Welfare Front combine, were not really impressed. “When Amma is doing all the welfare programmes, why are they (PWF) asking for change?” remarked Malarkodi, a working woman in Tiruchi. Many voters like Malarkodi felt that the going was good and hence a change was not required. The DMK-Congress combine or the DMDK-PWF combine could not convince the voters with a “compulsive reason” for regime change. Many people told me that their choices were based on the perception of who would deliver welfare schemes better in the next five years; “The DMK has been very good to the government staff but not necessarily to the poor” said Kuttaiyan from Mudukkupatti village in Tiruchi district.

Women in villages told me that Jayalalithaa had been undertaking several measures for poor women. The provision of four gram gold for thali (mangalsutra) was one such measure, they explained. The fact that the AIADMK regime could touch the lives of lakhs of women across the state is one reason why women outnumbered men by nearly four lakhs on the day of polling. Many pre-poll surveys excluded women and found that the DMK was winning; a popular vernacular daily even claimed that the women were not speaking to their enumerators and could reach only around thirty per cent women in their survey sample.

In Chennai, the scenario has been a little different from the rest of the state; “When the floods affected Teynampet, the DMK cadre came to us with bed sheets, candles and food. The AIADMK councilors had just disappeared,” said Kasturi, who works as a sanitary worker in downtown T.Nagar. Also, the electorate in Chennai have apparently been affected by the findings of poll surveys which generally favored the DMK and social media where the AIADMK has been quite weak. The most active political forces on social media were Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) of Seeman, the DMK and the PWF.

As my survey pointed out a month prior to the polls, it was the rural poor, especially women, who reposed faith in Jayalalithaa and wanted her to continue as Chief Minister of the state. More than the party machinery which is prone to internal feuds at the end of a five-year tenure, it was this section of the electorate that Jayalalithaa depended upon. AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa reiterated her commitment to being pro-poor in two of her last public rallies ahead of the crucial elections. This is particularly important in the rhetoric-filled Dravidian political landscape. While her rival M.K.Stalin’s public discourses revolved around the idea of the DMK being pro-business, Jayalalithaa made noises about being pro-industry only in her Coimbatore public rally. Though Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanised states (54 per cent), the rural masses can still call the shots like elsewhere in “Bharat.”

(Jayalalithaa became the first chief minister after M.G.Ramachandran in 1984 to get elected for two consecutive terms in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu)

(Peer Mohamed is the Founding Editor of ippodhu.com, a digital news outlet in Tamil)

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