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Alliance effect, swing factor propelled DPA victory

CSDS team with G. Koteshwar Prasad

The election results in Tamil Nadu have confirmed the reading that the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) — a grand alliance of the DMK, the Congress, the communist parties, the PMK, the MDMK, and the Muslim League — was the most formidable alliance the State has seen in recent times.

Going by the preferences expressed by the voters during the post-poll survey in 2001, the DMK led alliance controls the loyalty of about 52 per cent while the AIADMK-BJP combine accounts for 37 per cent. The final outcome in the Lok Sabha elections showed an outcome bigger than that.

Although the credit for starting alliance politics goes to Jayalalithaa, this time DMK leader Karunanidhi proved to be one up in this game. The alliance he cobbled together became an unbeatable one. The DPA alliance polled 57.4 per cent votes, whereas the rival AIADMK-BJP alliance could only secure a meagre 34.8 per cent of the vote.

The massive lead of 23 percentage points wiped out the possibility of any representation for the NDA in the Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu. When the election process began it was felt that Tamil Nadu will hold the key to government at the Centre after the elections, and indeed it did by blotting out the NDA and giving all seats to the DPA.

Tamil Nadu once again reverted to the familiar pattern of electoral waves, where one of the two Dravidian parties, in alliance with the Congress, takes all or nearly all the seats in an election. More than any thing else, it is the alliance arithmetic that explains the verdict in Tamil Nadu.

The social support the DPA enjoyed by virtue of the alliance was truly enormous. The survey data shows that the DPA alliance polled more than 50 per cent votes among all social groups, except two: the upper castes and the Dalits.

The NDA alliance had the edge among upper castes, the NDA, DPA and others, including the third front, shared the Dalit vote. The two major Dalit political organisations, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and Puthiya Tamilagam (PT), failed to get into the DPA. Mr. Karunanidhi's refusal to accommodate the Dalit leaders caused heartburn among the Dalits but did not affect the result. The PMK partnership successfully shifted the Vanniyar vote towards the DPA. The DPA this time could take away the Thevar vote too, which had been largely with the AIADMK in the south. Muslims also seem to have voted for the DPA en bloc.

As it happens in any wave election, the DPA polled a significantly higher proportion of votes in both rural and urban areas, but more in the urban areas. The DPA lead cuts across all age groups. Although the DPA leads the rival alliance among all classes, the support is greater among the poor and lower middle classes. The AIADMK has managed to cut down the DPAs's massive lead to a single digit among the very poor. This legacy of the MGR days is also reflected in the relatively better showing of the AIADMK among women voters.

Yet the margin of the DPA's victory suggests that we are not dealing with the alliance effect only. Assuming that the DPA enjoyed a 15-point lead over the NDA by virtue of alliance arithmetic alone, we still have to account for another 8 percentage point gap between the two alliances. This is clearly a swing effect due to the unpopularity of the Jayalalithaa regime. During her three-year rule Ms. Jayalalithaa has alienated more and more sections from her party and government. Her autocratic style of functioning, her dealing with the opposition leaders, the media and the striking government employees has not gone down well. Besides, the survey shows that more and more people have felt that their economic condition has deteriorated over the years.

The proportions tend to increase as one goes down the class hierarchy. More than one-third of the poor and half of the lower middle classes reported that their economic condition had worsened in the past five years.

Drought and water shortage — drinking as well as irrigation — in many parts of the State became important issues in the campaign. About 50 per cent of the voters felt that drinking water facilities had deteriorated; 62 per cent felt that the irrigation water supply had deteriorated. More important, 71 per cent saw a worsening of employment opportunities.

All this is directly linked to the popularity of the leader. One-third of the sampled respondents felt that Ms. Jayalalithaa as a leader was bad, while only 13 per cent felt that Mr. Karunanidhi was a bad leader. A majority of the respondents see Mr. Karunanidhi as good or very good leader, while the corresponding figure for Ms. Jayalalithaa is only 31 per cent. All this is bad news for the AIADMK.

The State government stands defeated and robbed of legitimacy mid-way through its term. While this may not have any implications for the longevity of the State government, given the comfortable majority for the AIADMK in the Assembly, it may affect long-term political realignments in the State. Mr. Karunanidhi has to think of ways to keep the DPA intact till the next Assembly elections in 2006, while Ms. Jayalalithaa has to start looking for new allies.

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