August 04, 2020
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And Now, The Party Is Over

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And Now, The Party Is Over
IT was nothing less than suicidal for the Congress to have aligned with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Except for Intelligence Bureau reports which predicted a positive swing for Jayalalitha, it was clear to most political pundits that the AIADMK was not a winning proposition. However, no one was quite prepared for the total rout of the party, which has been reduced to three seats in the 233-member state assembly. As for its ally the Congress, it has for the first time after Independence, been left without a presence in the Tamil Nadu assembly, having failed to win even a single seat. All the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state too have gone to the rival DMK-TMC combine.

For both the AIADMK and the Congress, it has been a humiliating defeat. Jayalalitha was defeated in Bargur, a constituency she had nursed with much care over the last five years. Her entire Cabinet faced the same fate at the hustings. As for the Congress, its PCC president, Kumari Anandan, will go down as the first party chief to have lost his deposit in Tamil Nadu. All Congressmen who did not switch loyalties to the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) have been defeated. The anti-Jayalalitha wave that wiped them out has been a little more than brutal. 

Jayalalitha, who has been avoiding party leaders and the press after she tendered her resignation as chief minister on May 9, has now blamed the ignominious defeat on large-scale 'rigging' by her rivals. This is a charge that does not hold much water since the state machinery, including the police, was with her since she was still in power. Kumari Anandan, more sensibly, attributes the rout to the Rajnikant factor which he feels finally tilted the scales. Till the superstar spelt out his support for the DMK-TMC combine there was still hope—at least in Anandan's reading.

However, the writing on the wall was obvious within the first few days of campaigning. Angry crowds turned up for AIADMK roadshows and even Jayalalitha, whose charisma had never failed her since 1991, discovered that she was no longer a crowdpuller. Her Cabinet ministers found they were being prevented from campaigning in many villages and towns. The AIADMK was a party on a losing wicket and its little brother, the Congress, was never in the reckoning.

To add to the discomfiture of the party was the stepmotherly treatment meted out to it by the AIADMK. Some Congress hopefuls like Mani Shankar Aiyar who was never in the good books of the AIADMK supremo was subjected to much humiliation. Jayalalitha's tacit advice to her cadre was to give preference to the AIADMK campaign and not to extend any support to help the Congress candidate win. Even before the last leg of campaigning, Congressmen in the fray were seen as stooges of the AIADMK.

The DMK-TMC campaign against AIADMK corruption worked. The DMK hand was no doubt strengthened by its tie-up with the TMC and finally Rajnikant's entry made the total rout of Jayalalitha and her allies possible. The superstar is a much relieved and happy man at the outcome of the polls. "God has saved Tamil Nadu. A fitting reply to the most unholiest of alliances in Independent India. I thank God for blessing the DMK-TMC combine," the last-minute campaigner declared.

In addition to the Rajni factor was the manner in which Karunanidhi kept his cadre together despite his rout in the 1991 elections when the DMK could win only a single seat to the assembly. With the help of the low profile but astute general secretary, K. Anbazhagan, he geared his party for the elections and survived the exit of V.Gopalsamy and the formation of the MDMK without any telling damage to the DMK .

The anti-Jayalalitha wave in Tamil Nadu was also felt in neighbouring Pondicherry. The ruling Congress-AIADMK lost to the DMK-TMC combine. The results, however, were not as remarkable as in Tamil Nadu. But the DMK which had zero representation won seven seats. The DMK-TMC alliance won in 15 of the 30 assembly constituencies while its rival combine could manage only 12 seats. The Janata Dal, PMK and Independents won a seat each. The DMK-TMC combine hopes to rope in an Independent to maintain a majority in the House.

No sooner were results announced in Tamil Nadu than the entire state wore a festive air. People seemed to be in a carnival mood. Sweets were distributed at street corners. In Poes Garden, the upper-class residential area in Madras where both Rajnikant and Jayalalitha live, youth with DMK-TMC flags cycled about freely. This was a high security area where access to the general public was denied, but now the security men are no longer there. 

Overnight Jayalalitha posters, banners and cut-outs disappeared. In government offices photographs and calendars bearing the outgoing chief minister's image were pulled down. Bureaucrats and police officials, who till recently were part of Jayalalitha's retinue, thought it time to switch loyalties and rushed with bouquets to DMK leader and the incumbent chief minister M. Karunanidhi's residence. Many of them were booed by the crowds outside the DMK leader's residence. Among those who faced the wrath of the DMK men was super cop Walter Dawaram who till recently was part of the inner circle of Jayalalitha. 

With Jayalalitha becoming elusive, a struggle for the takeover of the AIADMK has already begun. There is a move to oust her from the leadership of the party and S. Thirunakkarasu, the only AIADMK candidate to win with the most convincing margin, is staking his claim. Whether his efforts will succeed is too early to tell but whoever has the reins of the AIADMK will have to rebuild the party from scratch. There is also talk within the party that Jayalalitha will have to keep her confidante Sasikala Natarajan out of party affairs if she is to be accepted as the leader. Rebellion is in the air and this is what is preventing Jayalalitha from shifting to her farm on the outskirts of Hyderabad, say sources.

There are other areas of concern. The cases of corruption against Jayalalitha are likely to be revived. Already, the Enforcement Directorate has sent a notice to Sasikala in cases involving FERA violations. There is also talk that the cases against the nephews of Sasikala will once again be looked into. The DMK has been consistent in its stand that it will not go on a witch hunt but will certainly not spare the courrupt elements in the AIADMK. The new chief minister has promised that the investigations will be handed over to central agencies so that his government won't be accused of bias.

As for the Congress, there are many lessons to be learnt from its debacle in Tamil Nadu. For one, the party high command should repose more faith in the judgement of its state unit which perhaps is far more aware of the political pulse than the Intelligence Bureau. 

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