Tamil Nadu lessons for Dravidian parties
by B R Haran on 18 May 2011 5 Comments

There are some important lessons to be learnt by political parties from this decisive verdict given by the people of Tamil Nadu.


‘No’ to freebies


The people have clearly conveyed the message that freebies do not matter much and what actually matters is good governance. Though giving “freebies” is an old electoral practice, Mr Karunanidhi surpassed imagination in the 2006 assembly elections, making a mockery of the electoral process. Despite promising to throw taxpayers’ hard earned money as if it was his own, on freebies, in the name of welfare schemes, he couldn’t manage a convincing victory. For five years he was at the mercy of the Congress while Jayalalithaa kept on taunting him by repeatedly calling his government a “minority” government.


Refusing to understand the psyche of the people, the DMK government assumed it could retain power with mere freebies and failed to focus on actual development of the state. The myth that people fall for freebies, created by Karuna, forced other parties to include such promises in their manifestoes. Frustrated Jayalalithaa, in her anxiety to get back to power, not only made a copycat manifesto as far as freebies are concerned, but went beyond, promising almost everything under the sun as freebies. 


But had freebies been a consideration, people would have voted for Karuna, as he has a better record of implementing such schemes than Jaya, and people knew that her manifesto was only a copycat of Karuna’s, and that she might not fulfill many promises, citing “bankruptcy” caused by Karuna’s misgovernance.


‘No’ to bribes


Like freebies, the practice of “bribing” is also old. It was started by the AIADMK when it presented a large section of women voters a “Gold Nose-Ring” hidden inside a ‘Laddu’, during assembly elections a decade ago. This was made universal for the entire electorate by the DMK, starting with the Thirumangalam by-election in January 2009 and applying the “Thirumangalam Formula” during subsequent by-elections. Bribing the electorate in a single constituency by misusing the official machinery is certainly easier for a ruling party. So, DMK went on winning all by-elections applying the same formula of bribing voters.


Here again DMK failed to realize the psyche of the people and assumed that the people have become corrupt. During all by-elections and the 2009 general elections, a pliable Congress loyalist was at the helm of affairs in the Election Commission, which made the job easier for the DMK. Though the Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu at that time was a straightforward and upright officer, he was helpless at the CEC diktat.


Meanwhile, shamed by widespread media reports, people decided to change the perception that they sell their votes. Unaware, DMK faced the electorate with a lot of money despite strict vigil by the Election Commission under a new CEC. It is not that AIADMK has not given money, but DMK was brazen in insulting the people, making a mockery of democracy. A silent revolution unfolded and as a result, the voters conveyed they would not tolerate politicians treating them as purchasable commodities. They accepted the bribes and voted against the DMK! Hereafter parties will think twice before giving money for votes.


‘No’ to family politics and nepotism


‘Family’ politics was the most important reason why people sent Jayalalithaa home twice in the last 15 years. People couldn’t tolerate the machinations of Jayalalithaa’s “adopted” family, which earned the title “Mannargudi Mafia” for its Machiavellian activities, and voted overwhelmingly against her in 1996 assembly elections. The same thing happened in 2006, as Jayalalithaa refused to learn from her 1996 defeat.


Karunanidhi too failed to learn from Jayalalithaa’s defeats, as evidenced by the ugly exhibition of his own families acting octopus-like, trying to swallow the entire state. Karuna’s sons, grandsons, daughters, granddaughters, grandnephews, et al, laid hands on almost every industry, particularly Cinema, Television, Media and Real Estate, which the people found intolerable. The families of other ministers and even district level functionaries behaved as if their respective areas of functioning were personal fiefdoms.


The brazen interference of the families in every aspect of governance angered the people as they watched the ruling families thriving in wealth and acquisitions while they suffered due to price rise, power cuts, soaring crimes, and what not. The people vented their anger at the practitioners of family politics and nepotism.


‘No’ to caste 


The people also stayed away from caste politics, rejecting caste outfits. Dr. Ramadoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) was the political nomenclature of the erstwhile “Vanniyar Sangam”, an outfit started to protect the interests of the Vanniyar community. Similarly, Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) is an exclusive Dalit Party. Both evolved into substantial forces in the last 15 years, but this time their own community people realized that the leaders use them for self interest and do not protect the community’s interests. The writing was on the wall for both during the 2009 general elections, but they failed to see it and finally had their funeral in the just concluded assembly elections. VCK lost all 10 seats it contested and PMK could win only 3 out of the 30 contested.


Dr. Ramadoss and Thirumavalavan were role models for other caste leaders who started similar community outfits. Akila Inthiya Moovendar Munnani (AIMM for Devar community), Puthiya Thamizhagam (PT for Dalits), Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam (MMK for Devar community), Kongu Munnetra Kazhagam (KMK for Gounder community) Samathuva Makkal Katchi (SMK for Nadars), Perunthalaivar Makkal Katchi (for Nadars) and Puthiya Neethi Katchi (PNK for Mudaliar community), etc., followed suit. Initially they mobilized considerable crowds as a show of strength in order to bargain for more seats with the two major Dravidian parties; the election results prove that the people have outright rejected them.


Vanniyars have not voted for PMK; Dalits have rejected VCK; Gounders have sent KMK packing. KMK, which took 7 seats from Karunanidhi, drew a blank, and same was the case with the other two ‘Devar’ and ‘Nadar’ parties in the DMK alliance who lost the only seat they each contested. Even in ADMK’s alliance, the ‘Devar’ party didn’t win the seat it contested despite a wave against DMK, while the SMK and PT won their seats due to more votes from outside their communities. Other caste outfits which contested on their own lost their deposits. So, the people rejected the caste factor for public interest.


‘No’ to corruption


Corruption is the most important factor which made people vote decisively against the DMK in this election. Ever since the DMK captured power in the state in 1967, people have been seeing the metamorphosis of the state from clean to corrupt. Both the Dravidian parties have been competing with each other in the aspect of corruption in governance and people have been punishing both alternatively.


Due to the various loopholes in the law and sometimes with the help of a pliable judiciary, these politicians escaped punishment, which emboldened them to indulge in more corruption. Because of their influence, the Executive also became corrupt, and in due course, a major section of judiciary turned corrupt.


Karunanidhi had the brains to indulge in corruption without leaving evidence, which drew the adage “Scientific Corruption” from Justice Sarkaria. Jayalalithaa was a bit naïve during her first term and did not know the “art” of scientific corruption; the people sent her packing. Since then she has been climbing the steps of one court or the other for one case or the other. Though she could get herself cleared in almost all cases either by hook or crook, she is still facing the ‘Disproportionate Assets’ case, which may or may not cause her downfall again.


The way she allowed her adopted family to interfere in governance during the second term showed her adamancy not to learn her lessons; certain other heinous acts she committed showed her arrogance.


The last five years are scandalously significant in the history of Tamil Nadu. The Chief Minister made the unprecedented act of going to the Capital along with his family, to negotiate for plump portfolios for his party MPs in general, and family members in particular. Through the two main projects, namely the Sethusamudram Project, and Spectrum Allotment, the DMK ministers not only caused heavy loss to the exchequer, but also made a lot of money. While Karuna managed to suppress the Sethu loot from coming into the open, he couldn’t do the same with spectrum loot as the scam was too enormous.


The people clearly correlated the brazen exhibition of Karuna and his families with the corruption at the state and central levels and understood the enormity of the loot of public money. If “Sethu” turned out to be Karuna’s nemesis, “Spectrum” proved to be his political death knell.




Leaders like Rajaji, Kamaraj and Kakkan were clean and honest politicians always thinking about the welfare of the state. They never attempted to ‘thrive’ by making politics a business to increase their wealth. They never faced court cases or went to jail for wrong reasons.


But Karunanidhi, who has been in politics since those times, started it as a business and developed it into a family business, amassing wealth. People did punish him every now and then by throwing him out of power, but he refused to learn his lessons. Now, at the fag end of his career, he has been awarded a humiliating defeat; he will have to face a long drawn battle in the court of law for all his misdemeanors. He may even see his own party and family disintegrating in front of his eyes. Tomorrow he will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, unlike Rajaji or Kamaraj or Kakkan.


Coming to Jayalalithaa, it will clear only in course of time whether she has learnt any lessons in the last five years. At a time when political pundits doubted her comeback, and as Karuna’s theatre of arrogance and absurdity went beyond tolerance, people have given her another opportunity, not wantonly, but due to the lack of a credible third alternative. Now it is up to her to deliver. Being an experienced politician, will she retrospect her career and mend her ways?


Will she realize her past mistakes and change her approach and attitude? Will she understand that it was her ‘adopted’ family which caused her debacles twice earlier and keep them at a distance? Will she realize that she could comeback only because of an anti-DMK wave and due to the lack of a credible third alternative? Will she realize that people of Tamil Nadu will not hesitate to punish her if she refuses to learn her lessons?


A tall order indeed!


The author is a senior journalist

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