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A Didi, Amma show all the way

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on January 20, 2018

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Portraying themselves as being victimised by the opposition paid off handsomely

Both have a lot in common. They are unquestioned leaders of the parties they head and brook no dissent. They are imperious, aggressive, combative, though for their followers and admirers, they are decisive.

And both have romped home in style — J Jayalalithaa leading her AIADMK to a historic win, albeit with fewer seats in the Assembly, beating a divided opposition. And, Mamata Banerjee crushing an unlikely alliance of two parties that were at each other’s throats till yesterday and ending up with a higher number of seats in West Bengal to the chagrin of pollsters.

Yet, the differences between the two cannot be starker. Mamata, clad in a cotton sari and rubber slippers, gives an appearance of being very much a commoner, and walks out to meet her supporters and the media as the results are trickling in. Jayalalithaa resides in Chennai’s tony Poes Garden area in her fortified home and most often completely inaccessible. Indeed, today, even as the results were coming out and it was clear that she would return to power, Jayalalithaa only read out a statement to television cameramen.

Her main rival, the DMK, campaigned against her inaccessibility but could not manage a decisive swing away.

For Jayalalithaa and Mamata, at stake was their reputation. Both made it clear to the people that they were voting for them, personally. Jayalalithaa tied up with a handful of smaller parties, but insisted that all of them contested under the AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, while Banerjee openly told voters that she was the candidate in all the 294 constituencies in the State.

Both sought voters’ mindspace portraying themselves as victims wronged by the opposition, the media and everybody else. They also wooed them banking on the numerous welfare schemes they had introduced over the past five years in power.

Even their campaigning was starkly different. Jayalalithaa’s was an air-drop campaign, addressing meetings in all the districts, introducing the candidates and seeking the voters’ stamp of approval for the welfare schemes she had introduced. Besides her schemes for different sections of society, the campaign focussed on her upholding of the rule of law against the anti-social elements under the DMK government, and the end to dominance by one family — a reference to the stranglehold DMK President M Karunanidhi’s family has over the party and its affairs.

In contrast, Banerjee was very much the street fighter, ready to take on her enemies, real and imagined, and telling the voters that it was her versus the rest. After the thumping victory, she addressed the media and said it was a win for the common people.

For Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress, the alliance between the Congress (I) and Left parties, once sworn enemies, came in handy to beat the Opposition with. It helped her identify a common enemy, who was ready to sacrifice all principles for the sake of power. Her thrust was on the development that had taken place in the State, especially in the rural areas, with a promise that industrialisation of West Bengal will happen.

The results in the two States can be interpreted in many ways: A vote for continuity, that anti-incumbency can be fought (in Tamil Nadu) and that once a party loses power, it takes a while for it to come back (West Bengal).

Published on May 20, 2016

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