Rasheeda Bhagat

From gift box to ballot box

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on December 14, 2011

Promising liberation from the daily grind?

While charges of corruption and voter intimidation are being levelled against each other by the Dravidian parties, another worrying factor is that each party is outdoing the other in promising a string of unsustainable freebies.

You don't have to be a political pundit to predict that the April 13 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu will be one of the most closely contested and bitterly fought. Poll arithmetic gives a considerable edge to the DMK-led alliance, with traditionally strong allies such as the Congress and the PMK.

But Tamil Nadu's political history, at least in the last two decades where public patronage at the hustings has swayed with chilling regularity from one Dravidian party to the other, shows otherwise. The AIADMK won in 1991, followed by the DMK in 1996, and the cycle repeated in 2001 and 2006 respectively. Add to this the very strong anti-incumbency factor, what with the 2G spectrum scam and other corruption charges against the Karunanidhi family, and the floundering AIADMK alliance — which has on board ‘Captain' Vijaykanth's DMDK and the Left parties — quickly regaining its balance, and the trepidation in the DMK ranks seems justified.

Initially, when its alliance with the Congress was on the rocks, there was such a feeling of doom and gloom in the DMK camp as some of the party bigwigs thought that without the Congress the DMK-PMK alliance would get a severe drubbing at the polls.

Arm-twisting by Congress

That is why the initial bravado displayed by DMK chief M. Karunanidhi's elder son and southern districts' satrap, M. K. Alagiri, was soon tempered and he emerged from the meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi a chastened man. All the 63 seats that the Congress had demanded were granted.

The worst fears of the DMK leaders were confirmed at that meeting and they found that its junior ally in Tamil Nadu was finally calling the shots. And not without cause. The severe dent in the image of the UPA-II, particularly the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, after the unfolding of the 2G scam, in which the Karunanidhi family confidante and former Telecom Minister A. Raja had played such a disgraceful role, would have infuriated any ally.

The stalling of Parliament for an entire session over the 2G spectrum issue, into which the Opposition wanted a JPC probe, that was finally granted, and the unfolding of this mega scam, where investigations have gone right to the doorstep of Mr Karunanidhi's family members and their shareholding in Kalaignar TV, have all tarred the image of the DMK top leadership at the national level.

In Tamil Nadu, of course, and unfortunately so, people are not only fully aware but have also learnt to live with increasing corruption that has become the hallmark of both DMK and AIADMK regimes. If the Jayalalithaa regime was thrown out in 1996, after the vulgar and ostentatious wedding celebration of her foster son Sudhakaran became a symbol of public rage, in 2001 the DMK regime was shown the door by a people disenchanted by its weak and inefficient administration during 2001-2006.

Political drama

Histrionics have always worked in Tamil Nadu; in 1996 the DMK reaped the reward of playing non-stop footage over Sun TV of the unceremonious, midnight arrest of Mr Karunanidhi.

In the 2001 election, the continuous display on TV screens of Ms Jayalalithaa's jewellery and wardrobe, complete with footwear, and her vow never to wear jewellery again till she had “cleared” her name of all charges of corruption, struck a chord with Tamil Nadu's women. Imagine an Indian woman owning so much jewellery being compelled not to wear it! But with the imperious and inaccessible AIADMK chief learning nothing from her past mistakes and earlier defeat in 1996, her 2001-2006 government left the people once again disenchanted with her.

And so we had the DMK, once again, and its five-year rule is now ending. Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanised States in India and the one big worry in the DMK camp is that relentless media coverage of the 2G scam, the questioning by the CBI of Mr Karunanidhi's first wife Dayalu Ammal, and his daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, in connection with this scam, has cast a dark shadow over the party's reputation.

The mistaken notion here is that the adverse publicity will affect the party's prospects only in the urban areas, and that is one of the reasons why both Mr Karunanidhi and his son and Deputy Chief Minister, Mr M. K. Stalin, have traded their Chennai city constituencies of Chepauk and Thousand Lights for quieter ones in the hinterland.

But while charges of corruption and strong-arm tactics to intimidate voters are being levelled against each other by both the Dravidian parties, the most worrying aspect of this election is that both Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalithaa are outdoing each other in promising a string of unsustainable freebies.

Free or subsidised rice has now become a given in Tamil Nadu politics. And mixies, grinders and TV sets have become passé, now that laptops are here. Not only the DMK and the AIADMK, but the BJP too has joined the race in offering free laptops to students.

Yes, the agri loan waiver and MNREGA have worked for the UPA at the Centre, but at least in the latter there is some labour involved, even though much of it might be of the dig-and-fill variety. In Tamil Nadu, however, at this rate, everything will be offered to the people as a freebie on a platter, irrespective of which party comes to power.

Rightly, civil society organisations in the State have condemned this trend and asked the Election Commission to stop it. Mr Jayaprakash Narayan, Founder of the Lok Satta, which is contesting elections for the first time in Tamil Nadu, has said that such schemes only succeed in making “beggars of people”.

Well, if the party promising the most freebies scrapes through, we can hope, in the next election, for promises of direct and electronic transfer of cash into people's bank accounts every month. This will solve many problems; the notorious siphoning-off of cash from such welfare schemes as for housing, insurance, etc., can be stopped and party chieftains will be spared the trouble of door-to-door delivery of cash-for-votes during elections.

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on March 29, 2011
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor