Just a few weeks back, the heated run up to the Tamil Nadu legislative elections had sidelined even the scorching summer and the election results announced ‘Amma’ Jayalalithaa as the winner. While this bucked the trend of anti-incumbency and returned Jayalalithaa to power for a second consecutive time, it nevertheless laid down bare the contradictions in Tamil Nadu politics.
Though it’s not the talk of the town, but certainly amongst some sections of people there are expectations from Amma’s victory and her promises. Cell phones, limited free units of power supply, morning breakfast for students in government schools, agriculture loans being waived etc.
It’s not long ago a bunch of analysts in all media forms robotically condemned the freebies and the ‘so-called’ welfare agenda of both the ADMK and DMK campaign pledges. However, the seasoned politicians are shrewd enough to understand more about the dynamics of vote bank politics in Tamil Nadu.
The politics of freebies, money and lucrative promises are all a form of populism. For nearly the last 50 years the race to chief ministership was mainly driven by populist promises of one kind or another. Banking on the impoverished masses and with no intention to change their fate, the leaders of the mainstream parties unscrupulously betrayed the dedicated layers of cadres and masses, forming coalitions of all sorts purely in the pursuit of power and to pick up the morsels from the wealthy industrialists and the land owners. Thus institutionalizing corruption and bribery throughout the state machinery!
If the founder leader of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – C.N. Annadurai and the matinee idol M.G.R. who later launched Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) were able to wrest power largely by empty promises and populist appeal, it was the DMK chief Karunanidhi who started of dispensing lucrative freebies like the colour television and distributing money to buy the votes. It is ironic that Jayalalithaa excelled that strategy originally devised by her rival. In the upbeat this freebie dispensing spree really improved the public distribution system. With a family ration card the ordinary people can access the stuff delivered to them by the government. But the difficulties endured by the ordinary masses persisted nevertheless and the poor remained poor despite the colour television, and other utilities.
The essential services like healthcare, education, public transportation, housing and the basic infrastructure are all outrageously insufficient. Slum dwellings, lack of toilets, patients sleeping in the hospital floors, crowded buses, the plight of agricultural workers and peasants, platforms occupied by the homeless, growing unemployment rate, soaring inflation and the rising tensions of caste discrimination particularly in the rural areas, etc. The insufficiency of the government administration and the lack of coping mechanisms to deal with untimely events were all severely exposed during the November Chennai floods disaster.
All these explain the shortcomings of the Amma’s regime and largely superficial welfare schemes and delivery of freebies costing the state treasury the vital resources needed for organically improving the physical and social infrastructure. With the state government finding no sustainable means to increase its revenues, the administration has resorted to boost its coffers from the proliferation of government run TASMAC liquor shops and viciously increasing the cost of the essential commodities and services.
Just looking back, within a few months time of the 2011 local body elections the Jayalalithaa led AIADMK implemented unreasonable hikes in bus fares, power tariff and milk prices and shifted the considerable burden of the state debts over the shoulders of the ordinary people. So it will not be surprising if this successive administration of Jayalalithaa will resort to those measures once again.
A fractured mandate!
Although many political fronts and parties did crop up, it was, for a lot of people, still a choice between the fire and the frying pan! There is barely a difference between DMK and ADMK when it comes to making an impact in the day-to-day lives of the people. For most people, voting in elections is not a process which could change their lives for the better, but merely an exercise to keep the political parties in check. This actually explains the voting patterns in the recent decades, where the DMK and ADMK held power in turns! But it was the combination of the scandalous family rule of Karunanidhi, the nightmarish corruption allegations hanging over DMK, the very crucial welfare measures rolled out by the ADMK government – however limited it is, and most importantly the lack of a real political alternative, etc. were able to secure Amma’s consecutive victory.
As it looks the election results might disregard the shackles of ADMK and DMK, but more than 90 lakh voters rejected the tyranny of those two prominent parties; including 1.31% of the electorate voted NOTA (None of the Above) thus registering their protest against the establishment.
The desperate attempts by Bharatiya Janata Party to galavanise the disillusioned voters, failed miserably with most of their candidates lost their deposits in spite of the high profile campaigns with even huge rallies addressed by Narendra Modi.
The verdict of the masses also clearly explains the fact that for the people by and large, opportunism and mere populism seems to be less appealing political alternative.
This is the first assembly since 1952 with the Communist parties both the CPI & CPI(M) got no representation in the Assembly. The CPI & CPI(M) over the past decades were the partners in crime of the DMK and ADMK regimes, while exhausting and disillusioning their cadres, and most importantly loosing their political direction.
The Communist parties of Tamil Nadu with its involvement in struggles and with the inspiring leadership of P.Ramamurthi, Jeevanandam, etc rallied the masses towards struggle and social change. The cadres of the Communist parties fought in the forefront of the deprived masses. Despite subordinating to the Stalinist diktats of the Comintern and surrendering the struggle against British imperialism, the working class along with the other oppressed layers stood behind the Communist Parties and stormed a remarkable mandate in the 1952 assembly elections when its leader P.Ramamurthy was in prison. The governor of the Madras State assembly risked a constitutional crisis by inviting the ruling class representative Rajaji to protect the establishment of the privileged and ignored the will of the people. But it was mainly the opportunistic politics of the Communist parties and its flawed leadership which made them to piggyback the parties of the ruling classes and eventually marginalising the interests of the working class and other oppressed layers. Even during this elections the Communist parties’ coalition People’s Welfare Front (PWF) after rising expectations for a real change then disgracefully ended up with a political circus by forming an alliance under the leadership of actor turned politician Vijayakanth.
Also the outcome of this election is clearly bringing to the fore the limitations of isolated issues and identity politics in a mass political exercise. Parties like Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), which so far deviously employed the tact of caste vote bank politcs, were pretty much struggling to shed their image of being a cast outfit. The question of Eelam Tamils – a key issue still empathised with by considerable sections, did find its platform through Naam Tamilar Kaatchi (NTK). Seeman, the leader of Naam Tamilar, who to his credit effectively articulated the atrocities of the genocide during the Sri Lankan Civil War, then regrettably espoused the largely discredited Tamil Chavunism. Thus Seeman’s Naam Tamilar, though raising the imagination of fresh layers of youth by raising serious questions against big business corporations and their profit motives, sadly failed to be a real political alternative, by ignoring caste and the class contradictions and alienating other linguistic minorities.
The significant fact is that a lot of the campaigns that’s been lead by the progressive forces in the ground and the demands of the masses in general have been appropriated by the mainstream populist manifestos like the issues of the farmers, free health care, the appalling penetration of state run liquor shops ruining the lives of the ordinary people etc. It is true that all these mainstream parties who are not leaning on any principled political position against the establishment are only doing lip services to those issues which resonate with the masses. But this will not go on forever! The mass discontent is palpable with the growing level of support amongst people to many progressive campaigns and the struggles against the establishment in general.
It is necessary for all the forces who understand the importance of struggle to meet the needs of the ordinary people to put forward a non sectarian political platform to represent the toiling masses. It is vital to stress the importance of socialist policies where the commanding heights of the economy is nationalised under the workers control to liberate the productive forces and to raise the vital resources to eradicate poverty and to build a society which provide adequate standard of living and social security.
Elections are also an effective way of reaching the masses. This was evident during the course of elections where a lot of people and youth in particular were looking for the alternatives. It is important for the socialists, working class and peasant organizations, campaigners and other activists to occupy the field of mass politics which is right now mostly infested with goons, scoundrels and opportunists.