Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A rather prosaic analysis of Tamil Nadu after the polls...

When Ms. J.Jayalalitha became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991, it appeared to mark the end of the anti-Brahmin movement that had determined the course of electoral politics in the State since independence. C.Rajagopalachari, the only other Chief Minister of the State (it was the Madras State), after all, did not lead the Congress party in the run up to the election in 1951-52 was the only one from the Brahmin community to head the State Government until then. But then, during Jayalalitha’s regime between 1991 and 1996, most parts of Tamil Nadu witnessed caste wars in an unprecedented scale. Violent clashes between the predominant sections of the Backward Castes and the Scheduled Castes became an order of the day in both the Northern and Southern parts of Tamil Nadu.

The strife in the social realm also manifest in the political mosaic during that period. The AIADMK began consolidating itself as a platform dominated by the intermediate castes in the Southern districts while the Dalits in the region rallied behind the Puthiya Tamilagam. In the Northern districts as well as the Central region of Tamil Nadu, the PMK arrived on the scene to rally the Backward Castes against the Dalit consolidation behind the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (that was how the Dalit Panthers re-christened itself). In 2011, we found the AIADMK in alliance with the Puthiya Tamilagam; and the PMK in alliance with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal. The DMK, that first emerged as the anti-Congress force in the Northern districts even when the party established itself as a major force in 1957 had an alliance with the PMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal this time.

To cut a long story short, the 2011 elections to the Tamil Nadu assembly seemed to reflect the end of a phase where the political discourse mirrored the social mosaic with all its schisms. The fact is that it was unthinkable, even in the recent past, to see the PMK and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal on the same front; and also that the AIADMK and the Puthiya Tamilagham as allies. And also the fact that actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth had managed to break the back of the PMK, perhaps the party that most overtly represented the aspirations of a caste group cannot be glossed over in this context. That the caste-based polarization in the political discourse is a thing of the past is one message that must dictate Jayalalitha’s priorities as Chief Minister this time.

If the scandalous allocation of 2G Spectrum licenses and reports of Ms. K.Kanimozhi’s involvement in that provided the backdrop to the elections this time, the anger against the DMK-led alliance was based on a variety of reasons. Long hours of load shedding due to shortage of power had become a way of life across the State. Chennai city was an exception. The new regime will have to find ways and means to tide over this. The fact is that Tamil Nadu has a huge deficit in terms of power generation and demand as it is and the erstwhile regime had resorted to purchase from private producers and others SEBs to bridge the gap. This it did notwithstanding the huge potential from wind energy that went without being harnessed.

Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s task in addressing the issue of power shortage assumes a sense of urgency. In just a couple of months from now the State will go for elections again. The panchayats and urban bodies will go to polls before October 2011 and hence there is very little time before the new government is forced to attend to the crisis in the power sector. While purchase of power from private producers and SEBs from other States may help tide over the crisis in the immediate wake the fact that this arrangement will also mean a drain on the State’s resources is a fact that the Chief Minister cannot afford to ignore.

In that context, there is also the likelihood of the rainbow alliance that the AIADMK chief achieved to win the assembly elections is disturbed. That the DMDK has decided to occupy the opposition space in Tamil Nadu – a decision that suits both Vijayakanth and Jayalalitha as for now – could end up causing a different situation when elections are held to the Panchayats. The DMDK, no doubt, is only a marginal player on its own. But then, there is indeed the scope for a realignment of forces in the State and the possibility of the Congress deciding to rally behind Vijayakanth’s party in the immediate context of the elections to the local bodies. Sonia Gandhi’s invitation to Jayalalitha for a cup of tea, if seen as a move that is thought of as driven by some hard calculations than mere courtesy is something that the AIADMK chief will have to take into consideration with all seriousness.

While all attention will be focused on the possible developments in that regard, the state of the finances in Tamil Nadu warrant a lot of attention. After having committed to supply rice free to the poor and thus incur an additional expenditure running up to Rs. 500 Crores, the new regime has a stupendous task of bridging the gap on the fiscal front. The Chief Minister’s contention that the regime has inherited empty coffers is by no stretch an exaggeration. Finance Minister, O.Paneerselvam, in any case, will have to innovate means to contain the gap between revenue and expenditure and the promises, in the AIADMK manifesto, of consumer durables such as mixer grinders will have to be delivered soon and certainly ahead of the Panchayat elections.

Chief Minister J.Jayalalitha has sought to convey to her cabinet colleagues that the thrust shall be on governance. A day after swearing in, the Chief Minister briefed her ministers and the officers on this. A separate ministry for mission implementation suggests this. The task, however, is easier said than done. The AIADMK supremo will certainly have to strain that extra bit to keep her cadre across the State under control. In a political culture where self preservation and gathering wealth leads men and women to join political parties, an agenda for governance and selfless service passes more as rhetoric than action. It is, however, possible if Nitish Kumar’s term as Chief Minister of Bihar is anything to go by.

The AIADMK regime, meanwhile, has the breathing space before it sets out on the course of punitive actions against those who ran the previous regime. The fact that the investigations and the trial in the 2G Spectrum allocation scandal will continue to cause grief to the DMK could mean that Jayalalitha may opt to wait and watch. Even then, she could initiate some probe into the short life of the Arasu Cable TV Corporation, into which the previous regime had sunk a lot of public funds before deciding to wind it up. The fact that the Chief Minister decided to shift the secretariat back to Fort St. George is only an indication that she will not let bygones pass.

The DMK, as a party, is in for trouble. Apart from having to deal with the exit of the Congress from its fold and consequently having to chose between staying on in the union cabinet and walking out of it to preserve its self respect, the party patriarch will now be burdened with the job or\f arbitrating between his two sons. An unenviable task indeed.


Blogger Sanjay said...

Anti-Brahmin movement ended long back in Tamilnadu as early as the formation of DMK in 1948. It was only Periyar who kept the ideology of anti-Brahmanism going till the end of his life. In other words there is no one to one easy connection between DMK and anti-brahmin movement. DMK used the slogan of anti-Brahmin only when it needed but that too was weak because the party had long abandoned the ideals of Periyar. Periyar even rallied against DMK. Just Jayalalithaa being a brahmin becoming a chief minister in the early 1990s doesn't mean anything to the end of non-Brahminism.

Dalits in Tamilnadu were supporters of ADMK and in fact formed the electoral base of MGR. This continued well after MGR into Jayalalithaa era. PT and VCK in the first decade of electoral politics had poor electoral base because the Dalits were slow to shift their belonging from AMDK to their own caste parties. You seem to distort the Tamilnadu politics by juxtaposing the 1990s with 2011.

Rather than writing the caste politics in the wall as thing of the past it is more appropriate to wait and watch. Now government has given the nod to the caste census and parties like PMK welcomed it. We cannot resort to fundamentalist positions - that caste politics has ended in TN. When upper castes consolidate their power under the regime of Jayalalithaa definitely there will be pressures from below and that will manifest only in the course of time.

The complete rout of DMK can be attributed to the rise in the prices of essential commodities that has effected major section of population in Tamilnadu. Though DMK distributed rice for Rs. 1 in ration shops, the prices of other commodities shot up. It is tempting to say that corruption and scandals played a secondary role in the electoral drubbing of DMK.

What is becoming clear in this election is that populism cannot endure for long unless there is a concerted effort to tackle the price rise of essential commodities. Troubled times ahead for the people of Tamilnadu whichever of the Dravidian party rules the state.

7:27 AM  
Blogger V. Krishna Ananth said...

I may be wrong when I said that caste centric politics has taken a beating now and that we may find the end of that from now. Sanjay may be right too. But then, I wish I am right in this.

Price rise has to be controlled. Yes. But who will do that and how can that be done? I thought prices have risen everywhere and irrespective of who ruled India or any one of the States.

I recall, to my son, that I used to have petrol filled in my scooter tank to the brim with Rs. 100/... And that was two decades ago. And those were times when I used to earn a tidy sum of Rs. 2500 every month from ICHR.

10:47 AM  

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