"TOMORROW is ours. All the 40 (Lok Sabha seats) are ours," proclaimed a hoarding put up by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) outside the venue of the party's conference that lasted from December 2003 to February near Vandalur in suburban Chennai. Interestingly, it was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK)-led Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) that won all the 40 seats - 39 in Tamil Nadu and one in the Union Territory of Pondicherry. The DMK won 15 seats, the Congress 10, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) six, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) four, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) two each, and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) one. A tidal wave of people's anger routed the AIADMK and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
In his hour of triumph, the 82-year-old DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who was instrumental in cobbling up a formidable alliance comprising the Congress, the PMK, the MDMK, the CPI(M), the CPI and the IUML was level-headed. "I will not say that the DMK's strength is behind the victory. It is the alliance' strength," he said. In his assessment, "the communal government" at the Centre and the "anti-people government" in Tamil Nadu were the key reasons for the DPA's victory.
On May 15, the DMK executive committee decided to give enough time to Sonia Gandhi to form a government at the Centre, watch its approach and then decide on joining the government. Karunanidhi promised the DMK's support to ensure a stable government at the Centre. MDMK general secretary Vaiko announced his party's decision not to join the Union government.
The fury of the voters against the Jayalalithaa government was such that nine DPA candidates defeated the AIADMK or BJP candidates by a margin of more than two lakh votes. All but three of the other DPA candidates won by a margin of more than one lakh votes. Film actor Rajnikant's appeal to the people to vote for the BJP candidates; his specific plea to his fans to work against the PMK candidates in the six constituencies where they contested; and the presence of a third front called the People's Alliance comprising the Dalit parties such as the Dalit Panthers of India and the Puthiya Tamizhagam could not stop the DPA juggernaut. The Dalit parties did well despite contesting against two powerful alliances. DPI leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, who contested in Chidambaram, came second after the PMK's E. Ponnusamy, pushing the BJP candidate T. Periasamy to third place. Thirumavalavan received 2.55 lakh votes while Ponnusamy got 3.43 lakh votes.
DMK supporters outside the party headquarters in Chennai.
The voters rejected Jayalalithaa's rhetorical question whether the country needed "an experienced Indian" such as A.B. Vajpayee as Prime Minister or "a half-baked novice" such as Sonia Gandhi, who was of foreign origin. Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin was not an issue at all in the State.
While there are a host of reasons for the AIADMK-BJP's defeat, an important one was the imposition of the "current bill". The government had scrapped the free electricity scheme hitherto available to farmers and hut-dwellers. Although it virtually restored the free supply of electricity to these categories through a money-order payment scheme, people feared that she would abandon the free scheme once the elections were over. What aggravated the fear was that farmers and hut-dwellers were forced to install meters to measure the electricity they consumed. Hardly 10 per cent of the farmers and hut-dwellers received the money-orders from the government to pay their electricity bills. Besides, the government effected a big increase in the electricity tariff, which affected the working class.
What really incensed the people was the government's assault on the Public Distribution System First, it whittled down the amount of rice sold to ration card holders. Later, it restored it to 20 kg but introduced a dual-pricing system - Rs.3.50 a kg for 10 kg of rice and Rs.6 a kg for the remaining 10 kg. Then the government came up with a fiat that only the heads of families (whose photographs are affixed on the ration cards) should draw rice, sugar or kerosene from the ration shops. This fiat was later withdrawn. The government also introduced "honours" ration cards, that is, people who earned more than Rs.5,000 a month were summarily removed from the PDS. This "H" card system hit lakhs of working class families. The government also brought in an impracticable coupon system to draw rice, sugar or kerosene.
A long list of factors worked against the AIADMK-BJP alliance. This included a ban on the sacrifice of animals and birds in temples; anaemic implementation of the mid-day meal scheme for children; the stopping of the supply of eggs to children under the scheme; the termination of service of about 10,000 road workers; the government takeover of sandmining; and the denial of bus passes to a section of students.
The Jayalalithaa government antagonised every section of society - farmers, minorities, government employees, teachers, State-owned transport corporation workers, weavers, doctors and medicos, and the media - and still hoped to win. Farmers in the Cauvery delta districts were angry that she did not handle with finesse the stand-off with Karnataka over the sharing of the Cauvery waters. Government employees and teachers turned against the party after it ruthlessly put down a strike by them. The government reduced the retirement benefits of government employees and teachers. Transport workers lost several thousands of rupees when their monetary benefits were compounded. The government shut down many single-teacher schools.
The minority communities felt alienated from the AIADMK. Christians were upset over the enactment of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act. Muslims were aghast at the Chief Minister's stand on the Ram temple issue and her alliance with the BJP.
DMK president M. Karunanidhi with DPA leaders (from right) Vaiko, S. Durai Murugan, Dr. S. Ramadoss, Arcot N. Veerasami, N. Varadarajan and R. Nallakannu, at a meeting at the party's headquarters in Chennai on May 15.
Jayalalithaa government jailed political opponents under the dreaded Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The misuse of POTA was an important election issue and Vaiko, who along with eight other MDMK leaders, was arrested under POTA and later released, went to town on it.
Intra-party squabbles also contributed to the AIADMK's debacle. In the organisational elections held during December-February, loyalists received a short shrift. They remained inactive during the election campaign. Besides, Jayalalithaa gave the ticket to "new faces". Party insiders said this was her ploy to keep the party under her control but the strategy recoiled on her.
Much to the chagrin of enthusiastic voters, several names were found deleted from the voters' list. P. Ravichandran, convener, Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation - Tamil Nadu, alleged that in several booths in Neyveli in Chidambaram constituency, Dalit voters' names had been "deliberately" deleted. In Neyveli township, 300 Dalits who had voter identity cards could not vote because their names were missing, he said. The DMK executive alleged that the AIADMK got the names of members of the minority communities, government employees, teachers and others who would not vote against it removed.