J Jayalalithaa may well be described as the Narendra Modi of Tamil Nadu. Just like Mr Modi’s victory on the national scale has reduced the main Opposition party to Lilliputian dimensions, Ms Jayalalithaa’s sweep of the parliamentary polls at the state-level has virtually sent the Opposition into oblivion. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the main Opposition party in Tamil Nadu, has failed to secure even a single seat. More important, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam may have also altered the dynamics of Tamil Nadu politics with its stupendous win. Even in 2004, when the DMK swept the parliamentary polls, it did so in alliance with a host of regional and national parties. This time, however, the AIADMK has gone to the polls alone, thereby breaking a decades-old electoral pattern in the state that saw the two main Dravida parties, with a claim to not more than 25 per cent of the vote share, allying with other regional or national parties to make up for the shortfall. This was a pattern even the AIADMK adhered to as late as the last assembly polls in 2011, when it allied with the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. But in each of the polls since, Tamil Nadu’s parties have tried to test their strength by having a go at the hustings alone. The experiment has worked invariably in favour of the party in power. Armed with the administrative powers that serve the incumbent and funds to shower on development and freebies, the AIADMK has come up trumps in every by-election and civic election since.
Ms Jayalalithaa owes her victory to this advantage that made it possible for her party to advertise the free rations, mixer-grinders, fans, bicycles, scholarships and the low-cost Amma canteens. But in rhetoric as well she had left her political rivals way behind. The split in the DMK, its failure to break free of the past because of its backing of tainted leaders, the last-minute stitching of alliances and the multi-cornered contest that splintered the anti-incumbency vote also benefited the AIADMK. The party’s pro-development agenda, which allowed it to match shoulders with the Bharatiya Janata Party and transcend both caste and communal politics, has served the party well. This agenda, which Ms Jayalalithaa can claim to have upheld more astutely than her counterpart in Bengal, may help the AIADMK retain its lead in the assembly polls as well.