It's a story of two leaves eclipsing a rainbow. Despite cobbling together a formidable alliance of caste based parties in Tamil Nadu, the BJP led NDA has been unable to make a dent in 'Amma land'.
Coincidentally, Friday is also the third anniversary of the AIADMK government in the State. If you go by the textbook, that's three years of anti incumbency. If you go by history, that's 2 years away from a customary change of guard. By collaring 37 out of 39 seats, it's evident that if ever there was a wave in Tamil Nadu, it was a Jayalalithaa wave. When the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister coined the phrase “No Modi, Only Lady here” it did seem like a slogan. Today, it's a reality. If the BJP's inroads into Uttar Pradesh shocked poll pundits, Tamil Nadu is an equally interesting case study.
When the DMK won all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu in 2004, remember it was with the strength of allies under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance. Jayalalithaa has been known to prove exit polls wrong and make the most seasoned psephologists eat humble pie. Winning about 94 % of the seats as the solitary ranger, without even the Left, with the power shortage, with what she often termed 'step motherly treatment' by the Congress led UPA Govt at the Centre and with all the other factors that go with more than a half year term in office, does seem mind boggling. The AIADMK's vote share of 44% may well be the highest it has ever seen in its history. How did the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister manage to emerge as the third largest party in the country on her own steam? I can think of 7 broad reasons.
1. Tamil Nadu is a State where people tend to vote differently in Parliamentary and Assembly elections. Jayalalithaa didn't take the voters for granted or bask in the glory of 2011. She was the first to hit the campaign trail and went all out to woo voters. That gave her a headstart.
2. Barring the power crisis in the State (A special allocation from the Central grid could well be Tamil Nadu's first request to the Modi dispensation) most of Amma's poll promises have been or are in the process of being fulfilled. That gave her an added dose of credibility.
3. There have been no serious issues of governance. Or a significant let up in Law & Order. The nabbing of dreaded extremists and cracking of sensational cases by the CB CID were talking points. Welfare schemes like the enhanced medical insurance scheme or the Amma Canteens, that even my building security guards frequent and rave about, have been a super hit. That gave her a humane image.
4. Amma's speeches were powerful, no holds barred and tailored made for different constituencies. The strong case for a better deal for the State from the Centre and her strident stance on the State's rights (Of course, the victory in the Supreme Court over the Mullaiperiyar issue came after polling) went down well with the electorate. That enhanced her strong leadership profile.
5. The decision to go it alone enabled her to strategically pick and field her own candidates wherever she chose to, without having to bother about accomodating demands of allies. That gave her operational freedom and the leeway to even experiment with many new faces.
6. The equidistance from the Congress and the BJP and the criticism of Modi in the last leg of her campaign may have given the State's minorities a feel good vibe. That probably helped her party eat into the DMK's traditional vote bank.
7. The infighting in the opposite camps, be it a sulking Alagiri against the DMK or the under currents between the NDA allies – DMDK and PMK. That worked in her favour, albeit indirectly.
True, Jayalalithaa's national ambition hasn't materialised this time. That's not because of her performance but inspite of it. To have made an almost clean sweep reflects almost nil anti incumbency but probably indicates pro incumbency and would augur well for the 2016 assembly poll. Hypothetically, had the NDA fallen short, you can imagine what a crucial role her tally of 37 seats would have played. I was even wondering that had Tamil Nadu been a larger State, the AIADMK may have even ended up as the Principal Opposition in the Lok Sabha with the required 10 % of the total seats! The new BJP Govt is likely to keep Jayalalithaa in its good books. They may have a majority on their own in the Lok Sabha but will need Amma's support in the Rajya Sabha to pass Bills. And going by Modi's declared inclusive mantra, don't be surprised if he extends a personal invitation to his good friend in Poes Garden for his swearing in.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Columnist, Author & Former National Television Journalist)