Among Regional Satraps, Jaya the Only Queen Who can Register a Second Win
Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” Ernest Hemingway
The power of a political leader is judged by his/her capacity to dictate terms to both friends and foes in equal measure. Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa took the bull by the horns, challenging the Rajya Sabha-dependent Modi government to revoke the judicial ban on Jallikattu, the 1,500-year-old bullfighting custom of the Tamils. She won the political jallikattu to the huge approbation of her people. As the countdown for the TN Assembly polls begins, the CM has demonstrated that she is in control of the rodeo seat, proving to voters that she has the political and administrative clout to rule over both state and Central-level politics.
She understood that in her state, bullfighting is part of Tamil culture, having been the sport of warriors. She is also aware that the BJP would play the cow in the electoral manger, trying to gain foothold in Tamil Nadu. She also knows that Modi is an inveterate risk-taker. After sitting on the issue for months, he suddenly approved Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar’s proposal to allow Jallikattu.
Metaphors apart, it was the power of Jayalalithaa that forced the Centre to relent, before the formal process for the polls began. The NDA government is depending on AIADMK support in the Rajya Sabha to get crucial bills like the GST passed. The term of the current TN Assembly expires in May. Not just Tamil Nadu, state polls are also due in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry and West Bengal between April and May.
Jaya is perhaps the only non-BJP CM whose maximum demands—from economic packages to speedy release of Tamil fishermen from Sri Lankan jails—have been agreed to by the NDA government. Over a dozen Union ministers and the PM himself have made visits to the state to address her concerns. It was perhaps the politics of usurping credit; after the floods, senior Cabinet members, from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu, camped in Chennai to supervise relief work on behalf of the Central government. The PM also announced a special grant of `1,000 crore during a trip to Chennai. But Jayalalithaa has mastered the game of powerplay for decades. Her promoters believe that her current term has been an impeccable one in terms of performance in social and economic sectors. The state remained free from communal riots. Not a single case of financial irregularity has been made out against any top AIADMK functionary. The mystique of her limited public appearances has only reinforced her aura in providing political stability in the state. On the other hand, the Karunanidhi-led DMK is a house divided and is reeling under corruption charges against its top leaders, including family members.
Polls prove power principles. Jayalalithaa is a living example of this maxim. Tamil Nadu’s neighbour Kerala goes to polls around the same time. Unlike Jayalalithaa, who has protected an ancient Tamil tradition, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was ‘disinvited’ by a local religious organisation from a function to be attended by PM Modi. NDA ally and Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu may get more appointments with Modi, but less financial indulgence than Tamil Nadu. Demands from states have been like rampaging bulls charging at Modi. The Centre, however, has turned down numerous demands of Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal. Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar have been applying for economic bailouts, to be greeted by frosty silence. Only Jaya has forced the Modi government to deal with her on her own terms, without showing any signs of a possible political alignment with NDA.
Pollsters are confident that she has nothing to worry since no powerful opposition personality exists to draw voters away from her magnetism. Moreover, with her Vision 2020 declaration, she has shown a road map for the development of her state. Her opponents are hopelessly divided. Even the social and caste equations are working in her favour. Smaller regional parties are yet to find a leader to bring them together. Tamil Nadu is also one of the major states where national parties like the Congress and BJP can play a decisive role in influencing the election outcome. Last time, AIADMK alone won 150 seats in a house of 234. It is for the first time that she will be seeking a second term on the basis of her performance and not by making uneasy alliances. She seems set to break a record by becoming the first CM in the state to win a second mandate after 25 years.
In every bullfight, the matador does not always win. The vote battle in the two southern states has many similarities. In last 25 years, neither state has returned the same party consecutively to power. Tamil Nadu has been a revolving door for both AIADMK and DMK. In Kerala, power has alternated between LDF and UDF. Both states are personality-driven. In TN, the choice is between Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi. In Kerala, while pre-poll alliances have been the norm, the two picadors are CPI(M)’s old warhorse V S Achuthanandan and Congress’s soft-spoken Chandy, who have been alternately winning the game for 10 years.
This time, unlike Jayalalithaa, Chandy may not be that lucky. He is facing an anti-incumbency factor. The Congress-led UDF barely managed a thin majority in 2011 by winning 72 seats in a 140-member house. His party stands divided into various factions. Caste and religion-based outfits are feeling disillusioned with the Congress leadership and are making overtures to Left and BJP. Though Chandy’s performance on many fronts has been impressive, the Congress has failed in its social engineering tactics, which had led it to victory in the past poll. The Left is equally divided along caste and personality lines. At 91, Achuthanandan is still the most popular leader, but his acceptability is the party has been sabotaged by the Pinarayi Vijayan faction, which has taken full control of the organisation. While a defeat for the Left would put a question mark on the national status of CPI(M) and party boss Sitaram Yechury’s organisational prowess, a Congress win will embolden the Gandhis. Rahul has decided to campaign more extensively in Kerala than in TN. BJP is expecting to open its account by unleashing its top leaders, including Modi, into the campaign arena.
If the nature of players and parties is to go by, 2016 is the year of regional parties and leaders, who will decide the fate of national parties like the BJP in Assam and the Congress in Kerala. Only Jayalalithaa, with a second triumph under her belt, would be smiling all the way to Fort St George alone.
firstname.lastname@example.org, Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla
The final ban, must have made you feel that you shot-off your mouth a wee bit early Mr Chawla?!
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