POLL VAULT 2011

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1.Tamil Nadu

Return of the queen creates a buzz

J Jayalalithaa is using all the chaos in the DMK to influence voters, reports Sai Manish

The time is now Jayalalithaa has chosen an opportune moment to launch an all-out attack on the DMK on the eve of the polls
The time is now Jayalalithaa has chosen an opportune moment to launch an all-out attack on the DMK on the eve of the polls
Photo: Jawahar

ON 13 MAY, the state will see whether the stream of invective from the AIADMK-led front will triumph over the money, muscle and development agenda of the DMK.

AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa believes her alliance can notch up 200 seats in the 234-member Assembly. Just 12 months ago, she was reclusive and locked up in her estate at Kodanadu, hopping to astrologers and stage-managing the AIADMK machinery from her Nilgiri retreat. After her party’s show in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Jayalalithaa shunned the limelight. So much so that when she was driven to the tarmac to board her chartered Cessna for a 40-minute flight to an airstrip near Kodanad two guards were specially positioned to block out the view with black umbrellas on either side.

The avoidance of the spotlight allowed the Left parties to stage all the opposition to the Karunanidhi-led DMK government in the legislature. Defections started from AIADMK ranks and the party faced a drubbing in the byelections in Tiruchendur and Vandavasi in 2009. It was almost as if Tamil Nadu had forgotten her, especially as the entire media network of Kalaignar and the Marans were beaming out positive images of Karunanidhi and Stalin. Posters and advertisements of the DMK’s achievements and cutouts of Stalin and Azhagiri were scattered across the state. Film stars were paying their respects to DMK’s first family in public.

Then, on 13 July 2010 in Coimbatore, the queen bee made a comeback — with a live broadcast and before 3 lakh cheering people. She had chosen her place and time well. Just a month ago, Karunanidhi had presided over his ‘dream project’, the World Classical Tamil Conference in the same city, with 2 lakh people in attendance. What she said was also effective: “Karunanidhi and his family have given you money and made you their slaves. When the DMK offers you money next time, pray to God. Ask God for the strength to turn down that dirty money. Purge this state from the evils of one-family rule.”

She followed that up with a string of rallies across southern Tamil Nadu, taking on Azhagiri in his own bastion. “Why does a gangster like Azhagiri need police protection?” she asked. Over the past 10 months, she made the transition from a Miss Havishamish feeling hurt and loss, to a queen who was edging towards her old throne. But then, she said, “It’s a do-or- die battle for the people of Tamil Nadu. If TN has to survive, the DMK has to be defeated.” Many observers saw this as a Freudian slip, reflecting her desperation for power. “It’s not the people but the AIADMK that has everything to lose if they lose this election,” says Prof M Lakshmanan, a social scientist with the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

Knowing this, perhaps, Jaya painted the 2G probe in caste and communal colours at a joint rally in Coimbatore on 5 April as Prakash Karat and Chandrababu Naidu sat applauding. “While the 2G spectrum scam was planned by Karunanidhi and his wives and daughter Kanimozhi, it is the Dalit, A Raja, who is in jail, and the Muslim Sadiq Batcha who lost his life,” she said.

But there could be a backlash against the overdose of personal attacks on Karunanidhi, especially after Jayalalithaa booted Vaiko out of the poll scenario. Senior DMK leaders believe that her negative campaigning style will boomerang.

Many political observers see Amma’s aggressive campaigning as a Freudian slip, reflecting her desperation for power

NOT THAT the DMK has no worries of its own. It carries the burden of a crippled Congress, which political observers believe can drag the DMK down. The party lost the Krishnagiri seat without so much as a contest after a procedural error by the Congress candidate Hazeena Syed saw her being disqualified by the EC. “Congress workers, after getting 63 tickets, are campaigning against their own party candidates, even burning effigies. What use was all the drama in Delhi if they want to portray themselves as a divided party to the voters?” asks a senior DMK minister. On top of that, Sonia Gandhi addressed a joint rally with Karunanidhi with a flat speech that read like a supplementary budget with roughly 10,000 people in the audience shrugging it off. In contrast, Karunanidhi refrained from any personal attacks on Jayalalithaa, talking instead about his development agenda and his welfare measures for the poor.

The DMK, along with its main allies, like the VCK and the PMK, will be looking to minimise losses in Vellore, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. It will also be expecting a tough fight in the coastal districts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore, where fishermen feel let down by the Indian government’s inaction on repeated attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy.

Both alliances have their strengths and weaknesses, and unlike the buzz in exit polls, this election may not be just about change. A favourable outcome for Jaya will be determined by what is wrong with her opponents rather than what is right with her. Voters also realise that the DMK is a far more democratic party when it comes to internal functioning and decision-making and that an AIADMK coalition government will be far more unstable. But Amma exudes optimism — so much that she does not even factor in her allies when she talks of government formation.

Sai  Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]


2. Kerala

A multi-star flop show

Neither a Gandhi nor a prime minister could lure any crowds during campaigns, reports Jeemon Jacob

Crowd-puller? VS Achuthanandan called Rahul Gandhi an ‘Amul baby’
Crowd-puller? VS Achuthanandan called Rahul Gandhi an ‘Amul baby’
Photo: Rajesh

THE CROWDS eluded them. PM Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, MP, failed to click in Kerala. All poll surveys project the Congress as the hot favourites, but political observers would say otherwise. In a first for Kerala, star Congress campaigners got a very poor response from the voters.

Sonia was the first to come to the state. On 6 April, her campaign trail started from Haripad, bastion of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee President Ramesh Chennithala. Chennithala, known for his crowd management skills, did his best to drum up a gathering at the venue. But Congress workers just didn’t turn up, and Sonia had to address vacant chairs and empty galleries. Her meeting in Thrissur also didn’t evoke much response. It was the same scenario in Muslimdominated Kozhikode, where local leaders used to address packed stadia. Before flying back to Delhi, she demanded an explanation from the state Congress leaders for the poor show.

On 9 April, it was the turn of Singh to get a lacklustre reception. The prime minister arrived at the Kochi naval airport and flew to Kottayam by helicopter to address a morning meeting. He addressed an audience of less than 1,000 Congress workers. He tried his best to raise the issue of development and attacked the Left government for non-performance, but no cheers or applause was forthcoming. Unable to endure the scorching sun, half the crowd left the venue before the PM concluded his speech. Later, he addressed another poll rally at Kollam and headed for Coimbatore in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

The same day, Rahul Gandhi arrived in Kochi and kicked off a two-day campaign from Ernakulam, where the National Students Union of India (NSUI) President Hybi Eden is contesting from. One of the younger Gandhi’s favourites, Hybi was eagerly awaiting his mentor’s arrival. But not only were the crowds missing, it was bereft of any fanfare, and the Rahul show ended on a dull note. The young leader chose this venue to make scathing remarks about CM VS Achuthanandan, and got a spirited riposte — “Amul baby campaigning for Amul babies of the Congress”. The octogenarian leader of the Left front was alluding to Rahul’s election rallies for his favourite candidates in Chalakudy, Ambalappuzha, Chenganoor and Pathanamthitta. He reached Thiruvananthapuram at night where, again to his chagrin, he had to address empty chairs. Only in Pathanamthitta did the youth icon get a decent crowd of 4,000 people.

The turnout was so poor that Sonia Gandhi asked the state Congress for an explanation

THE POOR response for the Congress leaders’ campaign shocked the party leadership in the state, which is now trying to pick up the pieces. Though Rahul campaigned in his usual style, mixing with the crowd, and breaking the security cordon, the missing element was perhaps in the drama.

A senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity offered a lame explanation. “There were strategic errors in organising poll campaigns of Sonia Gandhi, the PM and Rahul Gandhi. The timings and dates were not convenient to voters. It was very hot and most of the Congress workers watched the poll rallies on television.”

But this does not hold much water as Defence Minister AK Antony attracted large crowds across Kerala during his campaign. VS also impressed voters with his usual mimicking style wherever he went. Women and children thronged his rallies. Perhaps the Congress should take a leaf out of the veteran’s book on how to draw crowds to a rally.


Interview

AK Antony
AK Antony
Defence Minister, Congress
Photo: T Mohandas

After addressing more than 170 election rallies and campaigning from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram, the 71-year-old explains why the Left will be left out

1. Why did you start your campaign by attacking CM VS Achuthanandan?
I extended support to the Left government by sorting out bureaucratic hassles in sanctioning Centre-aided projects. But the VS government has never been keen to ensure sustainable development of the state. Unemployment is a major problem. Execution of the Smart City project in Kochi has been delayed on flimsy grounds. Another term for the Left would ensure that Kerala will go the Bengal way, a state behind even Bihar today in terms of development.

2. But VS has emerged as the Left’s star campaigner. Doesn’t that mean the people endorse his views?
No, the wave is in favour of the Congress. The people are fed up of the political drama. For the past five years, the CM was waging a crusade against his party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and blaming the party for non-performance. He is trying to dupe the people by playing a role of crusader against all evils. The people can see through his political gimmicks of playing to the gallery.

3. Both Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have failed to attract the masses in their campaigns in Kerala. Does it worry you?
Not in the least. Crowds are no indicator — only a few gather for rallies and campaign meetings. People are going to judge a government on the basis of its performance. The people of Kerala are waiting to vote for change.

The Dirty Tricks Bag

What the numbers tell

It’s one thing to seek your astrologer’s advice. But in Kerala, some candidates have managed to lay their hands on their opponents’ horoscope. Leader of Opposition Oommen Chandy, however, doesn’t need to put a voodoo on anyone — a numerologist has predicted a win on the strength of numbers. Chandy’s lucky number is 4, as he was born on 31 October 1943. He is 67 (6+7=13), which amounts to 4 (1+3). The polls are on 13 April and counting on 13 May. Besides, the year 2011 equals 4. Perhaps astrologers too have party affiliations.

Jeemon Jacob is the Chief  Of  Bureau, South with Tehelka
[email protected]


3. Assam

|X|FACTOR

 The rebel king maker

Bodo leader Hagrama Mohilary might hold all the right cards, says Ratnadip Choudhury

Photo:UB Photos

FOR MORE than a decade, the Bodo-dominated areas of Assam saw a cycle of violence and bloodshed. And one man was the embodiment of this terror: Hagrama Mohilary. The chief of the once dreaded militant outfit, Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), surrendered with his cadres when the BLT was disbanded in 2003.

After the signing of the tripartite Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord in 2003 between the Assam government, the Centre and the BLT and the formation of the BTC, Mohilary turned to politics and formed the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF).

The 2006 Assembly election saw the BPF grow in strength and Mohilary turn kingmaker. The Congress could only form the government when 11 MLAs of the BPF supported it. Three of Mohilary’s partymen were given key portfolios in the Tarun Gogoi Cabinet. This time, too, Mohilary might call the shots, in the likely scenario of a hung Assembly. He is said to have a “wonderful working relationship” with Gogoi but his “bad blood” with state Congress chief  Bhubaneswar Kalita could be a spoiler.

“We will stay away from the Congress if Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) is a partner. We are fine with Tarun Gogoi but not Bhubaneswar Kalita,” says Mohilary, making his stand clear. Interestingly, the BPF has fielded candidates against the Congress in 12 seats. The party has fielded 29 candidates and is hoping to win at least 20 seats. The AIUDF is a major rival thanks to its strong bases in Muslim-dominated areas of lower and western Assam.

“Our interest is the well-being of the Bodo people. We will try to be in power, to be able to do something meaningful for our community,” says Mohilary.

Secret deal?

Has the BJP struck a ‘secret seat sharing deal’ with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)? “I am happy to announce that the AGP is not fielding any candidate against the BJP state President Ranjit Dutta (contesting from Behali seat in Sonitpur district) as a goodwill gesture for the good floor coordination during the recent Assembly session,” said AGP President Chandra Mohan Patowary. And when BJP leader Rajnath Singh visited Guwahati, he declared: “We need just 40 seats, the rest will come from other friends.” Goodwill or a deal?

Ratnadip Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka
[email protected]

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