DMK chief M Karunanidhi along with his son and party treasurer, MK Stalin were a picture of confidence on polling day, seemingly self-assured in their victory. The party’s heir apparent, Stalin proclaimed that the DMK would sweep Tamil Nadu, barring the lone seat of RK Nagar. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, made a bland statement after voting, hesitant to make any predictions. “Wait for two days, you will know the people’s verdict,” was her terse one-liner. As the leads pour in on Thursday, the mood outside Karunanidhi’s residence in Gopalapuram is one of disbelief and despondency. Did the DMK’s courage stem from the state’s 27-year history which has seen the Dravidian parties alternating to power?
2016 assembly polls will go down as one which was largely issue less. The wave of anti-incumbency did not roll in, as expected by the opposition. The December floods in Chennai gave the DMK a talking point ahead of the election. Predictably the ruling AIADMK’s mishandling of the disaster became the focus of their election campaign. The DMK was banking on the anger in the aftermath of the floods to see them through. The party’s mouthpiece Kalaignar TV routinely beamed devastating visuals of Tamil Nadu’s capital under water, of men crying for help, of women wading through waist-deep water and of children begging for food packets. They believed the anger, pain and hurt from the Chennai floods would have a cascading effect in the rest of the state. Barring the city of Chennai, public memory, it appears is short-lived.
With little else to rally against the AIADMK regime, the DMK President had to target his arch-rival with corruption charges. For a party that was hesitant to hit out at Jayalalithaa following her conviction in September 2015, Karunanidhi made it a point to remind voters of the disproportionate assets case at every public meeting during the election. At his constituency of Thiruvarur, the DMK leader publicly stated, “Nobody can surpass her in terms of corruption and mistakes she had done. She has taken the law into her hand. Even the judicial values are being challenged under her rule. Our responsibility today is to ensure the fall of a dictator rule.”The irony of the DMK’s charges wasn’t lost out on voters.
The DMK’s campaign sorely lacked the attack, vitality and dynamism to make it a winning one, especially in the initial stages. No amount of money spent on ad campaigns spread across mainstream newspapers or YouTube election videos could have changed that. Should the 91-year-old DMK chief have offered to step down? Would anointing MK Stalin as the CM candidate have created buzz among an electorate that is fatigued? For all the build-up, the DMK treasurer’s image makeover and intensive state-wide Namakku Naame campaign ended up being nothing more than a poor teaser. By stating, “Stalin can become Chief Minister only if nature does something to me,” the wily old politician offered nothing new to voters.
Weeks before assembly elections were announced, a senior journalist had rightly predicted that 2016 would be DMK’s to lose. In the end, it was not so much Jayalalithaa getting it right but that in the voters’ eyes she did no wrong. The DMK’s only consolation is that it is without doubt, the only rival to the AIADMK.