The formal launch of the 2016 polls campaign began just weeks before polling, but the actual campaign, as one would expect, begun far earlier – and in the case of MK Stalin, at least a year in advance when he kicked off his Namakku Nammey campaign.
In the run up to the elections, a common refrain among many was that it was perhaps the most boring elections the state has ever seen, but looking back now, it seems like it wasn’t that bad after all.
So what defined the 2016 poll campaign?
The year of the political social media
The most evident factor was social media. It was a first for Tamil Nadu’s politicians who have never before used social media for their poll campaigns. From digital-specific PR campaigns on Facebook to hilarious memes and videos going viral on WhatsApp, and manipulating trends on Twitter, the 2016 campaign saw it all. MK Stalin’s team had a clear edge over others among the formal campaigns, though the AIADMK caught on soon. But as far as the party workers were concerned, the social media was put to its best and worst use by supporters of all parties. Who can forget the hilarious memes on Vijayakant and DMK-AIADMK fighting it out with troll?
And it wasn’t just the political parties, the state election commission too took to social media to encourage voters to come out on polling day.
Surveys galore, but confusion remained as before
If social media came to the fore with news and stories, TV media took to opinion polls. This is perhaps the first time that TV channels from Tamil Nadu made use of surveys in such a fantastical way ahead of polls. All channels, from Puthiya Thalaimuarai to Thanthi TV and News 7 Tamil had their own survey results. Even a news channel which has barely launched, Cauvery News, released its ‘survey’ to journalists. And one would think that this would help understand who is going to win, no? No. All they did was add to the confusion.
The new personalities in the cult
Politics of Tamil Nadu has always been personality-centric. MGR, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, all took to developing their own image to build a personality cult around them. This time around, there were at least two new kids on the block – MK Stalin and Anbumani Ramdoss.
Yes, they were big leaders already, but 2016 campaign saw their PR team try hard to catapult their image to that of the harbingers of a political revolution. If MK Stalin was the young fire-brand leader, sporting a pant-shirt-shoes attire, PMK’s Anbumani was the political evangelical avatar of Steve-Jobs-meets-Barack-Obama. Their vibrant posters with fresh new designs and colours gave us less to think about and more to laugh at. What is any campaign without any comic relief?
Sleaze balls spinning the political wheels
In Tamil media, there is always a cartoonist or two out there heaping misogynist insults at politicians to grab eyeballs. But more such sleaze-balls came to the fore this time, thanks to social media. From memes taking cheap barbs at women politicians, to crude link-ups, posters showing Sonia and Karunanidhi as bride and groom and leaked photos of politicians with either their lovers or dancing after enjoying a drink, everything was out. What’s more, AIADMK supporters online and even the official mouthpiece Jaya TV thought it was a good idea to shame a DMK candidate by releasing a video of him enjoying oral sex in private. Good job, folks.
Heat, dust, sun-strokes and deaths
Poll campaigning for TN elections is not a pleasant experience for anybody, ever. It’s invariably during the month of April and May when the summer is well into its sweltering heats, but this time around, it was worse. Not only did candidates look a few hundred shades darker by the end of it all, there were at least 5 deaths reported from TN CM Jayalalithaa’s rallies, some of them reportedly due to sun stroke. Political workers were heard complaining all across the campaign trail, and are now heaving a sigh of relief that the dreaded political work has come to an end.
Election season in Tamil Nadu is never complete with a round-up of freebies on offer. The DMK promises free laptops with free data connection for students, mobile phones at a cheaper rate, 20kg free rice to the poor among other things. Never to be outdone, Jayalalithaa’s freebies list include smartphones for the poor, 100 units of free electricity, and 50 per cent subsidy on scooters for women. But for some voters who were expecting free refrigerators, LED TVs and washing machines this season, the manifestos definitely fell short of the dramatic build-up that every election guarantees.
Prohibition is the buzz word this poll season. Political parties across the spectrum promise to implement prohibition if voted to power. But it was the death of anti-liquor activist Sasi Perumal last year which triggered a series of protests. Opposition parties were quick to jump on the bandwagon demanding the closure of the state-run TASMAC shops. While the ruling AIADMK initially scoffed at the idea, with Minister Natham Vishwanathan stating in September 2015 that total prohibition was impractical and impossible. However, the party has softened its stance to the idea since, with Jayalalithaa promising prohibition in a phased manner. But all this anti-liquor talk hasn’t stopped people from queuing up at a TASMAC store for their quarter bottle