Tamil Nadu now has more women voters than men as per revised data. But can AIADMK hold on to its traditional vote base following Jayalalithaa’s demise?

Post Jayalalithaa can AIADMK still hold sway over women voters in Tamil NaduFile image/ PTI
news Politics Friday, February 01, 2019 - 17:51

With the Indian subcontinent preparing for parliamentary elections that are just months away, voters in the state of Tamil Nadu are once again set to make a choice between the ruling AIADMK, its off-shoot AMMK and the DMK. While parties have begun talks for pre-poll alliances and set up campaign management structures, the Dravidian heavyweights will have to look at one important factor – how to bring in the female vote? 

Tamil Nadu has more women voters than men, according to the latest revised enrolment data. Out of the 5.91 crore voters in the state, 2.98 crore are women, while 2.92 crore are men – a small but significant difference of 2.5% 

In a movement unique to the state, women voters have in the past gravitated towards the AIADMK as the party was led by then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. While AIADMK emerged the third largest party in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections sweeping 37 out of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, in the 2016 Assembly polls in the state, Jayalalithaa was voted back to power- a first in 32 years for a ruling government to be given a second term in the state. A pre-poll survey of opinions by Lokniti and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies ahead of the 2016 Assembly election showed that 46% of women preferred the AIADMK, while 36% of men for the party. Women perceived Jayalalithaa to be less corrupt, a good administrator and caring for the poor.

With the demise of the former Chief Minister and political events that have taken place after, what lies ahead for the AIADMK ahead of the 2019 polls? Will it be advantage DMK?

‘Traditional vote base lost’

Speaking to TNM, poll watchers point out that the loss of the women’s vote is an extension of the anti-incumbency facing the ruling party. With Jayalalithaa’s death, matters got worse thanks to multi-pronged faction wars within the party.

“The politics of today is without clarity. There is a lot of confusion even within the AIADMK. I am not sure if the AIADMK will get votes from what has been its traditional base. There have been many anti-people policies and the anti-incumbency factor is also strong,” points out senior journalist Kavin Malar. “First, the AIADMK split after her death so the votes also got split. Then they unified. So the overall AIADMK vote share will come down,” she adds.

Woman factor

Senior journalist Kavitha Muralidharan points that the late AIADMK supremo was a powerful woman leader, a factor that is absent from the ruling party today.

“I don’t think the AIADMK will get a big mandate after Jayalalithaa. They don't have one charismatic leader. MGR (late Chief Minister MG Ramachandran) was charismatic as a leader and was popular among women. Jayalalithaa retained this. I don’t think these votes will now be transferred to the AIADMK. Ordinary women were able to relate to both MGR and Jayalalithaa on some level. They also helmed populist schemes like the Amma Unavagam, prohibition, etc,” she says.

Kavin, on the other hand, says that unlike the women leaders in the state today who are in influential roles-- Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi of the DMK, Premalatha of the DMDK-- Jayalalithaa harped on the woman factor.

She says, “There is no powerful lady leader like Jayalalithaa around today. Kanimozhi will only get ideological votes as opposed to the women vote. She will get party votes. Jayalalithaa created a special place for herself among women voters by repeatedly stating that she is a woman, a victim.” Kavin refers to theincident in 1989 when then Leader of Opposition Jayalalithaa’s saree was pulled and torn by a minister in then CM Karunanidhi’s cabinet in the Tamil Nadu Assembly.

As far as Premalatha, who was recently appointed as the Treasurer of DMDK, is concerned, Kavin says, “When it comes to Premalatha too, she is largely viewed as anni or DMDK chief Vijayakanth’s wife. She has her own oratory skills but we don’t know how much her politics has reached the people.”