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Amma Is Here To Stay: What Makes People Vote Her Back To Power Every Time

Posted on September 29, 2014 in Politics

By Chandra Shekhar:

J Jayalalithaa, one of the most important politicians in our country, has been convicted in a corruption case while serving as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. She was awarded an imprisonment of four years in addition to 100 crore rupees fine. This has made her the first Chief Minister in India to have been disqualified following a court’s verdict. She cannot contest elections for the next ten years unless a higher court acquits her. Now, what next for Amma? Is her political career over?


Political analysts and the opposition parties have written her off from politics various times and every time she came back, only strongly.

In 1989, following the party founder and the then chief minister M G Ramachandran’s death, the party split into two: one under MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran and the other under Jayalalithaa. Both the factions claimed that it was the official ADMK, but election commission refused to recognize either. MGR’s election symbol ‘two leaves’ was denied for both parties and ADMK under Jayalalithaa had to fight the election with the symbol ‘cock’. That was the time when political pundits wrote her off for the first time.

Even though both factions lost, Jaya’s party emerged as the second largest party and she became the first woman leader of opposition in Tami Nadu legislative assembly. She merged the two factions of the party and became the first person to restore the lost election symbol of ‘two leaves’ successfully, which even the mighty Indira Gandhi couldn’t accomplish. She allied with Congress party and became the chief minister after the 1991 elections. Political analysts shrugged it off saying that it was only because of sympathy wave following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination.

Her stint as the Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996 was marked by lavish lifestyle, poor governance, reputation as an autocrat, corruption allegations and to top it all, Jaya’s foster son’s extravagant marriage that invited heavy criticism from the public. In 1996 election, ADMK was routed to its worst possible defeat by winning only 4 seats. It was that time when political analysts wrote her political career off, again.

What followed in 1998 general elections was one of the unpredictable comebacks ever in Tamil Nadu politics. Jaya swept the polls in alliance with BJP and participated in the central government. Within a period of two years the entire electoral arithmetic changed. The alliance won 30 out of 39 seats.

In 2001 assembly election, Jaya’s nomination to contest was rejected since she was then convicted for a criminal offense in TANSI case. The people of Tamil Nadu gave a clear mandate to ADMK and its alliance parties even though she remained a convict under the law. She became the Chief Minister, which was legally voided by the Supreme Court. She fought the TANSI case in High Court, got acquitted and became the Chief Minister again.

Her 2001 to 2006 stint was clean and did not receive any major corruption allegations. However following various ‘un-populist’ measures (most of which were economically correct but politically wrong), her party was again routed in 2004 general elections where it drew a blank. She lost assembly elections in 2006 and the general elections in 2009, losing elections three times successively. And guess what, it was the time for her critics to announce her dusk. They had to wait till 2011 to be proved wrong, again.

Her reign from 2011 till now was marked with both populism and good governance. Though she tried to boost her image with a series of populist initiatives like ‘Amma Canteen’ (which provides cheap subsidized food),  ‘Amma Water’, free laptops for students, free mixer, grinder and table fans to poor etc., there are also serious and well planned initiatives like Vision 2023 plan, a strategic plan for infrastructure in the state, restoration of electricity etc. It looked as if she tried to maintain a balance between good governance and popular governance.

In 2014 general elections, ADMK contested alone, won 37 out of 39 seats and became the third largest party in India. It was a feat, even the great MGR (arguably the most popular politician in the state) was unable to achieve. (It is to be noted that the two seats that ADMK lost were special cases; Kanyakumari was religiously polarized between Hindus and Christians and led to the BJP’s win, while Dharmapuri constituency was dominated by a single caste and elected a caste based party, namely the PMK).

As we look back, her political career was considered over at least four times. Time and again, she has proved that it is far from over. The broader inspection should be about what her magic is and what makes people to vote her back to power?

When you go through the social media websites, the general pulse of the public is definitely not anti-Jaya. Actually it is far from it. Yes there are these cries like democracy has won, faith in judiciary restored and this will lead to fear for corruption in the future etc., a sizable majority is somewhat sympathetic to the lady. Why?

The main opposition party DMK is at its worst state of affairs. This conviction for Jaya has come at a time when her popularity is at its peak. People voted for her because they couldn’t stand DMK’s corrupt and family based regime. DMK’s unpopularity went to an all-time low following the 2G spectrum scam. For people who’ve seen scams running to lakhs of crores, it is no wonder that a ‘mere’ 66 crore scam is seen as something ‘not as bad as DMK’. To add to that, the way she handled the electricity crisis in the state, various populist measures etc. has been well received by the people.

Another reason that parties or leaders get elected back despite setbacks, is because of one major factor: TINA (There Is No Alternative). Indira Gandhi became PM again despite being routed following emergency. In many states, the same government is elected back only because there is no capable opposition. The same applies here too.

Voters choose not the best government but only a better government. They don’t choose between good and bad but between better and worst. In addition to that, even though this is silly, people think that since Jaya had been voted out of power in 1996 for the same allegations, it suffices the ‘punishment’.

When one analyzes with equipoise, Jaya’s three different stints as Chief Minister, one can clearly see the marked differences from her first stint to her latest. Electoral losses and decimation at various points of time has made her more mature and better. What has transpired now can be only termed unfortunate and a right legal decision at the politically wrong time.

This is not a post to justify what Jaya has done. In the eyes of law, she currently stands as a criminal. Given the political vacuum in the opposition camp, and DMK’s unprecedented low image, this is just an attempt to highlight that her political career is far from over.