25 years on, Chennai sees a DMK sweep


Decimation of AIADMK in the region may be due to many reasons, including lack of ground work by office-bearers, selection of candidates

In the city, electoral history has repeated itself after 25 years. After the 1996 Assembly election, Chennai has voted fully for the DMK and its allies, routing the AIADMK as it did then and giving the party a comfortable majority to form a government on its own.

The verdict also symbolises the rise of DMK president M.K. Stalin. After the 1996 victory, he bacame the Chennai Mayor. In 2021, he is set to become Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

A post-poll analysis shows the decimation of the AIADMK-led alliance this time was due to many reasons, including the choice of coalition partners, lack of ground work by office-bearers, selection of candidates and the DMK’s promises that attracted both urban and rural masses.

Chennai has been the DMK’s bastion since the late 1950s as the party had established a strong link with the working class and the urban middle class. Even senior leaders like K. Anbazhagan and Murasoli Maran chose Chennai as their electoral battleground. Voters in some constituencies like Mylapore and T. Nagar had swayed towards the AIADMK only after Jayalalithaa took over as the party leader, observers say.

Asked about the possible reasons for the DMK’s massive victory, a cross-section of the city residents said the party’s election manifesto was more specific and detailed and provided a long-term plan.

Former Chennai Mayor and DMK MLA Ma. Subramanian echoed this view. He said people had become aware of issues like infrastructure and environment and were impressed by what his party offered. “They were looking for a change, and a leader who will deliver on the promises,” he said, citing this as a reason for the party and its allies to poll a higher number of votes in most city constituencies than in the previous elections.

A mix of first-timers, as in Villivakkam and Mylapore, and the choice of local and well-known candidates in constituencies such as Harbour, Ambattur and Avadi also helped the DMK. In places like Ponneri, local issues like the failure to address the opposition to the expansion of the Kattupalli port proved disastrous for the AIADMK, residents said.

S. Sudharsanam, who has been elected as Madhavaram MLA for the second consecutive time, said people expressed their discontent over the negligence of civic amenities by the AIADMK for 10 years. “The DMK’s fight for the rights of Tamils even when it was in the Opposition and public confidence in its ability to deliver on infrastructure are the other major reasons.”

An independent observer said the AIADMK was routed in the city because of the lack of coordination between the office-bearers and the cadre on the ground. “The Ministers concentrated on the western belt and left the city wide open. Since it was a do-or-die battle for the DMK, it put in 100% efforts, but the AIADMK was lackadaisical in its approach,” he said. “The DMK had a better set of allies too. The AIADMK had to carry the weight of the BJP and the TMC, which has no cadre base, and the PMK, which is seen as an opportunistic party. It is now time for the AIADMK to introspect and bring in new office-bearers,” he noted.

S. A. Ponnusamy, Makkal Needhi Maiam’s Perambur candidate, said this election showed that people were not yet ready for a third front. “Though the city has a larger educated voter base, the masses are still with the traditional Dravidian parties,” he said.

Naturally, expectations are running high. Voters want a better performance from the DMK that has regained power after a decade. Can the DMK repeat its 1996-2001 governance is the question. Some observers feel it was the least corrupt regime in the past three decades. “One reason was that the then Chief Minister [M. Karunanidhi] was surrounded by honest officials,” recalls a senior bureaucrat.

V. Rajagopal, president, Anna Nagar Western Extension Phase II Residents’ Welfare Association, said the big win indicated that people looked for a change as several infrastructure projects need to be completed. “The new government…is expected to accelerate development works,” he says.

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