Salutary lessons

The outcome of the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections holds some salutary lessons for Indian democracy. The rout of the DMK and the alliance it led shows that the ordinary voters can judge a government and the leaders of political parties much better than the media and purveyors of public opinion.

All opinion surveys had predicted a close electoral contest in the state but a tsunami of popular anger has swept the DMK off to a humiliating defeat, and given Jayalalitha’s  AIADMK a three-fourths majority in the Assembly. It was the hubris and cynicism of the DMK leadership which made it think it could bribe the voters through to a victory and that was decisively rejected by the electorate when it voted the party out. Therein lies a great democratic hope.

The DMK government and the party leadership, which are one and the same, had taken the people for granted. It had thought the social security measures implemented by the government would keep the people captive to the party. But the high levels of corruption that stained the leaders’ image turned the people against the party. Neither chief minister Karunanidhi nor others could offer a defence against the charges of huge corruption. Worse, they thought the people would continue to support them if they offered them largesse and promises of more goodies. The people also did not fail to notice that the DMK, which was once a people’s movement, had become a family concern.

A victory for the DMK would have meant endorsement of the worst kind of family politics, corruption and lack of concern for the best norms of politics and governance. It is not that the people thought Jayalalitha would offer them a far superior government. But she offered an alternative that they could look up to. She also managed to put together an alliance which maximised her support.

The DMK had an ally in the Congress who could not contribute much by way of electoral support. The alliance itself was seen only as an opportunistic arrangement to keep power at the Centre. The DMK will need to do a lot of hard work to regain its political relevance. Jayalalitha has been sworn in chief minister for a third time. She should  concentrate on governance and refrain from the revenge politics that marked her previous terms.

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