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Cable Wikileaks: "Tamil Nadu Election: The Action Begins "
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06CHENNAI521 2006-03-21 10:58:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Chennai
Cable title:  

TAMIL NADU ELECTION: THE ACTION BEGINS

Tags:   PGOV PINR IN 
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The lineups are set and the battle
lines drawn for the Tamil Nadu state assembly
elections on May 8. Incumbent Chief Minister J
Jayalalithaa's campaign seems to have the momentum but
her opposition may have the more impressive coalition
in terms of committed voters. Swing voters will
decide the outcome. The national Congress party is
part of the opposing alliance and hopes for modest
success as a coalition partner in a state they lost to
the Dravidian parties back in 1967 and have never
regained. END SUMMARY



--------------------------


OPPOSING LINEUPS TAKE SHAPE


--------------------------





2. (SBU) With the defection of charismatic Tamil Nadu
politician Vaiko from the DMK alliance to join the
rival AIADMK camp (Reftel), the final opposing lineups
for the May 8 election appear to be in place. Tamil
Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's AIADMK coalition
now includes her own AIADMK party along with Vaiko's
MDMK party and the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI).
They will be opposed by a DMK-led alliance known as
the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) with DMK
party chief M. Karunanidhi serving as alliance leader.
Karunanidhi's apparently bigger alliance is made up of
his DMK party, along with the Congress, PMK, both
Communist parties (CPI(M) and CPI) and the Indian
Union Muslim League. The other major national party,
the BJP, has decided to go it alone in the Tamil Nadu
elections. This is not a major loss for either
coalition, given the BJP's relative weakness in the
state. In the 2001 state assembly elections the BJP
won just four of 234 assembly seats.



--------------------------


JAYALALITHAA HAS THE MOMENTUM


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Following a stunning defeat in the May 2004
Lok Sabha election in which her party (partnering with
BJP) lost all 39 of the seats it contested,
Jayalalithaa quickly changed course, reversing policy
on a number of key issues. She announced repeal of
the state's Anti-Conversion Law, pleasing religious
minorities, reinstated free electric power to farmers,
rehired thousands of previously dismissed state
workers and instituted a number of "giveaway" programs
to various segments of the population in the state.



4. (SBU) These popular giveaway programs have
continued to grow and now include free bicycles for
Dalit schoolchildren, stipends for family events like
marriages, births and deaths, and free sarees and
dhotis for almost anyone who is willing to wait in
line for them. This something-for-everyone policy
seems to have greatly boosted Jayalalithaa's
popularity. And even the weather has been going her
way. After years of drought in Tamil Nadu, plentiful
rain during the past fall's rainy season has improved
life for farmers and almost assured a good rice
harvest, which will take place just before election
day. The average Tamil Nadu citizen seems to feel
that things are going pretty well right now. Vaiko's
addition to Jayalalithaa's coalition further adds to
her momentum in the public's eyes.



--------------------------


BUT DON'T COUNT KARUNANIDHI AND THE DMK OUT


--------------------------





5. (SBU) It would be a mistake, however, to assume
that Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK coalition have the
election won. Even with Vaiko's departure, the DMK's
coalition is the more impressive. Vaiko is a popular
and impressive speaker, especially in his native
Tamil, but commands a committed vote bank of only 3 -
4 percent in the state. Running independently in the
2001 state assembly, his MDMK party won no seats.
Purely in numbers of committed voters, the DMK
coalition holds the edge. It is the uncommitted swing
voters who hold the key to the election. As a part of
the UPA coalition aligned with the Congress party at
the center, it is likely that Karunanidhi can call
upon heavyweights like Sonia Gandhi to make

CHENNAI 00000521 002 OF 002


appearances during the campaign. Gandhi is popular in
Tamil Nadu and may be able to capture key swing voters
for the DMK alliance.



6. (SBU) The remaining members of the DMK alliance
have said that with Vaiko's defection to the enemy,
they are newly energized. Each remaining coalition
party was allocated additional seats to contest when
the seats previously promised to Vaiko became
available with his departure. When asked by Post
about the DMK coalition's chances for victory, DMK
party Treasurer and former GOI Minister for Power and
Health, Arcot Veerasamy, said with conviction that the
DMK alliance's chances are "200 percent."



--------------------------


EACH COALITION HAS HURDLES TO OVERCOME


--------------------------





7. (SBU) Things are going well for Jayalalithaa but
there remain obstacles standing in the way of her
ultimate success. The "numbers game" is one
impediment. If swing voters were to vote in the same
relative proportions as those voters openly committed
to one party or another, she would lose since the DMK
coalition commands the greater number of committed
voters. She must win the swing vote. Another problem
is the long-standing corruption and disproportionate
wealth charge she faces. Through a series of
postponements and delays, she has succeeded in
delaying any court appearances in connection with the
case until after the election but voters are surely
aware of the charges pending against her.



8. (SBU) For Karunanidhi and his coalition, the
biggest problem may be Karunanidhi's age. He is 82
and usually walks and even stands with assistance.
His ability to wage a vigorous campaign is in
question. His heir apparent in the DMK is his son
Stalin who has never been popular with voters or party
cadres. If Jayalalithaa can portray the election as a
choice between her and Stalin rather than between her
and Karunanidhi, she is likely to capture the swing
vote which she needs to win the election.



--------------------------


DOES IT REALLY MATTER WHO WINS?


--------------------------





9. (SBU) COMMENT: In terms of politics at the Center,
the impact of the Tamil Nadu state assembly election
will be minor. The national Congress party would love
to be on the winning side and claim another big state
as one in which Congress at least shares power. But
if the Congress-supported DMK alliance loses, it
should not be viewed as a major loss for the Congress
party. The real fight in Tamil Nadu is between the
Dravidian party heavyweights, the DMK and AIADMK, and
their veteran leaders, M. Karunanidhi and J
Jayalalithaa. In terms of impact on business
interests and potential investment opportunities in
Tamil Nadu, it is unlikely that the outcome will
result in any significant shift from what most view as
a generally favorable business climate in the state.
In point of fact, it is difficult to discern any
significant ideological differences between the two
major parties. Vaiko's comment after switching sides
says it all about Tamil Nadu politics: "Ideology has
no space in electoral politics. This is only a seat-
sharing arrangement for the elections." END COMMENT

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