By Geeta Padmanabhan
With Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha being sworn in chief ministers, nearly 380 million or 30% of the population will be governed by women [include UP under Mayavathi and Delhi under Sheila Dikshit]. It’s interesting that for decades women have been asking for a bill allowing 33% reservation of parliament seats for women. Life’s little irony!
Of the two results – in W. Bengal and Tamil Nadu – it was the one in Tamil Nadu that sprang a big surprise. News channels were way off the mark when they predicted anything from a DMK victory to a narrow lead for Jaya’s ADMK in assembly numbers. Just goes to show how these “scientific” polls done in AC-ed computer rooms and among a mere 6000 respondents are complete duds. The drivers, hawkers, maids and industrial workers were sure – amma would come back. They were worried about just one thing – the counting could be rigged. “She will win,” my maid said emphatically. “But a month between polling and counting… that worries me.”
Yet, the numbers are a surprise – 203/234. In all the interviews and analyses we were subjected to, it is Jaya alone who believed in these numbers. “My alliance will get over 200 seats,” she said, and one could see the interviewer smirking. I wonder where she is now – the interviewer, I mean.
So, how did the comeback queen, well, come back?
 Her campaign. She organised a youth wing, issued cards to them, asked them to find their own leaders. Once that got through, every week, she asked party leaders to organise street corner meetings in every town, every district. These were done from open trucks at public places and included all these new members. This was the training ground for the new recruits on how to reach out to the people. The speeches were meticulously written – by herself – describing local problems and attacking the local governments. These protests were recorded and broadcast on her Jaya TV and drew large audiences.
 In the month preceding the poll date she stormed the state – in a vehicle that dramatically opened at the top. One could hear audible gasps among the public when she emerged from the opening seated under a canopy. Tamil Nadu loves opening scenes; when the actor appears in the movie, he/she is greeted with whistles and applause.
 In every one of her election speeches she talked of the state – the state of the economy and law and order. She had stats to show how the power production had gone down, how the state debt had risen, how sand and granite were being mined illegally, how the prices had risen, the free rice was being sold in neighbouring states, rounding it off with the thundering announcement that in the middle of all this, the first family managed to prosper. She connected the “family’s” biz interests to why they were soft on Sri Lankan Tamils’ plight, to the Cauvery issue with Karnataka. It did help that she was once a very popular actor.
 She protested relentlessly, to the Election Commissioner. She explained how elections had been rigged in the past, how money got distributed, how the counting could go wrong, and what she wanted done. Amazingly, every one of her requests got accepted.
 She made a strategic alliance with another actor’s party – DMDK. The party had a 10% vote share in the previous election – a share that was cast against the ruling DMK. She gave them the 41 seats they demanded and kept for herself enough numbers to form her own government. “The people of Tamil Nadu will not like a coalition government,” she explained. Vijaykant (DMDK) too, saw the benefit of this alliance – he wanted DMK ouster and presence for himself in the assembly. The handshake paid off very handsomely for him. With 27+ seats now DMDK is the second largest party in the assembly and Vijaykant could be the leader of the opposition!
 Jaya knew that the last assembly elections were won because of the promise of freebies. Going for something free is deeply ingrained in the Tamil psyche- or why do shops announce “commissions” in gold buying! Even when you buy veggies you expect free sprigs of curry and coriander leaves – the “kosuru” without which no householder will pay the vendor! She waited for the DMK to announce the freebies, and doubled everything – they promised money, she promised gold. They promised free power, she promised cows and goats as well. Result: the “freebie” lure got neutralised.
 She put the 2G spectrum issue to the forefront by offering to support the central government unconditionally. Speaking calmly and in perfectly measured tones and with excellent diction she told a TV channel that she would see to it that the government did not fall if Raja got arrested and the DMK withdrew support. If she were seen as a crusader against corruption, could the Congress afford to lag behind? Raja was put behind bars and the spectrum issue became everyday conversation.
 She got help from NGOs. Several organisations went around campaigning against corruption – they printed booklets explaining the spectrum case, about land grabbing, environmental disasters coming out of the frenzy of building, about heritage sites being damaged by the Metro Rail project. I don’t know when a vast majority of people got educated on complex issues so thoroughly before elections.
 Tamil Nadu has a high percentage of educated voters. That may be because here politicos see education as business and any number of schools and engineering colleges are run using political profits. The young educated demographic know what is going on, and what to do.
 Jaya used her TV’s reach very well. [Did she hire a good PR firm?] In a series of talk shows, her anchors discussed economic issues in the state with experts, the spectrum case with all the players involved in TN and at the centre.
So it was all hard work and strategy. To dismiss the victory as the “people’s habit of seeking change” is to overlook the many pixels in the picture.
Jayalalitha has a very difficult task ahead “putting the administration back on rails”. We can only wish her the best. And hope she will set aside temptations of vendetta and concentrate on her mandated job.
Mamta’s victory in west bengal is really remarkable.Her win is first defeat of left in near 40 years!She was always a fiery leader.She once danced on the roof of JP’s car.
Absolutely, Seema Sinha. Taking nothing away from that historic win, we all knew it was going to happen. It was expected.
Now 3 big states are ruled by women and it is a welcome change.
Here in Tamil Nadu we sincerely hope that the CM will show that women manage finances (in tatters now), law and order (dreadful), power (in both senses) and prices better than a bunch of greedy men.