Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) seemed to prove exit polls wrong on Thursday, with her party pulling ahead of its main rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), according to available leads of 16 May polls.
The AIADMK has won 29 seats and is leading in 104 others; the DMK has won 23 seats and is leading in 65, according to the Election Commission of India website. Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa currently leading the DMK’s Shimla Muthuchozhan by 25,368 votes from Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar.
For a state that has not returned a sitting government to power in the last 27 years, the numbers hinted at Tamil Nadu making history this time around. Jayalalithaa, 68, known as Amma to her followers, had unveiled an election manifesto full of freebies to attract voters ahead of the 16 May polls.
Her main rival is 92-year-old patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who heads the DMK. The Congress is a junior partner in the DMK-led alliance. Despite his age, Karunanidhi had kept a punishing campaign schedule. The results will be seen as a test for his son M.K. Stalin as well, as he is seen as the main force behind the DMK campaign.
Supporters thronged the DMK party office in Chennai, with men, women and children sporting badges and carrying photographs of Stalin and Karunanidhi. Around 10 women sat at the DMK office entrance, some of them weeping on hearing that AIADMK had taken a lead. They were consoled by others who reminded them that the final results were yet to be declared.
“Let the final results come. We are hopeful and we want to see Kalaignar in the chief minister’s chair,” said 52-year-old Devagandhi, one among many DMK supporters waiting outside the party office. Said another woman named Manimegalai: “We don’t want all the efforts of Stalin to go waste.” Both the AIADMK and the DMK have dominated Tamil Nadu politics for decades, but more so from 1989 when assembly polls have alternately seen the election of AIADMK and DMK.
In Monday’s polls, however, the political landscape looked different with the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and actor Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam’s (DMDK) turning against their former senior partners. The PMK and DMDK have previously been allied with the DMK and the AIADMK, respectively. This time, the DMDK is leading an alliance that includes the Tamil Maanila Congress, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Communist parties and other smaller groups.
Jayalalithaa, a Kannadiga by birth, entered Tamil Nadu politics in the 1980s after starting out as an actress in the Tamil film industry. Despite reports of ill health, the 68-year-old is more visible now to the public than she has been since 2011 when her party won 150 of the 234 assembly seats in the state.
Jayalalithaa’s term this time has been eventful. She was convicted in 2014 on charges of possessing assets disproportionate to her income, disqualified from holding office and sent to jail, before being acquitted by the Karnataka high court and restored to office last year.
Critics describe her as “aloof” and “authoritarian”, but to her followers, Jayalalithaa is Amma—their benefactress who makes available meals thrice a day at subsidized rates of Rs.30 through special Amma kitchens, distributes gold coins to girls from poor families and offers free mixer-grinders and fans during the election season.