US embassy cable - 06CHENNAI521

TAMIL NADU ELECTION: THE ACTION BEGINS

Identifier: 06CHENNAI521
Wikileaks: View 06CHENNAI521 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2006-03-21 10:58:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV PINR IN
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO6369
RR RUEHBI RUEHCI
DE RUEHCG #0521/01 0801058
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211058Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7723
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1541
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 4714
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0462
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 1186
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 000521 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, IN 
SUBJECT: TAMIL NADU ELECTION: THE ACTION BEGINS 
 
REF: CHENNAI 00393 
 
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 
 
HOPPER 

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