US embassy cable - 06CHENNAI772

TAMIL NADU ELECTIONS: MANY GIVEAWAYS, BUT NO RUNAWAY

Identifier: 06CHENNAI772
Wikileaks: View 06CHENNAI772 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2006-04-24 08:37:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV PINR IN
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO1924
RR RUEHBI RUEHCI
DE RUEHCG #0772/01 1140837
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240837Z APR 06
FM AMCONSUL CHENNAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8048
INFO RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1600
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 4736
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA 0483
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 1191
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHENNAI 000772 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PINR, IN 
SUBJECT: TAMIL NADU ELECTIONS: MANY GIVEAWAYS, BUT NO 
RUNAWAY 
 
REF: CHENNAI 0521 
 
1. SUMMARY: (SBU) Free color TVs for all families 
without one; ten kilograms of free rice through ration 
shops; two acres of land for the landless; maternity 
dole for six months to pregnant women; burial 
allowance for the dead . . .  Tamil Nadu political 
parties' election promises have surpassed all previous 
records.  Recent opinion polling indicates a close 
contest with marginal advantage to Chief Minister 
Jayalalithaa's AIADMK-led coalition.  While Post' 
contacts believe that the AIADMK has indeed come a 
long way from its rout in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections 
and might emerge the winner, it is still unclear which 
way the critical undecided voters will swing before 
the elections on May 8.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
PROMISES GALORE FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE, LITERALLY 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
2. (SBU) Competitive populism is running riot in the 
Tamil Nadu election campaign.  In its election 
manifesto released on March 30, principal opposition 
party DMK promised that, if elected, they will provide 
free color television sets to every family that does 
not have one.  Also promised is quality rice at 2 
Rupees (4 cents) per kilogram, a maternity dole of 
1,000 Rupees ($21) per month for six months to all 
pregnant women, free gas stoves to poor families, free 
power to weavers, cancellation of farm loans, and even 
a $21 allowance for the burial rites of the dead. 
Brushing aside doubts on the feasibility of some of 
these commitments, DMK President Karunanidhi declared 
in campaign stops that the rice subsidy would be the 
first executive order he would sign as Chief Minister, 
and that cheap TV sets would be imported from China to 
meet the demand. 
 
3. (SBU) In making these offers, the opposition is 
stealing a page from the strategy Chief Minister 
Jayalalithaa has used to recover from her party's rout 
in the 2004 Lok Sabha election.  For example, since 
2004 Jayalalithaa has distributed 614,000 bicycles to 
students at a cost of $24 million, given away flood 
relief assistance to 3.4 million families totaling 
$128 million, and, each year, distributed free sarees 
to 11 million women and dhotis (traditional 
loincloths) to 11 million men.  With the DMK 
threatening to eclipse her largesse with the rosy 
promises in its manifesto, she upped the ante, 
offering 10 kilograms of free rice to all eligible 
families.  This came as an after-thought (or perhaps a 
counter punch in the rice giveaway war) much after the 
AIADMK poll manifesto was released. 
 
4. (SBU) Not to be left behind, actor and new 
political entrant Vijayakant of the DMDK party has 
promised 15 kilograms of rice absolutely free. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
CAMPAIGNING IN FULL SWING; BOTH SIDES CLAIM LEAD 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
5. (SBU) Tamil Nadu's two major coalitions, the DMK- 
Congress-Left-PMK coalition and the AIADMK-MDMK-Dalit 
Panthers coalition (Reftel), are campaigning 
intensively in the districts.  Officials of Chief 
Minister Jayalalithaa's entourage told Post that her 
tour in southern Tamil Nadu is drawing enthusiastic 
response.  "She is doing very well," said a senior 
Intelligence officer of the state police accompanying 
her, adding that her party remains "very optimistic" 
after seeing large crowds thronging street-side 
meetings.  Meanwhile, DMK Member of Parliament 
Shanmughasundaram told Post the DMK-led coalition 
would win over 180 seats in the 234-member assembly. 
"It is not for rice alone that people would vote for 
us, although Jayalalithaa seems to believe so," he 
said.  He believes that the numerical strength of the 
DMK coalition is the key factor. 
 
6. (SBU) Outside the two major coalitions are the 
loners, the BJP and the DMDK, a new party founded by a 
film-star turned politician Vijayakant.  A senior BJP 
leader confided to Post that his party will perform 
miserably, losing many former supporters who will this 
 
CHENNAI 00000772  002 OF 002 
 
 
time vote for the AIADMK.  Journalists predict that 
Vijayakant's DMDK party might, however, poll over 5 
percent of the votes, drawing supporters away from 
both the DMK and the AIADMK. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
SLUGFEST: VAIKO TAKES CHARGE OF OFFENSIVE 
----------------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) Vaiko, star campaigner and General Secretary 
of the MDMK party, has turned out to be a prize catch 
for Jayalalithaa.  After leaving the DMK Front and 
joining hands with Jayalalithaa, he has added much 
firepower to her coalition, even though the actual 
votes he brings to the table may be less than 5 
percent.  In well-attended public meetings and TV 
appearances, he sharply attacks Karunanidhi's 
nepotism, particularly the promoting of his son Stalin 
and his grand-nephew Union Minister Dayanithi Maran. 
Post contacts agree that M.K. Stalin, waiting in the 
wings to succeed Karunanidhi, remains unpopular with 
the Tamil masses.  Vaiko also attacks Dayanithi Maran 
for alleged unethical support to the wealthy family 
business, the Sun TV Network. 
 
-------------------------------- 
TOO CLOSE TO CALL, SAY POLLSTERS 
-------------------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Polling 4781 voters in 58 Tamil Nadu assembly 
constituencies between April 1-7, the Center for the 
Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) predicted a 46 
percent vote share for the AIADMK alliance and 44 
percent to the DMK Front.  The poll, sponsored by 
Tamil Nadu's most respected leftist newspaper, The 
Hindu, along with CNN-IBN news channel, indicated that 
the race is too close to call, as the 2 percent lead 
is well within the margin of error.  Another caveat of 
the pollsters was Tamil Nadu's history of late voter 
swings.  The poll noted that significant numbers of 
voters remain undecided.  According to The Hindu, one 
of the key findings is that "no single party is likely 
to win a majority of the 234 assembly seats."  If no 
party wins a clear majority, Tamil Nadu will find 
itself with a coalition government for the first time 
in the state's history. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
DEFT MOVES HELP JAYA OVERCOME 2004 DEBACLE 
------------------------------------------ 
 
9. (SBU) Post's independent contacts generally agree 
that the AIADMK has come a long way from the total 
rout it faced in 2004 Lok Sabha elections.  A good 
number of them now anticipate that her coalition will 
eventually emerge the winner.  Jayalalithaa's deft 
moves after 2004, such as the repeal of the 
controversial 2002 "Anti-Religious Conversion law" 
helped the image makeover.  [Although the technical 
legal validity of the of the repeal ordinance is 
questioned, the anti-conversion law remains 
practically dead in the state with no case ever 
registered under its provisions.] 
 
------------------------------------- 
THE LOSER: TAMIL NADU'S FISCAL HEALTH 
------------------------------------- 
 
10. (SBU) COMMENT:  The question remains whether Chief 
Minister Jayalalithaa's largesse during the past two 
years has curried enough favor with voters to defeat 
the apparent numerical strength of the DMK-Congress- 
Left-PMK coalition.  Given Tamil Nadu's history of 
late vote swings, much will depend on the course of 
the campaign over the next two weeks.  Whoever wins, 
the loser could be the state's fiscal health.  Already 
with an estimated fiscal deficit of 54.41 billion 
Rupees ($1.21 billion) in FY 2005-06, the promised 
additional subsidies will hamper needed investment in 
infrastructure.  For obvious political reasons, the 
Center, particularly Finance Minister Chidambaram who 
is from Tamil Nadu, has tacitly endorsed the 
outrageous promises, demonstrating once again that 
government officials are politicians first. END 
COMMENT. 
 
HOPPER 

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