May 14, 2011

Was graft a major issue in TN polls?

NEW DELHI: For cynics who scoffed at the crowds gathered to support the anti-corruption call given by Anna Hazare a few weeks back, the assembly election verdict in Tamil Nadu could be an answer that will make them sit up and take notice. While historically corruption has never been an issue that has evoked anger against the political institution in the Indian voter, this could change. Social scientists and political watchers believe that corruption may have a marginal impact in the present election but it is an influence that will continue to grow in the political debate.

Social commentators are divided in their assessment of the impact of corruption in this election. While there are some who feel that the 2G scam may have been instrumental in felling the ruling DMK, there are others who say that the pragmatic Indian voter has accepted corruption as part of the polity.

Commenting on the issue, Prof Sudha Pai, professor at JNU's Centre for Political Studies, says, "I think the Raja factor has come home to roost. DMK has had a bad time and this time the allegations are within the family. There is no doubt about the fact that the 2G scam has had an impact in Tamil Nadu. It is not an issue so much in Kerala or West Bengal, but in Tamil Nadu AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa has been taking it up and so have the smaller local parties."

Social commentator Santosh Desai says that it is difficult to rule out corruption as a variable in an election. "I think the unseemly family squabble and the perception that the family was running the state like a fiefdom may have contributed to the defeat. The anger or disappointment against DMK is more personal rather than an institutional anger against corruption because Jayalalithaa's credentials are not great either. But the memory of her scandals seems to have faded in comparison to the form and scale of the recent scams. The 2G spectrum scandal shows that everyone in the family is involved and seems to rub people's nose in it," Desai says.

NGO Janagraaha co-founder Ramesh Ramanathan says that while state level issues are gaining importance, there are still certain things like corruption that affect people across the board. He says, "The issue has an impact and politicians should be sensitive to the fact that it will increasingly be a distinguishing feature. While the pragmatic Indian voter accepts that there is no point in pretending that politicians are not corrupt, increasingly politicians will have to prove that they are cleaner than others. Just as development and governance had become issues for elections, corruption will also become one."

However, social scientist Shiv Vishvanathan attributes DMK's loss in Tamil Nadu to people's fatigue with Karunanidhi rather than corruption charges. He says that corruption is an issue for non-party politics. "While there has been a spate of scandals corruption is not a major issue. Especially in a place like Tamil Nadu we can see competitive politics with one party is trying to outdo each other. A lot of people are concerned about corruption, it is an issue for non-party politics for gurus like Anna Hazare, Swami Agnivesh but I don't see it translating to votes. It is a pity but the truth. The DMK's loss is more to do with tiredness with the family."

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