Jayalalithaa returns as chief minister of Tamil Nadu

An AIADMK supporter bowing at the feet of Ms Jayalalithaa at her residence in Chennai last Thursday.
An AIADMK supporter bowing at the feet of Ms Jayalalithaa at her residence in Chennai last Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

But initial populist moves may not be enough as she faces stronger opposition, say analysts

Ms J. Jayalalithaa, who was sworn in as chief minister of Tamil Nadu state yesterday, started her second consecutive stint on a populist note by announcing free breakfast for government school students, a loan waiver for farmers and eight grammes of gold for new brides.

The 68-year-old leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) took her oath along with 28 Cabinet colleagues at the Madras University in Chennai.

As her supporters continued to celebrate her return to power, she announced a series of schemes promised in her election manifesto. They include the closure of 500 of 6,823 state-run liquor shops as part of a phased ban on alcohol, free breakfast for students, 100 units of free power, a loan waiver for farmers and the gold gift for brides.

She was returned to power after the AIADMK won 134 of 232 assembly seats in the elections, trailed by rival Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which won 89 seats, the Congress eight seats and none for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Politics in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, one of India's more prosperous states, has been dominated by the AIADMK and DMK, led by Mr M. Karunanidhi, with national parties such as the Congress and the BJP having little influence.

Mr Modi congratulated Ms Jayalalithaa in a tweet, adding: "Centre will work closely with new Govt for progress of TN (Tamil Nadu)."

An actress-turned-politician, Ms Jayalalithaa has survived many political and legal challenges, including going to jail briefly on a graft conviction in 2014 that was overturned last year.

Yesterday, she took her oath as chief minister for the sixth time.

Analysts said there were high expectations for her as this is the first time in over 30 years that any politician in the southern state has served two back-to-back terms. She also faces a much stronger opposition in the Assembly.

"Power and water, these issues have to be addressed better. The government said it will give 100 units of free power but stabilisation of power is very important," said Madras University Professor Ramu Manivannan, a political analyst.

"It is going to be a very intense legislature and policy process because there is a strong opposition. She is expected to pay more attention to governance.

"Every move will be contested."

Chennai-based political commentator Badri Seshadri said: "Everyone (during the election campaign) talked about job creation, and for this you need massive investments across the state."

Her other challenges on the economic front are improving the ease of doing business and competing with other southern states, like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which have been far more aggressive in chasing after investments.

"She needs to accelerate the path of economic development and has to focus on unblocking investments stuck especially in the power sector. After the floods (in December), the state has to push for further manufacturing investments," said Mr Rishi Sahai, managing director of investment bank Cogence Advisors.

Still, the state has among the highest GDP in India, with an average annual growth rate of 6 to 7 per cent over the last five years. It remains among the top destinations for Singapore investments, which include a large industrial park developed by Singapore's Ascendas-Singbridge.

Industry bodies too have welcomed the return of Ms Jayalalithaa, expressing optimism of a continuation of policies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Jayalalithaa returns as chief minister of Tamil Nadu'. Print Edition | Subscribe