The ruling AIADMK in Tamil Nadu faced its first electoral rout in eight years in 2019, with arch rival DMK handing it a humiliating defeat in the April Lok Sabha elections, results that came two years ahead of the scheduled Assembly polls in the state. The capital city of Chennai and its neighbourhoods suffered one of the worst water crises in the summer of 2019, as dried up lakes and plummeting water tables added to the misery of the common man.
The death of a two-year old boy trapped in an abandoned borewell in Tiruchirappalli led to a pall of gloom across the state, with all efforts to pull him alive failing after 80 hours of massive rescue operations. In 2019, the AIADMK had little to cheer electorally, as it failed miserably in the Lok Sabha polls, the first major such exercise faced by the ruling party since the death of its General Secretary and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in 2016, the year it stormed to a successive term in office.
In the ruling saddle since 2011 and not having lost a single election under Jayalalithaa’s leadership, 2019 spoke a different tale for the AIADMK as it could not repeat its previous performance, this time as a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). DMK President M K Stalin, whose strategising skills came under scrutiny following the party’s loss in the 2016 Assembly polls despite a better show then, had reasons to smile as he steered the mega Secular Progressive Alliance to a massive win, securing 38 of 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and the one in neighbouring Puducherry.
He also attempted to establish himself as a strong regional leader, leading from the front against the Centre on issues including the CAA, federalism and alleged Hindi imposition on non-Hindi speaking states. The DMK-led SPA’s victory prompted political observers to draw parallel to a similar show by the party-led coalition in 2004, when then DMK chief, the late M Karunanidhi, ensured a 40/40, despite Jayalalithaa being at the helm.
However, the DMK’s dream of storming to power did not fructify as AIADMK won nine of the 22 Assembly seats where bypolls were held along with the Parliamentary elections, sailing past the simple majority figure and giving Chief Minister K Palaniswami a lot of breathing space. Most of the 22 seats where polls were held had fallen vacant earlier following the disqualification of 18 pro-Dhinakaran AIADMK MLAs who had rebelled against Palaniswami after he merged his faction with that of then rebel leader O Panneerselvam, now deputy Chief Minister, in August 2017. The Madras High Court had upheld the disqualification of the 18 legislators.
Palaniswami also staged a comeback of sorts later in the year, when the AIADMK won the Vikravandi and Nanguneri Assembly bypolls in October, wresting them from arch rival DMK and Congress, respectively. Days ahead of the festival of lights, Diwali, in October, a two-year old boy slipped and fell into an abandoned borewell in Tiruchirappalli, with the whole state praying for his safe rescue.
As time passed by and more machines were deployed, he only further slipped, with his chances of staying alive diminishing with every passing minute. After 80 hours of marathon rescue operations, the boy was pulled out dead, breaking a million hearts in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere, even as prayers were held earlier for him in the places of worship of different faiths.
Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai faced its worst drinking water crises in years, as various overground and underground resources were spent to the last drop, in the backdrop of a failed northeast monsoon in 2018. With parched lake beds of reservoirs feeding the city and groundwater tables completely gone dry, it was up to the government to manage the situation with the help of tanker lorries and sourcing water from quarries abutting the city.
With crisscrossing water tankers and rows of empty pots waiting on roads, the city stared at its “Day Zero” moment, with the issue even attracting international attention. Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio had expressed concern over Chennai’s condition. As people started praying for divine intervention, the city started receiving good spells of rain, bringing relief both to citizens, as well as the water managers.
Tamil Nadu witnessed massive, yet peaceful protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by the end of the year, with the DMK-led opposition hitting the streets, even as civil society members followed suit. While actor Kamal Haasan had floated his political party Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) last year and even faced the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with a decent vote share, the expectations around superstar Rajinikanth’s political innings continued.
Making remarks on controversial issues, some of them perceived to be in support of the BJP government at the Centre, the actor made a sensational indication of joining hands with Haasan in the future, although the two are said to be on the either sides of the spectrum ideologically. Haasan also seemed to support the idea, sparking off speculations of a new political alignment to take on the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK, two parties which have been ruling the state since 1967.
Rajinikanth, a veteran of over 40 years in Indian cinema, had announced in December 2017 that he will indeed take the political plunge, and announced his plans to face the next Assembly polls, due in 2021, contesting from all 234 seats. However, he is yet to formally join politics, even as he is said to be busy with back-to-back film commitments.
This year, in a significant policy decision, the Tamil Nadu government implemented the plastic ban, saying no to single use plastic, citing environmental reasons. The announcement made by Palaniswami last year and effected from January 2019, was widely welcomed.