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December 2, 1998


Fresh from poll victory, Sonia plans a foray into TN

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N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

Congress president Sonia Gandhi is likely to visit Tamil Nadu in January. Though no dates have been fixed, she is expected to address a 'victory rally', possibly at Tiruchirappalli, in the first fortnight of the New Year.

Gandhi's proposed visit gains significance from more than one angle. It would be a message to both the Tamil Maanila Congress and also the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, that the Congress would like to bargain with either of them, if it came to that, from a position of comparative strength. And to prove the point, the party is likely to parade chief ministers from the three north Indian states where it swept the recent assembly poll.

Whether or not Sonia Gandhi finally makes it to Tamil Nadu as intended, the very fact that she is considering an early visit, shows the importance that the Congress attaches to the state. Though the party has suffered instant reverses in recent times, it still holds promise by the 39 Lok Sabha seats, which can make or mar its chances of capturing power at the Centre.

Interestingly, that way, the future course of politics in the state is being set by the Congress. Both the AIADMK and the TMC are looking up to the national party for a direction. That was the case even before the assembly elections, but the Congress sweep has made it all the more relevant.

AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha wants a 'friendly government' at the Centre, to checkmate the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham government. Party leaders, including Jayalalitha, are facing criminal cases, now cleared by the Supreme Court. For a go-slow on these proceedings, the AIADMK can count only on central intervention, of the dismissal variety.

The TMC is caught between two stools. At the state-level, the target is the assembly election of 2001, when it seeks to restore 'Kamaraj rule'. Given the 'political fluidity' at the national-level, the leadership wants to post a respectable score in any intermittent Lok Sabha poll.

A victory in any snap poll to the Lok Sabha will boost the morale of the TMC cadre, and the faith in the voter. Another failure, like in this year's Lok Sabha poll, could dampen, not just the cadre-spirits, but also the party's hopes for 2001. With no idea when a snap poll could be held, there is little time for the party to revive cadre-morale and the voter-mood, before 2001.

But the TMC knows this much: in a snap poll to the Lok Sabha, the party will not be taken seriously by the voter, in the absence of a party-in-waiting, and a prime ministerial candidate, to identify with. Given the traditional 'anti-BJP' mood of its Congress-based cadres, it has little option but to back the Congress.

For its part, the AIADMK is keen on having the TMC, along with the Congress, in any future electoral alliance. Which is proving difficult to achieve for the Congress. The latter concedes the problems in getting the TMC back into the parent-party through a merger. Both TMC cadres and leaders are ready only for a coordination.

There is also opposition to the TMC, from within the Congress, both at the national-level and the state-level.

There are even greater reservations within the TMC, to have any tie-up with the AIADMK, even remotely through a common Congress link. The cadres want the party to lead a third front against both the DMK and the AIADMK in the assembly poll, whenever held.

Ironically, even the DMK, which has been at the receiving end of Congress animosity for some time, is looking up to the party, before deciding on its own course. If the Congress opts for the AIADMK, the DMK may seek to move closer to the BJP.

Though there have also been talk of the DMK teaming up with the Congress through the TMC, at least for a snap Lok Sabha poll, the national party may still like to have a third front with the TMC. There is also the possibility of the BJP sticking either with the AIADMK, or the MDMK, or both, and the Congress joining hands with the TMC.

Such a turn of events could leave the DMK only with the Left for allies. The same may hold true for the AIADMK, if it decides to leave the BJP combine, and the Congress opts for the TMC. The DMK may then move in to fill the vacuum in the BJP combine.

The Congress seems to be keeping its options open. The party is on a revival-spree, and the assembly poll results of the north have come as an encouraging note. But it also has to contend with the reality of having to win a substantial number of the 39 Lok Sabha seats from Tamil Nadu, which in a way, holds the key to the Centre.

State Congress leaders now suddenly feel confident that Sonia Gandhi could make the difference, after the recent wins. On the party's evaluation of its capacity now to tilt the scales in the state will depend on its strategy -- not only for the state, but also in national politics. Whether to go in for a fresh poll, or try form an alternative government after toppling the A B Vajpayee ministry.

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