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March 16, 1998

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ELECTIONS '96

Fear of DMK going soft on BJP forced Jaya's hand

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

Till Friday, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary J Jayalalitha kept everyone guessing about what her bloc would do in the Lok Sabha. On Saturday, she handed over the long-delayed letter to the President, extending outside support to the Bharatiya Janata Party in its government-formation exercise. And on Sunday, she has veered completely around, and announced that her party would join the BJP government.

And it is possible, feel well-placed sources in Tamil Nadu, that it was the fear of her arch-rival and Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam joining hands with the BJP, or at least abstain during the trust vote, that prompted Jayalalitha to execute such neat pirouettes. For the buzz in political circles was that apart from the DMK, the six Janata Dal MPs, would also be abstaining during the trust vote, which would have, in effect, reduced the AIADMK's importance to the BJP.

"We were alerted about the possibility of the DMK and six Janata Dal MPs joining the TDP in abstaining during the vote," said a source close to theAIADMK leadership. "There was nothing to think about, and we took the best possible decision -- namely, of joining a BJP government."

Though the BJP, with its no-compromise stance, made an example of Jayalalitha among its other, prospective tough customers in its allies, the AIADMK's decision played a crucial role in the President extending an invitation to A B Vajpayee to form the government and prove his majority within 10 days. K R Narayanan, unsure of the outside support concept, took the decision only after a telephonic discussion with Jayalalitha, it is pointed out.

"Maybe Jayalalitha has re-established her public image as a spoilt brat throwing up tantrums for nothing, but she also used the occasion to win over ministerial concessions for her smaller allies which was not in the agenda originally," says this source. "Also, the fact remains that the BJP would not have been able to establish a majority even of the current variety with the DMK's abstention, if the AIADMK and its allies had turned away."

The AIADMK, however, took its decision to support and join the government only after weighing the pros and cons. Assuming it kept off the BJP, its dilemma was: should it vote against the BJP, or abstain from voting? "The former would have gone against the mandate of the Tamil voter, who has repeatedly displayed his electoral sensitivities, while the latter would not have helped us in anyway. We would have only had the satisfaction of spoiling the BJP's chances, which again goes against the people's mandate."

Interestingly, the DMK's general council is meeting in Madras on Tuesday, at which it will formalise its stance vis--vis the BJP, amid speculation that the party may abstain. Clarified a DMK source: "The AIADMK has proved itself to be an untrustworthy ally of the BJP, and it we abstain now will send out clear signals. But we have our own 'image' problems, and the BJP leadership seems to appreciate it."

According to him, it will do the BJP a lot of good with the AIADMK if the DMK did not seem sympathetic to the Vajpayee government. "Our abstention now would be embarrassing for the BJP, and can also make that party a suspect in the AIADMK's eye. We also have to consider our own electoral position, and our dependence on the TMC's vote-bank."

Indications are that the BJP and the DMK may wait till the next round, when the AIADMK could be expected to take a strong position against the Vajpayee government, possibly with the blessings of the Congress under Sonia Gandhi. That may take another six or seven months, when Sonia Gandhi may be ready for a strike, possibly after a nationwide tour, and the entire works.

The DMK feels that Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha may come closer in the coming days. "The likes of Vazhappady K Ramamurthy and the Janata Party's Subramanian Swamy may work towards it."

That way, says the source, the BJP could not have looked around for a better Trojan horse than Ramamurthy, a former state Congress chief with close links to senior Congress leader Arjun Singh, who is in turn an aide of Sonia Gandhi. Apart from Ramamurthy and other AIADMK allies, the BJP's Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and C P Radhakrishnan (its Coimbatore MP) are expected to be in the government.

Elections '98

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