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December 23, 1997


Tricky ties kick up confusion

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

With the Lok Sabha polls round the corner, the existing electoral alliances in Tamil Nadu are being refined, defined and re-defined.

Everyone seems to be talking to everyone else, and everyone seems to be keeping the post-poll doors open to everyone else, thus contributing to the choice of issues on which the elections have to be fought.

Tamil Nadu was at the centre of the 'United Front experiment' first, and was at the vortex of the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission interim report controversy that ended the UF government's tenure. With 40 Lok Sabha seats that the state has to offer in the company of the adjoining Union Territory of Pondicherry with its lone MP, there is a lot in stake for the contending parties.

Though the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham and its electoral ally, the Tamil Maanila Congress have pushed their differences of the past under the carpet, to fight the polls together, they have a lot to explain.

The opposition All India Dravida Munnetra Kazagham is bound to embarrass the DMK-TMC combine by raking up their 'mutual back-stabbing' -- the DMK first denying TMC founder G K Moopanar his chance to become prime minister, and the latter letting down the ruling party on the Jain panel report.

Both the allies are still confused over the choice of the electoral issues. At one time, during the Jain report controversy, when the DMK cadre mood was anti-TMC, Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, too, was thinking in terms of going along with the tide. For, the 'pan-Tamil' card was the DMK's prospective poll agenda. Not anymore. For one thing, the TMC has been projecting itself as a regional party with a national outlook. And raking up the Jain report would mean that the TMC will have time only for answering questions.

The AIADMK is in an equally difficult situation, thanks to the alliances which party chief Jayalalitha has thrashed out.

Consider this: Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy was her sworn enemy not very long ago, and did all the gruelling ground work that brought down her government last year.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam used to dub her as corrupt as its bete noire, DMK chief M Karunanidhi. It hoped to become a third force against both in Tamil Nadu politics.

The Vanniar community and the Pattali Makkal had been unsympathetic to the AIADMK cause even during the days of the late M G Ramachandran. The DMK has been their favourite -- and party founder Dr S Ramadoss has had a 'near-pathological hatred' for her leadership.

And the Bharatiya Janata Party, while being soft towards her in comparison to the rival DMK, was still ambiguous, at best.

Also consider this: the MDMK and the PMK have mutual suspicious, their electoral talks last year fell through at the last-minute, thanks mainly to the ego clashes between Ramadoss and MDMK founder V Gopalswamy.

Subramaniam Swamy has not been seeing eye-to-eye with the MDMK despite working under the AIADMK umbrella for nearly a year now, and has been double-strong in his criticism of the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The BJP in turn has returned the criticism, if not in equal measure, and has always been suspicious of the 'Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and pan-Tamil credentials' of both the MDMK and the PMK. It was also wary of associating itself with the AIADMK in the last elections, thanks mainly to the all-round negative image of the then ruling party in the state.

Now consider this: The BJP, the Janata Party, the MDMK and the PMK have all buried their mutual animosities, and also their one-time reservations, if not hatred for Jayalalitha's leadership. Why, they are now doing business with her, working under her common leadership.

Public postures notwithstanding, these parties are also ready to accept whatever seats Jayalalitha is willing to hand them for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. And among them, Subramaniam Swamy makes no bones about his willingness and readiness to take whatever seat or seats that Jayalalitha is willing to give, if at all she decides to give the Janata Party any seat in the first place.

Even though she has been routed in last year's elections -- the AIADMK-Congress combine drew a blank on the parliamentary front, and Jayalalitha was not among the four MLAs returned on the alliance card -- the former chief minister has suddenly become the cynosure of the nation's political eye, all over again.

By a master stroke, she has not only dumped the Congress, with which her relationship had broken down after the polls last year, but has also inducted the BJP as an electoral allay. And today BJP president L K Advani is talking in terms of the party striking 'AIADMK-like alliances' with other regional outfits.

As for the MDMK, it shares the AIADMK's anti-DMK platform. The Janata Party, too, was forced into taking their side after the DMK and the TMC wantonly ignored Subramaniam Swamy's contributions to Jayalalitha's downfall while deciding on the alliance last year. As for the PMK, the DMK was put off by its open-to-all alliance policy, which has been an anathema to the TMC and its supremo G K Moopanar.

Yet, to bring them all under a common umbrella is no mean achievement, at least in political terms, their own electoral desperation's notwithstanding.

The elections may prove the new combine right or wrong, but to Jayalalitha's credit it should be said that she has forged a formidable -- and an otherwise impossible -- alliance against the DMK-TMC combine, forcing the latter to take the likes of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Janata Dal more seriously.

Jayalalitha has not stopped with Subramaniam Swamy and PMK supremo S Ramadoss. Now she also has in her fold, former state Congress president Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy, who has since floated the Tamil Makkal Congress.

There is no great political significance to the Ramamurthy party. Or to his joining hands with Jayalalitha, after describing her once earlier as the 'megaphone of the BJP' at the height of the Ayodhya controversy in 1992.

As minister of state for labour in the P V Narasimha Rao government, he quit the ministry over the Cauvery issue in 1991, on Jayalalitha's express wishes, for which the AIADMK honoured him with a public reception at Madras.

With this second political about-turn in six years, Vazhappadi also did the groundwork for fellow Vanniar leader Ramadoss coming the Jayalalitha way.

With this counter-move against the DMK-TMC combine which -- would like to, but does not hope to repeat the 1996 clean sweep -- Jayalalitha has once again proved that she is the still the 'queen bee' of Tamil Nadu politics. Why, even the uneasy alliance between the DMK and the TMC was hastily forged for the upcoming polls only to keep her out of the reckoning.

Jayalalitha's shrewd invitation to the TMC to join hands with her was among the causes that forced the TMC into the DMK's hands in double-quick time, thus preventing a possible TMC-led third front, talks about which were in the air.

Not just the TMC, even her erstwhile AIADMK colleagues -- who have either returned to the party-fold after a year-long bickering, or have joined the DMK in sheer frustration, or continue as independent organizations -- have only her name on their lips -- cursing, repenting, or condemning. But Jayalalitha's still at the centre of it all.

To Jayalalitha's credit, it should also be said that she has been focusing her strategies and energies towards attaining a larger goal, without being mean and too calculative.

As for the seats, even the PMK and the MDMK strategists concede that the allies's contribution to the AIADMK's vote bank would be negligible. This also applies to the BJP, which hopes to make its maiden Lok Sabha entry from Tamil Nadu.

At the very best, the BJP name will be better known and better accepted in the polarised interior villages of the state. And BJP leaders feel it is worth the try, given their long-term strategy.

AIADMK sources say that the party does not hope to win more than three or four seats, against the formidable DMK-TMC combine. But, according to them, the BJP, the PMK and the MDMK winning a couple of seats each with the AIADMK vote-bank, would reduce the DMK-TMC tally. It will also dash the TMC's hopes of replacing the AIADMK as the 'DMK's alternative' in the state.

A lot, however, will depend on the election issues that both sides are willing to highlight. The BJP has already been put on the defensive, for siding with Jayalalitha after condemning the corrupt ways of former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao.

But the AIADMK-led alliance stands to gain substantially if the DMK-TMC combine overstresses the 'communal angle', to corner all of the minority votes. Jayalalitha is willing to sacrifice the 10-12 per cent minority votes in return for the committed caste-and-cadre vote banks of her new allies, adding up to almost the same.

It is one thing winning the elections, but another thing presenting the voter with a winnable combination, in fusing a demoralised cadre with hopes of winning. Jayalalitha has succeeded in the second and the third herein, but winning the elections is not exactly in her hands.

By doing the impossible, she has suddenly become the centre of political attraction, not just outside the state, but even inside. If the alliance wins, it will be a personal victory for her. But if it loses, it will still be a vote against her, the voter not yet ready to forget the immediate past of her reign.

The AIADMK is bound by the past of its own making. On the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam front, there is enough on record to link both party founder, the late M G Ramachandran, and the current leadership of Jayalalitha to the militants. For another, the AIADMK is now aligned with the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, considered a pro-LTTE renegade group even within the DMK once.

If the AIADMK had thought that it could project the 'anti-people' policies of the DMK government in any upcoming polls, the people, it seems, are not ready for it.

Jayalalitha has been vociferous in criticising the state government on the steep hikes in bus fares, power tariff, milk and ration rice prices. She has also came down heavily on the government for the deteriorating law and order situation, as evidenced in the caste clashes of the southern districts, and the recent communal riots in Coimbatore, where even policemen reportedly took sides.

''But there is a difference,'' said DMK leader and former minister S Madhavan. ''No one suspects the motives of the state government, or the ruling party. That was not the case when Jayalalitha was the chief minister. Behind every letdown on the law and order front, you could see the AIADMK hand. People now know that the government is doing its best to save the situation, and what it has on hand is a legacy from the past.''

AIADMK strategists also feel that they may be in for trouble if they focused on the state government. ''Karunanidhi had an advantage when he returned to power after a 13-year gap in 1989,'' said an AIADMK leader. ''He was dealing with a whole new generation of young voters, who had not known anything about the corrupt and unlawful ways of his previous government. For us now in the AIADMK, our past is still fresh in the voters's minds. We may have our day, but for that, we will have to await our turn.''

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BJP ties up with AIADMK
DMK-TMC alliance will continue

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