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Revolt brewing in AIADMK

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

There is trouble brewing within the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Already, 14 of the party's Rajya Sabha members and four MLAs have voted against the candidate picked by AIADMK chief Jayalalitha in the organisational elections.

Jayalalitha, trying to keep control of everything, alienated Kanyakumari party district secretary K Austin when she rejected candidates selected by him. He left the party. Jayalalitha' has also tried to muzzle former minister and party deputy general secretary S Thirunavukkarasu.

"The elections is of no consequence in the party," says one AIADMK source, claiming the rebels would use it only to draw national attention to the schism within the party.

According to him, Jayalalitha too cannot afford to be seen losing her grip of the AIADMK when she is trying to find sponsors and partners at the national level. The party had only gained morale after giving the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam a tough fight in the Pudukottai assembly by-election where it reduced the ruling DMK's victory margin from 42,000 votes in 1996 to 13,000 in 1997.

Austin, who quit recently, publicity lamented the 'non-co-operation' from the leadership for promoting party loyalists within the organisation -- a reference to the rejection of his long list of nominees for various grassroot-level groups.

Party colleagues fear Jayalalitha may not have learnt sufficiently from the poll debacle since she is still averse to the popular Thirunavukkarasu broad-basing his own support within the organisation.

According to the party source, "It is sad that Jayalalitha will neither lead the campaign for the party herself, nor will she allow someone like Thirunavukkarasu to do it." He admits that Thirunavukkarasu has his own good in mind but points out that the party leader has made all the difference to the party.

Thirunavukkarasu, who had parted company with Jayalalitha to form the MGR-DMK, rejoined the party last year on the eve of last year's elections.

Jayalalitha initially denied press reports that Thirunavukkasu was being sidelined. But only two of the 25 party district secretaries, most of whom he had personally invited, attended his nephew's wedding in Pudukotta. "The message is clear," said the party source. "The second-line leadership has been told to stay away from Thirunavukkarasu."

According to him, all this internal bickering will cost Jayalalitha dearly. It would have been better for her to depend on her own popularity without stifling Thirunavukkarasu. The party needs a strong second line leadership now that Jayalalitha's politics of personal charisma have failed, he said.

Jayalalitha's strategy, fine-tuned by loyalists Sedpatti R Muthiah, the former assembly speaker, and former minister S Sathyamurthy, is to thwart Thirunavukkarasu and his supporters so often that they leave the party again. Towards this end, the leadership cancelled the appointment of 350 grassroots level office-bearers for the south Mambas unit, announced only a week earlier.

Thirunavukkarasu himself is in no hurry to leave the party, preferring to stay back and fight it out. He has no intention of committing the mistake that MDMK leader V Gopalswamy made while rebelling against the DMK leadership in 1992. He knows it is better to try and hijack power at the right time and try and strike a deal with the Tamil Maanila Congress than strike off on his own.

Two other major dissident groups are working against Jayalalitha from outside. While the first one comprises members of the faction begun by MGR's wife, Janaki Ramachandran, the MGR Kazhagam, headed now by former Minister R M Veerappan, the more recent splinter, headed by Jayalalitha's one-time confidant and advisor S D Somasundaram, includes many of her old ministerial colleagues. There are also minor groups, like the one headed by former minister K Rajaram.

While these groups have a sizeable number of leaders, ego problems keep them all apart. Thirunavukkarasu knows he can't depend on such groups and disgruntled elements like Austin. And so he is waiting and watching.

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