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Will JMMM rule India next?

December 24, 2013 10:06 IST

'No, that is not an abbreviation for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha,' says T V R Shenoy, 'but for J Jayalalithaa-Mamata Banerjee-Mayawati-Mulayam Singh Yadav.'

'If the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress, and other regional forces do extremely well, we could be heading for a repetion of the 9th Lok Sabha (1989 to 1991) and the 11th Lok Sabha (1996 to 1998), each of which saw multiple prime ministers and neither of which lasted even half of its five-year term.'

A giant hoarding of J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu's chief minister and likely prime ministerial hopeful.After the Guwahati session of the Congress -- presided over by S Srinivasa Iyengar -- it was decided to hold the 1927 session in Madras (as it then was). Many of the organisers were almost as devoted to music as they were to the freedom struggle, and decided to host an All-India Music Conference alongside the All-India Congress Committee meeting.

That was the era both of great leaders and of great orators. But I am hard-pressed to recall anything memorable that was said or done at that Congress session.

The All-India Music Conference, however, led to the creation of the Music Academy, and then, beginning in 1928, the establishment of the famous 'Music Season'.

Known simply as 'the Season' to aficionados, this month-long festival may be the largest cultural events anywhere on the planet, with various Sabhas taking pride in inviting the best musicians, both established talent and promising newcomers (with the morning sessions generally given to the latter).

If you are a devotee of Carnatic music -- or a connoisseur of South Indian vegetarian cuisine, which too the Sabhas compete in organising -- you really should be in Chennai at this time of the year.

While I cannot take a full month off, my schedule is always arranged so that I get to spend a week or ten days in Chennai over December-January.

It is a respite from the pollution, both literal and metaphorical, of Delhi and Mumbai. If nothing else, it gives us a history lesson.

We may not recall what Srinivasa Iyengar or M A Ansari (the outgoing and incoming presidents of the Congress) said, but every word and note by a Thyagaraja, a Syama Sastri, or a Muthuswamy Dikshitar has been loving etched in people's hearts.

It is a valuable lesson to all those who hunt for shades of meaning in every utterance by a politician.

Second, Chennai does not necessarily share the perspectives of Delhi and Mumbai. In the political and the financial capitals of India the 16th general election is seen as 'Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi.' But the Congress has been out of power in Tamil Nadu since 1967 and the BJP has never got a real foothold in the state, which means that the citizens of Chennai are more amenable to considering other options.

And thus we come to the 'JMMM'. No, that is not an abbreviation for the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, but for 'J Jayalalithaa-Mamata (Banerjee)-Mayawati-Mulayam (Singh Yadav)'.

If you exclude the Trinamool Congress chief, each of them has served multiple terms as chief minister of one or the other state, and -- again excluding the chief minister of West Bengal -- they have mused aloud on their own prime ministerial prospects.

The latest to do so was J Jayalalithaa. Speaking at an AIADMK conclave on December 19, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu said, 'The AIADMK political train has reached Fort St George six times... Soon the AIADMK Express will become the Red Fort Express.'

That is about as clear an indication as it gets. Or is it?

Even in the unlikely scenario that the AIADMK sweeps every constituency in Tamil Nadu and the single seat in Puducherry those 40 MPs will still be less than one-tenth of the 543-strong Lok Sabha.

It is also 232 short of the simplest of majorities in the House. Where does J Jayalalithaa, assuming that she is serious, hope to make up the numbers?

Is the AIADMK looking to the rest of the 'JMMM'? But even if you add the 42 seats from West Bengal and the 80 seats from Uttar Pradesh that adds up to 162. And that scenario itself begs several questions.

First, can the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Samajwadi Party actually win 40 seats apiece?

The AIADMK and the Trinamool Congress don't need to bother about the BJP in their respective states and the Congress is a marginal presence in both.

Party apologists could also argue that a scam-tainted DMK in Tamil Nadu and an electorally-pummelled Left Front in West Bengal do not pose major threats.

But the last time that the DMK failed to win a single Lok Sabha contest was in the general election of 1991.

That was in the wake of the sympathy wave that swept Tamil Nadu following Rajiv Gandhi's assassination -- and even that was when there was a coalition between the AIADMK and the Congress.

West Bengal is no longer a fortress of the Left as in the glory days of Jyoti Basu, but the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance won just 25 seats in the 2009 general election; today, the coalition has broken up -- which may explain why the Trinamool Congress speaks, soberly, of winning up to 35 seats rather than sweeping the state.

What of the biggest prize of them all, Uttar Pradesh?

Unlike Tamil Nadu and West Bengal the BJP is definitely a factor here. Can either the Bahujan Samaj Party or the Samajwadi Party realistically hope to win 40 seats each?

Second, even assuming that Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav push the BJP and the Congress completely out of the picture -- something that even they themselves do not claim -- can these sworn foes sit together on the Treasury benches?

Taking that question forward, is there any reason why a Mamata Banerjee, a Mayawati, or a Mulayam Singh Yadav should step back and permit a J Jayalalithaa to take the chair? They are each no less ambitious.

I have written earlier that, bar the BJP on the Right and the CPI-M on the Left, India's larger political parties are either one-person autocracies or dynastic outfits.

Mulayam Singh Yadav has already anointed his son, Akhilesh Yadav, as his deputy in Uttar Pradesh, but can a Mamata Banerjee, a Mayawati, or a Jayalalithaa trust anyone to run their respective state units if they are preoccupied in Delhi?

Here is another question. Four major parties are led by women, the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Congress.

What happens if the first three collectively have more MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha than does Sonia Gandhi's party?

Will the Congress -- as in the days of Charan Singh, of Chandra Shekhar, of H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral -- then offer support to one of the other non-BJP parties?

History suggests that it is simply not possible to sustain a government when a prime minister's own party cannot cross the three-figure mark.

If the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress, and other regional forces do extremely well, we could be heading for a repetion of the ninth Lok Sabha (1989 to 1991) and the 11th Lok Sabha (1996 to 1998), each of which saw multiple prime ministers and neither of which lasted even half of its five-year term.

Are we then looking at another general election, in 2016, or perhaps even in 2015?

Right now those of us lucky enough to be in Chennai are enjoying the music. Six months from now those unlucky enough to be in Delhi's summer will be facing the music.

For more columns by Mr Shenoy, please click here.

Image: A giant hoarding of J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu's chief minister and likely prime ministerial hopeful. Photograph: Babu/Reuters

T V R Shenoy