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Once a political tiger, now who cares?

March 22, 2011 20:27 IST
VaikoVaiko was once cited as an alternative to J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi. Today, he has fallen off the radar in Tamil Nadu politics, notes Shobha Warrier.

It is back to square one for Vaiko, left, the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

In protest against the way All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J Jayalalitha treated him and his party -- a faithful ally of the AIADMK for the last six years -- the MDMK general council decided not only to quit the AIADMK-led alliance, but also boycott the 2011 assembly election.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Vai Gopalasamy alias Vaiko was the second most powerful man in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. He was DMK chief M Karunanidhi's trusted lieutenant.

The relationship soured when Karunanidhi's love for his sons M K Alagiri and M K Stalin overshadowed the affection he felt for his disciple.

Vaiko questioned his guru when Karunanidhi made Stalin the second most important leader in the DMK, a position Vaiko had held till then.

In 1994, Vaiko was expelled from the DMK for dissent. In protest, many DMK cadres left the party. That was the charisma and influence Vaiko had over his former party. But that was nearly 17 years ago.

The MDMK was born out of the frustration many DMK cadres had with the party patriarch's dynastic politics.

Vaiko's party forged an alliance with the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Janata Dal to fight both the AIADMK and DMK in the 1996 assembly election. The MDMK-led front lost miserably. Vaiko himself lost the election in two constituencies, Vilathikulam and Sivakasi. In the 1996 Lok Sabha election that followed, the MDMK drew a blank.

His first big victory came when he aligned with the AIADMK and Bharatiya Janata Party combine to fight the 1998 parliamentary election. The MDMK won three Lok Sabha seats. Jayalalitha brought down the Vajpayee government thereafter, but Vaiko continued to align with the BJP.

The DMK and MDMK buried their differences and fought the 1999 Lok Sabha election under the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance banner. The anti-Jayalalitha feeling was so high that the BJP-DMK-MDMK combine won 26 out of Tamil Nadu's 39 Lok Sabha seats.

The MDMK itself won 4 seats. Its vote share was 6 percent compared to the AIADMK's 25.7 percent and the DMK's 23.1 percent.

Then came the 2001 Tamil Nadu assembly election. Vaiko decided to fight the election on his own. The MDMK contested 211 seats, but failed to win a single one. Its vote share fell to 4.7 percent -- compared to the AIADMK's 31.4 percent and the DMK's 30.4 percent.

In 2001, the AIADMK won 132 out of the 140 assembly seats it contested. Jayalalitha was back as chief minister.

The most contentious issue between Jayalalitha and Vaiko has been his support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

As if waiting for a chance to teach Vaiko a lesson, the moment the NDA government passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Jayalalitha arrested Vaiko. His crime: Alleged inflammatory speeches in support of the LTTE.

Vaiko's relationship with the BJP soured when the A B Vajpayee government did not prevent Jayalalitha from arresting him or helped him get out of jail. An angry Vaiko severed ties with the BJP and the NDA for the 2004 Lok Sabha election.

It was not only the MDMK that abandoned the NDA; the DMK did so too. The DMK joined hands with the Congress. So did the MDMK. Once again, the DMK and the MDMK were on the same side for the Lok Sabha election.

Karunanidhi was quite ill to campaign for the alliance in the 2004 general election. So he asked his 'younger brother' to campaign. Vaiko obliged and did his job quite successfully. He was fresh out of prison and had the image of a martyr. The MDMK won four Lok Sabha seats.

Two years later, in 2006, when Tamil Nadu was ready to go to the polls, the DMK was ready to give the MDMK only 21 assembly seats, which Vaiko deemed unacceptable. That was when the AIADMK sent him feelers. MDMK cadres were adamant that he join hands with the AIADMK.

Vaiko, the wounded tiger, had no option but to accept Jayalalitha's offer to join her AIADMK-led front, compelled to forget that she had put him in prison for more than a year.

Jayalalitha offered the MDMK 35 seats. The party won six. Jayalalitha lost the election and Karunanidhi became chief minister.

Here, we need to talk about the surprise winner of the 2006 assembly election: Movie star Vijayakanth and his Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam party, which contested all 294 assembly constituencies. The DMDK may have won only one seat, but its vote share of 8.9 percent was nearly double the MDMK's 4.5 percent.

With the intervention of journalist Cho Ramaswamy and others, Vijayakanth's DMDK decided to join the AIADMK-led front for next month's election to prevent a split in the anti-DMK vote.

In the 2006 assembly election, the DMK-led front had won 44.75 percent of the vote while the AIADMK-led front had polled 39.91 percent. The AIADMK itself had a higher share of the vote than the DMK.

Had the DMDK not split the vote, perhaps Jayalalitha would have emerged the winner five years ago.

Jayalalitha has formed a formidable electoral alliance this time. Other than the DMDK and the two Communist parties, Jayalalitha teamed up with many smaller parties.

But Jayalalitha offered the MDMK just eight seats. The DMDK was offered 41 seats.

The AIADMK's allies briefly revolted last week when the party unilaterally released its list of 160 candidates. There was a talk of a third front consisting of the DMDK, CPI, CPI-M and MDMK. Jayalalitha mollified her allies with more seats.

The MDMK was unhappy with the 13 seats it was now offered. The party general council met on Saturday, March 19, and passed a resolution. If the DMK was 'arrogant' in 2006, this time it was the AIADMK's turn to be branded 'arrogant'.

Has the MDMK vote share declined because the party switched sides every election? Consider the Pattali Makkal Katchi, which travels from one alliance to another at virtually every election, but improves its vote share.

When a new party like Vijayakanth's DMDK can make an impact, especially among the youth and in rural areas, why has Vaiko lost out?

The only explanation I can think of is Vaiko's obsession with the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. On all his political platforms, Vaiko's major plank has been the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.

He appears more concerned about the problems Tamils on the island face than the issues confronted by the state's electorate. He gives the impression to the state's electorate that he can no longer be a political alternative to the AIADMK or DMK.

If Vaiko wants to return to political relevance in Tamil Nadu, he needs to abandon his obsession with the Sri Lankan Tamils and engage himself more forcefully with the people in his state and their concerns.

Shobha Warrier in Chennai