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October 7, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ N Sathiya Moorthy

DMK has the edge, but AIADMK is still around

With the results for all the 40 Lok Sabha constituencies from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry out, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam still has an edge over the rival AIADMK in regional politics, but the latter party is very much in the reckoning.

At one level, the BJP on the one side and the Congress and the Left parties on the other, have played mutually beneficial supportive roles, just as the other pan-Tamil MDMK-PMK partners of the National Democratic Alliance. In contrast, the peripheral nationalist parties like the Tamil Maanila Congress, the Thamizhaga Rajiv Congress and the Janata Party have suffered badly.

At the end of the day, the NDA won 26 of the 40 seats, with the remaining 14 going to the AIADMK-Congress alliance. In a way, it could be seen as a setback for the BJP, as in the company of the AIADMK, MDMK and PMK last time, the combine had won 30 seats. But that should be explained away to the Coimbatore blasts, as political analyst 'Cho' S Ramaswamy also puts it.

Among the NDA allies, the DMK won 11 of the 18 seats contested, with the MDMK getting four of five, the BJP four of six, and the PMK, five of eight. The MGR Kazhagam and the MGR ADMK, two breakaway factions of the AIADMK under J Jayalalitha, won the lone seats they contested.

In contrast, the AIADMK bagged only 10 of the 23 seats contested -- the party held 18 seats in the dissolved Lok Sabha, giving it that extra mileage -- while the Congress won three of 12 allotted to it. For the national ally hoping to win none, it was a real push forward, in comparison. Against this, the CPI-M won one of the two seats it contested, while the CPI drew a blank. So did the AIADMK's Indian National League ally.

With the BJP and Congress leadership taking only a peripheral interest in the poll campaign in Tamil Nadu -- their interest in the state confined to containing the support for the other -- it was once again a DMK-AIADMK show. As the rout of the TMC and the marginal revival of the Congress indicates, the voters in Tamil Nadu, as has been their habit, have rooted for their respective prime ministerial candidates.

The candidate's performance also mattered in a way, as in the case of Congress nominee Mani Shankar Aiyar in Mayiladuthurai. After two successive defeats, he won the seat with AIADMK backing. In contrast, Petroleum Minister and TRC leader Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy lost his Salem seat, mostly due to the organisational skills of his AIADMK rival, former state minister T M Selvaganapathy.

With the TDP kind of showing in Andhra Pradesh denied to the DMK, the extra clout within the NDA -- which was earlier available to the AIADMK in the BJP's company -- will not be easily available. Even allies like the MDMK and PMK may not toe the DMK line after their experience with the AIADMK. This may start showing up in the ministry-formation exercise and in the allocation of key portfolios.

While the DMK may get its due, the BJP, it is believed, may prefer handling the MDK and the PMK separately and directly. Which is what the other two parties too may want.

Against this, the AIADMK has lost the clout Jayalalitha had in the early days of the Vajpayee government, but hopes to regain if and when the NDA is faced with internal problems. Shorn of the 'AIADMK compulsions', the BJP leadership may look the other way, when the law is allowed to take its course, and the pending cases against the AIADMK leaders are given their due place and time.

Interestingly for the AIADMK, T T V Dinakaran, a nephew of Jayalalitha's live-in confidant Sasikala Natarajan, is expected to be elected the parliamentary party leader. He was a COFEPOSA detenu with cases still pending against him. He is expected to be her 'eyes and ears' in New Delhi, an assignment that had gone to Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy in better times.

While the perceived 'anti-Jayalalitha wave', flowing from the AIADMK's pinpricks that led to the fall of the Vajpayee government, did not have any impact there is no denying that the party's inefficient minsters lost the election. Former Union law minister M Thambidurai, who twisted the law to favour Jayalalitha in her litigation, was defeated in Krishnagiri, even after shifting there from Karur. Likewise, former state minister Mohammed Asif, who was declared grievously ill by his doctors every time he had to face the courts, was defeated in Vellore.

Against this, the DMK's former Union ministers Murasoli Maran and T R Baalu won their Central and South Madras seats with huge margins. Next came two BJP nominees, Union Minister Rangarajan Kumarmangalam (Tiruchi) and Pon Radhakrishnan (Nagercoil). Barring this quartet, all the others had margins much less than the 100,000 mark, with it coming down to a few thousands in the case of some.

If it was a 'marginal victory' for the DMK in Tirruppatur in 1998, it was so for the AIADMK in Tenkasi which party nominee S Murugesan retained by a low 887 vote margin. All of which, in the wake of a similar pattern seen in last year's poll, suggests that the emerging bank of non-committed voters in the state, put at close to 50 per cent, may have started identifying themselves with political groupings, if not individual parties.

The worst defeat was reserved for the TMC, which started the campaign late, and made a less-than-half hearted attempt. The worst personal defeat in the current election was reserved for former Union finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, who came a poor third in Sivaganga which he had won five times in a row. Worse still for the TMC, Chidambaram lost to a Congress rival in lesser-known Sudarshan Nachiappan, with the BJP's minister-hopeful H Raja coming a respectable second.

To that end, Jayalalitha may have cause for personal, if not political, celebration. She has defeated two of the four political rivals she wanted to defeat. But the other two, namely, the DMK's Murasoli Maran and MDMK supremo Vaiko in Sivakasi sailed home. Vaiko, who is likely to be his party's ministerial nominee, had his margin of last year, reduced by controversial former Supreme Court judge Justice V Ramaswamy who contested on the AIADMK ticket.

The Rediff Election Specials

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