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The Rediff Special/N Sathiya Moorthy

Seat-sharing exercises yet to take shape in Tamil Nadu

Left to itself, Tamil Nadu cannot be said to be at the centre of political India as Uttar Pradesh or Bihar is. But it can play the spoiler's game up front, in a manner of speaking. Or, if you want to be more charitable, it has moved from the centrestage of evolving Opposition politics in the country, to playing a considerable and constructive role in government-formation of the coalition variety at the Centre.

If Tamil Nadu pioneered coalition politics and minority governments with its very first post-independence Congress regime of C Rajagopachari falling into the slot, it later spearheaded the anti-Congress movement, when the DMK as a single party came to power in 1967. And when the Hindi heartland voted in the Janata Party, Tamil Nadu was at the forefront of the 'Indira wave' that retained a semblance of respectability for the fallen Congress. The rest is too recent a history to repeat.

If there are difference now, it's here; the BJP is seeking to take the Congress's in coalition politics. But the Tamil Maanila Congress has retained traditional Congress voters, averaging 18 per cent even when the parent organisation has not been in power in the state for over a generation.

And as coalition politics goes, the two alliances, respectively headed by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are now riven with minor hassles, which in the case of the former has acquired mystique proportions, thanks mainly to the stoic silence of TMC founder G K Moopanar.

The AIADMK coalition headed by former chief minister Jayalalitha Jayaram too is a bundle of contradictions, what with one-time critics like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the Pattali Makkal Katchi, not to mention the Janata Party of erstwhile bete noire, Subramanian Swamy, are now seeking Jayalalitha's favour.

The BJP, after playing between the DMK and the AIADMK, behind the closed doors of the party's strategy rooms for nearly a decade, has come out in the open, siding with Jayalalitha.

For her part, Jayalalitha is fighting her life's battle. If she cannot stage a political comeback in the full sense of the term, she at least wants to be seen as a political force to reckon with in state politics. Rather, she would like to be in the second, if not the first slot, after the DMK, both of which the TMC has been eyeing in the ascending order for the future.

If this strategy was behind Jayalalitha freely accommodating all parties in her alliance, the AIADMK leadership now seems to have regained some of its lost confidence with the formation and the strengthening of the alliance in the last fortnight. Though the cadres's mood is not exactly favourable to the BJP, MDMK and the PMK -- not necessarily in that order -- there seems to have been greater acceptability of the combine at the voter-level than what the leadership had originally bargained for.

That being the case, the AIADMK has reportedly upped its stakes in the seat-sharing exercise, from a modest 15 to 18 seats to around 25 from out of a total of 39, excluding Pondicherry's lone Lok Sabha seat. While the party is not exactly convinced that it can win too many seats, it wants to convey to the cadre, its reinvigorated morale, should a victory for the BJP combine at the national-level help post an early assembly poll in the state. Other alliance partners too would like to derive maximum advantage at seat-sharing, to present a bottom-line in future electoral negotiations, whenever necessary.

If Jayalalitha is willing to forego as many seats as possible to the BJP and the MDMK in the southern districts, where the AIADMK used to be a strong force until the caste clashes when she was in power, she is obliged to accommodate the PMK and the Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy-led Tamil Nadu Makkal Congress in the northern districts.

For its part, the PMK and the MDMK are also under compulsion to ensure a six per cent voter-acceptance norm for both parties to regain the official recognition that they lost with the 1996 poll. What they are interested in are not just seats, but also votes, if they cannot win. Both are confident of winning at least two seats each -- why and how, is another story.

For all this, however, the seat-sharing exercise in the AIADMK camp has been a smooth and progressing affair. Indications are that Jayalalitha, who has been empowered by all the alliance partners to decide on each one's quota, will try to strike parity among the BJP, PMK and the MDMK, without hurting the national standing of the first, and the cadre-strength of the other two. She will allot the seats among them equitably, if not equally, after giving away the Krishnagiri seat to Vazhappadi Ramamurthy -- and Madurai to Subramanian Swamy, on which the local BJP leadership also has an eye.

If it has thus been smooth sailing of sorts for the AIADMK alliance, nothing seems to be happening on the DMK front. After burying the hatchet of the past months, Moopanar has done precious little to keep the electoral alliance going. He says his silence should be interpreted positively, but even the TMC cadres feel restless -- not the to mention the DMK leadership.

Both the DMK and the TMC won the 17 and the 20 seats they contested last time. Their ally, the CPI bagged the two seats allotted to it. Now the CPI-M and the Janata Dal, which were in the MDMK camp last time, are back in the DMK-led alliance, and have privately staked their claims for two seats each.

With mutual suspicious still running deep between the two major partners, DMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief minister M Karunanidhi has been directing all-comers to Moopanar -- who again maintains his silence of the past. Indications are that Moopanar is unwilling to part with any seats for the CPI-M unless he is sure the party will stand by the TMC in times of crises. As for the Janata Dal, he is not too keen on sparing the Nagergoil constituency with its traditional Congress-minded voters, where alone the JD stands any chance.

A decision on seat-sharing in the DMK alliance will be taken at the Karunanidhi-Moopanar level after some shadow-boxing on both sides. Karunanidhi is said to be keen not to ruffle the TMC's feathers. Though he is keen on accommodating the CPI-M, he may not press the case beyond a point. If it comes down to the crunch, he may work out an arrangement with the CPI.

With the DMK alliance yet to commence its seat-sharing exercise and the AIADMK still assessing the impact of the newly-formed combine, no one seems to have given any thought to party manifestos and the like. The BJP has its national slogan of 'stable government and able leader', and the AIADMK and the rest in the alliance will target the DMK and TMC ministers at the Centre for special criticism.

With the DMK dilly-dallying over its approach towards the BJP, with the post-poll scenario in mind, it's only the TMC which has held a meeting of its manifesto committee. But no decision has been taken on the shape of things to come.

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