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January 10, 1998


AIADMK alliance runs into rough weather

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance in Tamil Nadu has run into a rough patch of sorts. Various allies of the AIADMK have bloated their claims about the number of seats and individual constituencies at the on-going seat-sharing talks.

"Though no one expected the talks to be as easy as the media might have expected, there is some hard bargaining to do," confides an AIADMK source. According to him, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Marumalarchi DMK seem to be perched on a high pedestal, Iately, "though an agreeable solution will be found in time."

The AIADMK's election panel held the second round of discussions with their counterparts from the BJP, MDMK and the Pattali Makkal Katchi in the last three days. The talks were inconclusive. The BJP in particular had expected a clearer picture to emerge at its Thursday meeting with the AIADMK team, but is now ready to concede "inevitable delay". The party's national leadership had originally planned to announce its list of candidates for Tamil Nadu on Monday, January 12.

While the BJP is said to be keen on contesting eight seats, the MDMK wants a similar number, if not more. The MDMK also wants to be given at least one seat more than the PMK, and both parties in turn seem to be keen on a numbers-superiority game compared to the BJP.

MDMK sources are cut up that their leader V Gopalaswami's name and importance were played down in the invitation to the AIADMK's Tirunelveli conference. "His name was printed below that of PMK founder S Ramadoss, and this is disproportionate to our comparative strengths," claims one MDMK leader. The party's two-day internal meeting in Madras this week was a heated affair, with speakers calling upon the leadership, not to cow down to the AIADMK's pressure tactics.

MDMK insiders feel that Gopalswami has identified himself too much with AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha, in their common fight against the ruling DMK. Gopalswami, it is said, was forced to confine himself to a 10-seat demand with the AIADMK if the alliance were to stay intact. "That's far-fetched, we know, but the cadre-mood is too strong to be ignored," says the party leader.

The BJP is said to be keen on contesting at least eight seats. Though its state unit may be willing to climb down on the numbers, it is keen on specific constituencies. On the cards is the Salem seat, which the party wants for former Union minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, who with his Communist parentage and a dravidian grandfather, defected from the Congress last month.

"But we cannot spare the Salem seat that easily," says an AIADMK leader. He points out that the party has a strong base in the region, and it was from Salem that Jayalalitha launched her political career when its founder M G Ramachandran was around. Salem also abutts the Tiruchengode constituency, another AIADMK stronghold, and "joint campaigning in the two constituencies will make things easier for the party," says the AIADMK leader.

In comparison, Ramadoss seems to be happy with the five seats reportedly offered to the PMK. Though he may have some reservations about the constituencies, any MDMK provocation could upset him, claim PMK sources. "We are a better ally for a sure win given our concentrated pockets of influence, compared to the MDMK," one PMK leader said.

Apart from the AIADMK, which has kept its options on individual constituencies open, there are rival claimants to particular constituencies. Thus, you have both the BJP and the MDMK demanding Madras Central, Tenkasi and Udhagamandalam constituencies, and the MDMK and the PMK seeking the Chidambaram and Dharmapuri seats.

Even the PMK's friend in the alliance, namely the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress of Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy, is keen on the Dharmapuri seat, though he is likely to be allotted the neighbouring Krishnagiri constituency. Vazhappadi wants at least two seats, and so does Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, though the latter may still settle for one. The list of such demands and counter-demands is endless.

"There is no real bargaining to be done," says the AIADMK leader. "Jayalalitha has been very clear from the beginning that we will contest a majority of the 40 seats in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. That being the case, we will contest a minimum of 21 seats. This leaves only 17 seats after earmarking one each for Ramamurthy and Swamy. These 17 seats will be distributed among the BJP, MDMK and PMK, and that should not be a great problem."

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