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March 4, 1998


T V R Shenoy

Pawar and Jayalalitha likely to be two of the most crucial influences in Delhi

Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan!" President Kennedy's words run through my mind whenever results start coming out after a general election.

At the top of the list of the defeated, perhaps, is Sonia Gandhi. But she isn't orphaned so much as childless! As of March 2 (when counting began), the delirious crowds outside 10, Janpath disappeared. With the Nehru-Gandhi 'magic' failing to save even Amethi, you can't blame ambitious partymen for spurning the 'mother of the Congress'.

Let us follow their example and look at the fathers of victory. Or to be precise a father and a mother. Whatever the woes of J H Patel, Bansi Lal, Manohar Joshi and the like, two leaders at the provincial level have every reason to celebrate -- Sharad Pawar and Jayalalitha.

The results from Tamil Nadu are the greatest surprise of these polls. The BJP-AIADMK understanding was greeted with mingled disbelief and derision when forged in December. But nobody is laughing today. When an alliance wins about 30 of 40 seats (adding Pondicherry's lone seat to Tamil Nadu's), it has obviously been doing something right.

The lion's share of the credit -- should I say the lioness's share?! -- unquestionably goes to Jayalalitha. Twenty months ago, the AIADMK-Congress alliance failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat and barely anything in the assembly. The AIADMK splintered rapidly and Jayalalitha herself was imprisoned for a while.

It was a gutsy decision on the part of both the AIADMK and the BJP to come to an understanding. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that the BJP would be battered for its friendship with the 'corrupt' AIADMK, while Jayalalitha would lose her 'Dravidian' credentials by allying with the 'Hindi' BJP.

The results indicate that Tamil Nadu's voters are more sensible than some political analysts, particularly the stridently 'secular' lot. But I freely confess that I too didn't expect this kind of a wave in the state. I have written elsewhere that the AIADMK-BJP alliance would give a tough battle in about 18 seats, perhaps winning 10 or so but not more.

But with opinion polls -- even exit polls -- giving Jayalalitha's troops a maximum of five seats, it was only too easy to believe the DMK-TMC combine's boasts. (Where did the TMC-DMK go wrong?) At this point, it is too soon to declare how much of an impact the Coimbatore blasts had. But that tragedy dramatically demonstrated the Karunanidhi regime's failure to maintain law and order.

Two points come out very clearly from Tamil Nadu. First, the same Jayalalitha who was written off shall now play a major role on the national stage. She is now, please remember, the BJP's single largest partner. (The AIADMK alone now has twice the TMC-DMK combine's total!)

Second, for the first time since 1984 the same political combine has won a majority of seats in both Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the heartlands of the north and the south respectively. In the long run this could be very significant.

Unfortunately for the BJP, gains made in south India were neutralised by losses in Maharashtra. But let us give credit where due -- to Sharad Pawar.

Nine months ago, Pawar had his nose bloodied in the messy battle for Congress presidency. At the AICC's Calcutta session Pawar found it difficult even to be elected to the Congress Working Committee. Finally, the arrival of Sonia Gandhi was more of a handicap than anything else.

Today the man who was ignored in Calcutta is spoken of as a potential prime minister. If that is out of the question, there are other posts well within Pawar's reach. He can aim for leadership of the Congress Parliamentary Party or leader of the Opposition.

Leaving aside the fact that Jayalalitha fought alongside the BJP while Pawar belongs to the Congress, there are striking similarities between the two. Both are regional chiefs who reign supreme (for the moment) in their home states. Both went through a troubled patch over the past 20 months. Both have triumphed by creating alliances with minor forces.

Finally, in the coming days Pawar and Jayalalitha are likely to be two of the most crucial influences in Delhi. The regional chiefs in the United Front almost steered India to ruin. By a pleasant irony, two others have the potential to emerge as stabilising factors in a strong two front system.

T V R Shenoy

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