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March 14, 1998


Allies make Jaya toe the BJP line

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies, who together have 27 MPs in the new Lok Sabha, have decided to support a BJP government at the Centre, albeit from outside.

Breaking the suspense of the past week, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha came down heavily on the BJP for humiliating her Tamil allies, creating a north-south divide, and planting unfounded media stories regarding her demands.

"We have decided to support the BJP from the outside in the larger interests of Tamil Nadu, and honouring the mandate of the people for a BJP-led government at the Centre," Jayalalitha told a crowded news conference in Madras today, after a final round of talks with alliance leaders VaiKo (formerly known as V Gopalaswamy) of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Dr S Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi.

She also discussed the question, on the telephone, with Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy and Thamizhaga Rajiv Congress chief Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy. The two had aspired to be ministers in the BJP government, but have decided to support it from outside, Jayalalitha said.

Her announcement came at the end of the half-hour press meet, most of which she used to come down heavily on the BJP leadership. She said she was pained by media reports of the last two days, that attributed various demands to the AIADMK, and quoting highly-placed BJP sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"I had spoken only to BJP president L K Advani and their prime ministerial nominee Atal Bihari Vajpayee, either together or separately. I have not talked to anyone else in the BJP. How then did they quote BJP sources on my purported demands?"

Though Jayalalitha said she did not want to talk about the 'humiliation' at the hands of the BJP in public, and had maintained silence since her return from Delhi after meeting the BJP leaders earlier this week, she was now forced to talk only because of the 'unfounded reports' appearing in the press, all attributed to BJP sources.

But what really turned the tide was the increasing feeling both within her party and among the MDMK and PMK allies -- in that order -- that not standing by the BJP now after winning a vote on 'Vajpayee's leadership' would go against the mandate of the people.

"We have won, no doubt, but it was made possible not just because of our cadre base, and Jayalalitha's gruelling campaign. It was mainly a vote for a BJP government the Centre. We cannot face our constituents again if we found specious excuses to defeat such a mandate," said an MDMK leader hours before Jayalalitha made her announcement.

Similar sentiments were also expressed by a senior PMK leader: ''We could have and should have avoided the 'mess' of the past week. But now all seems to have been sorted out, though not necessarily to anyone's satisfaction."

That way, although Jayalalitha was seeking an honourable way out, the predicament she had caused for her party and allies by pitching high and vague on her demands, the BJP, by standing its ground on most issues, has led to a situation where she could find the only way out, but with no honour left. "We can keep the honour part to ourselves, and find a way out of our problems," the PMK leader said wryly.

Jayalalitha now expects the BJP government at the Centre to protect the interests of Tamil Nadu on the six points she had made out at the BJP allies' meeting on March 9. That included the implementation of the interim award of the Cauvery waters tribunal, constitutional protection for 69 per cent reservations in Tamil Nadu, inclusion of Tamil and other 18 national languages as 'official languages' of the Union. Here again, she has not set any time-frame for their implementation, showing her helplessness in not being able to wrench any commitment from the BJP leadership after her late-evening tele-interview of Thursday.

The six demands are: implementation of the Cauvery water tribunal's award, nationalisation of all rivers, constitutional protection for 69 per cent reservation, right to states to fix the quota of reservation as they deem fit, 33 per cent reservation for women, and making all 19 scheduled languages in the country the official languages.

What seems to have irked Jayalalitha, if not the allies themselves, was the BJP not inviting the non-AIADMK leaders to the March 9 meeting, and even for the one being held today, until it was too late. "Only Ramadoss and Ramamurthy attended the March 9 meeting, that too without an invitation, and that shows how the BJP leadership treats its Tamil allies," Jayalalitha said, adding, "Karnataka's Ramakrishna Hegde was there, though he has only three MPs, like the MDMK and one less than the PMK's."

Jayalalitha also sounded hurt that Advani and Vajpayee, as alliance-leaders and hosts, looked the other way when Hegde repeatedly interfered with Ramamurthy's suggestions on the Cauvery issue. The Karnataka leader interfered when she herself was making a point, with impunity. "It was rather humiliating and it was obnoxious for Hegde to have interfered repeatedly. The BJP leaders did not intervene."

But when Ramamurthy said something while the Samata Party's George Fernandes was speaking, Advani asked him not to interrupt. According to her, "a north-south divide" was very much visible, already, and "maybe the BJP treats Hegde as a north Indian leader."

Jayalalitha also questioned the motives of some BJP leaders in planting unfounded and baseless reports on the various demands of her party. "I had never demanded the withdrawal of cases filed against me, and Advani and Vajpayee can 'touch their conscience' and tell me whether it is a lie."

In this context, Jayalalitha also referred to news reports that she sought the finance portfolio for Dr Swamy, and law for Ramamurthy, only to save herself from various court cases against her. As she pointed out, most of the cases against her had been filed by the state government, and the Centre could do nothing about it. The only case filed against her by the Centre was by the Central Bureau of Investigation, and the finance ministry was not involved in it, she said.

"Otherwise, what's wrong in demanding specific portfolios for Swamy and Ramamurthy, the former a Harvard professor of economics with Cabinet experience, and Ramamurthy, a senior leader with past ministerial experience?"

Now that a controversy has been generated, both Dr Swamy and Ramamurthy have decided to stay away, and support the government from outside. "Their inclusion in the government will not be a precondition, and I had declared it even on my return from Delhi," Jayalalitha said.

Jayalalitha claimed she would never seek the assistance of the BJP or any other party forming the government at Delhi to fight her cases. She would fight the cases herself and seek exoneration from the courts, she asserted.

She also refuted suggestions that the Congress had approached her in the last few days, to try and form a government at the Centre, and promising her the early dismissal of the DMK government -- without extending that promise to any judicial intervention that may favour the DMK later.

"There were no contacts from the Congress," she asserted, although it was known that senior Congress leaders had approached her soon after the poll results, and had also sounded out the party over the last two days. Nor had she demanded the dismissal of the DMK government, by a BJP-led Centre, she declared, only this too was not exactly the truth, as BJP sources confirm, time and again.

Jayalalitha also announced that she would not attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government as she was unhappy at the turn of events.

She said even though she had not sought any position for herself and her party, Vajpayee had offered her the defence portfolio, which she had declined, "as I am not interested in any post for myself".

Additional reportage: UNI

Elections '98

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