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March 26, 1998


The BJP has trapped Tamil allies in an unbreakable chain

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

Its 'unqualified support' to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government notwithstanding, the three-member Pattali Makkal Katchi seems to be striking a neutral pose in Tamil Nadu politics. Insiders say the change has been necessitated by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief J Jayalalitha's 'quicksand' stances, and the possibility of her moving close to the Congress.

"We know there are inherent difficulties for the AIADMK and Congress working together. For one, they have to sort out the question Tamil Maanila Congress. While the Congress may want the TMC with it, even if only as a bargaining chip, given the traditional Congress votebank, the TMC and AIADMK are still mutually antagonistic. But the AIADMK's overbearing 'political need' for getting the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in the state dismissed has more plaint ears in the Congress than the BJP," said a PMK ideologue.

Indications of the 'shifting PMK stand' came Saturday, March 21, when party founder Dr S Ramadoss gave up his earlier call for the state government's dismissal.

"We are not demanding the dismissal of the DMK government, but we expect Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to tender his resignation, owning responsibility on the law and order front," Ramadoss told mediamen at the Madras Press Club.

In another press meet, he claimed the criminal cases against Jayalalitha were all 'fabricated' -- a stand he had taken on the poll-eve.

"We are walking the tightrope all over again," said the ideologue.

The idea seems to be to take the party equidistant from the DMK and the AIADMK all over again, without 'hurting or opposing the AIADMK interests in public'. The PMK, considered to be a 'failed clone' of the DMK, had moved to centrestage over a year ago, and later struck a 'mutually beneficial' deal with the AIADMK for the just-concluded Lok Sabha election.

"We are dead-set against the Congress," the PMK leader said, referring to the tradition of the party's Vanniar community to vote against the national party ever since the first general election of 1952, "And we are clear that if it came to choosing between the Congress and the DMK, we will have to go for the latter." In this, the party also does not rule out the possibility of the DMK and BJP coming to work together in the coming months, either covertly or overtly. "It would be okay by us," he said.

"But it is not as easy as it is being made out to," said another PMK leader. According to him, the choice must be between the DMK and AIADMK. "Jayalalitha treated us well, and gave us four Lok Sabha seats. But Karunanidhi always made us run from pillar to post for an electoral alliance, and would dump us at the end."

The cadre-mood, he said, still favoured the AIADMK. "Our focus should be on state-politics, from which we derive our strength. The national politics is only incidental to us."

However, he too concedes that it was the alliance with the BJP that fortified the 'formidable combine' forged by Jayalalitha.

A section of the party, meanwhile, is cut up that despite its numerical strength, the PMK has been allotted only one minister at the Centre. And that too at the second-rung -- PMK general secretary 'Dalit' Ezhimalai is a minister of state with independent charge of health and family welfare.

While there are some reservations about a Dalit leader being chosen as the only ministerial nominee of what's essentially an anti-Dalit party, others resent the 'Vanniar berth' being given to Thamizhaga Rajiv Congress leader Vazhappadi K Ramamurthy, the Cabinet minister for Petroleum.

Ramadoss has since expressed the hope that Jayalalitha would get one more minister of state for the party, and has named a Vanniar MP for the post. Says a PMK leader: "Ramadoss is as much to blame as Jayalalitha for promoting a one-man party like Vazhappadi's. He has been riding the crest on our shoulders, at our expense."

All this apart, the PMK sees in AIADMK member S Thambidurai's appointment as the Union law minister a BJP way of trapping the Tamil allies in an 'unbreakable chain of our own making'. "True, the AIADMK has got the law portfolio as it wanted, but all the six points we supposedly pressed for inclusion in the BJP-alliance's national agenda for serving the interests of Tamil Nadu are tied down with the law ministry," he said.

According to him, 'positive moves' for the implementation of the Cauvery waters tribunal interim award, the 69-per cent reservation, the 33-per cent reservations for women, and making Tamil an official language of the Union will all have to emanate from the law ministry.

"All these issues are close to the hearts of the PMK and MDMK, and any let-down will be seen as our failure. Both the Cauvery waters and the reservation row will come up by June, and then we will be under pressure to pressurise the AIADMK law minister and the BJP prime minister to 'do justice' to Tamil Nadu. The ball ultimately will be in the AIADMK court. I am afraid, the BJP foresaw that possibility while entrusting the law portfolio with an AIADMK minister."

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