The AIADMK will contest more seats than its allies in the Assembly elections in the Union Territory of Pondicherry, party general secretary J Jayalalitha has said.
Coming as it does in the wake of a deadlock between the Congress and PMK allies of the party for the first turn at chief minister, if the combine wins, Jayalalitha's announcement aims at defusing the situation, it is said.
Inherent to her announcement is a veiled threat to the Congress, to play second fiddle to the AIADMK and the PMK ally, or go its own way in the company of the Tamil Maanila Congress.
"The AIADMK is a strong and leading force in Pondicherry as it is in Tamil Nadu. It will contest at least one or two seats more than its allies," Jayalalitha said in a statement issued in Madras, denying reports that her party would contest fewer seats than its partners in the union territory.
Jayalalitha followed up the statement with a visit to TMC president G K Moopanar, who is also negotiating seat-sharing arrangements with her, also on behalf of the Congress parent of his party. Accompanied by live-in confidante, Sasikala Natarajan, Jayalalitha inquired about the health of Moopanar. Indications are that the two leaders, in the company of Sasikala Natarajan, discussed the seat-identification process in Tamil Nadu.
The Pondicherry issue also came up for review, with allies of Tamil Nadu under pressure to decide on the next course - now that the poll date too has been announced.
The AIADMK has earmarked 10 out of 30 elective seats in the union territory for the PMK ally, leaving another 20, to be shared with the Congress, TMC and the two Communist parties, if all agree to join the combine. With Jayalalitha now declaring her intent to field more AIADMK candidates than her allies, the AIADMK would have to field at least 11 candidates, leaving only nine more for the Congress-TMC combine, as also the Left.
Alternatively, the PMK would have to give up a few seats from the 10 already earmarked for it, in the larger interests of Opposition unity.
For the Congress in Pondicherry, Jayalalitha's statement means: either join the AIADMK-PMK combine on our terms, which would be made to look honourable; or find your own way.
Based on the Congress' reaction, the PMK may be cajoled into giving up a couple of its allocated seats, and also its claims to an early go at the chief ministership.
Jayalalitha's announcement thus implies a choice for the Congress, and a total reworking of seat-sharing arrangements in Pondicherry, if complied.
Mutual suspicion and antagonism between the Congress and PMK has taken a negative connotation for each other, as the alliance talks progressed over the last month. With the result, both want the AIADMK in their alliance, they are also willing to suffer each other, but would not have the other take the lead.
Jayalalitha's statement thus answers their negative prayers for keeping the other man out of the chief minister's chair, if the alliance won. Or, at least give such a hope to the PMK and the Congress, with the AIADMK deciding on the next chief minister, from within or outside the party.
A lot will depend on the course of events at the national level, too. Any toppling effort at the Centre now would involve the Congress counting on the PMK's five members of the Lok Sabha members, at every turn.
Against this, the Congress leadership in Pondicherry has given up its pre-tehelka reservations to the PMK, since, but would still want an honourable way out of their shared predicament, based on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam links of the latter. They are also aware of the incongruity of the emerging situation, where allies in Tamil Nadu would be competing against each other in neighbouring Pondicherry.
The emerging scenario in the rival DMK-led Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance, where the MDMK is now striking differing postures at the national and regional levels has now made it imperative for the political Opposition to bridge differences and present a more unified and manageable picture at election time.
That being the case, the Sonia Gandhi leadership of the party may have to sacrifice chief ministership, a post now held by P Shanmugam, in the company of the TMC partner. Jayalalitha told newsmen that Pondicherry too figured in her talks with Moopanar. "It is for Sonia Gandhi to decide," was all that Moopanar would say, for his part.
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