March 13, 2001


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Jaya seals pact on TN polls, AIADMK to contest 141 seats

N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

The All Indian Anna DMK, which leads the Secular Front in Tamil Nadu, will be contesting 141 seats in the upcoming elections to the 234-member state assembly. The two communist parties have been allotted eight seats each after detailed discussions that concluded on Tuesday morning, while three minor allies of the AIADMK, including the Indian National League and the Forward Bloc, get one seat each. This, apart from the 27 seats allotted to the Vanniar-strong Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), and the 47 seats for the TMC-Congress combine, with the latter getting 15 of them.

The final pact was sealed in the morning after the state leaders of the CPI and CPI-M held talks with Jayalalitha at her Poes Garden residence. While officially both communist parties have to get the formal approval of their national executive, the formal announcement was made by Jayalalitha through a press release. However, the press release was silent on the Pondicherry alliance, and also the Tiruchi Lok Sabha seat, where by-elections are due following the death of Union Energy Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam of the BJP.

Indications are the AIADMK will be contesting the seat, after the CPI-M insisted on parity in assembly seats with the CPI, and expressed willingness to forego the Tiruchi Lok Sabha seat in return for a couple of assembly seats that the AIADMK was unwilling to offer at one stage during the negotiations.

In the ruling DMK-led National Democratic Alliance, the seat has been allotted to the 'incumbent BJP', thus leading to a possible direct fight between the BJP and the AIADMK, even as the latter is said to be keeping a line open to the former in the post-poll scenario.

While the 141 seats that the AIADMK has now got after hard and vexatious bargaining with most allies other than the PMK is lower than a comfortable number for the party to try form a government of its own should the alliance win the elections, it is a little more than what the circumstances could otherwise provide for. That way, Jayalalitha had a hard bargaining on hand, not only with the TMC-Congress combine and the two communist parties, but also with lesser allies.

As may be pointed out, the Indian National League had sought 10 seats at one stage, and thought that five was the lowest that it would settle for. Likewise, the pro-AIADMK Forward Bloc (Santhanam) faction had hoped for at least three. In the process, both had to settle for one seat each, along with a lone seat for the lesser-known but provocatively-militant Thamizhaga Munnetra Kazhagam of Dalit leader John Pandian, with his base in the southern Tirunelveli district. He is pitted against the equally-militant and politically-savvy Krishnaswamy, the founder of the Dalit-strong Puthiya Thamizhagam.

Incidentally, today's agreement leaves the Janata Dal-Secular high and dry. The state unit had sought 10 seats, and had hoped for three, if not five. Against this, Jayalalitha was willing to offer only one seat to the party, given the inherent constraints imposed on her, because of the AIADMK's legitimate needs for more seats to help meet its goal of forming a "single-party government under a strong leader". Indications are that Jayalalitha may still consider offering one or two seats to the Janata Dal-S, "if the party returned to the fold, after its ongoing consultations with the national leadership".

Otherwise, the AIADMK is under pressure to accommodate such varied groups as the Tamil Nadu Construction Workers Association leader Pon Kumar, a faction of the Tamil Nadu Farmers Association and such other organisations, who have sworn loyalty to Jayalalitha, for long. Some of their leaders may be chosen by her to contest on the AIADMK's 'Two Leaves' symbols in their native constituencies.

Today's announcement is silent on the constituencies allotted for each party, over which discussions are yet to commence. While not much problem is expected on the whole, there may be a few constituencies in the southern districts, where the AIADMK's interests could clash with those of the TMC-Congress combine on the one hand, and the CPI-CPM, on the other.

There could also be problems in the sharing of 'weak', if not 'hopeless' constituencies, particularly involving the PMK, which would prefer most of its seats coming from the 'Vanniar strong' northern districts, and parts of western Tamil Nadu. Already, there is heartburn within the TMC, that Moopanar had argued the case of the Congress parent better with the AIADMK, than that of his own party, which has got only the 30 seats originally offered. Likewise, a section of the Congress is also upset over the two communist parties getting 16 seats against its 15 -- which the TMC leaders in turn argue, the "Congress stole from us through a public announcement in Delhi, without formal consultations with our leadership after 47 seats were formally allocated to us both together".

Today's agreement is also silent on the Pondicherry issue, where the AIADMK-PMK combine is pitted against a possible Third Front under the Congress-TMC combine, of which the communists too could form a part. It could be embarrassing for the two to fight against each other, especially in the border constituencies, where the PMK is strong, and the Congress too has a stake, both in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

While Jayalalitha's seat-sharing formula has sealed unfounded rumours of the AIADMK re-negotiating the PMK deal for Tamil Nadu, offering the party more seats in the Union territory for a possible surrender of some in the state, the fact also remains that it's the AIADMK's seats that she has to mostly forego in favour of the PMK against the possible plan of taking it out of the traditional share of other traditional allies.

To that end, the TMC-Congress combine on the one hand, and the last-minute communist unity on the other, have ensured that the AIADMK ended up compromising its own claims for admitting the PMK without prior consultations -- though it is still the AIADMK that would benefit mostly from the pact that has now been sealed, given their own weak cadre-link and vote-base even in constituencies allotted to them.

You may want to see:

AIADMK gives TMC, Cong 47 seats: PTI
AIADMK may be forced into post-poll coalition
Jaya offers TMC-Congress 45 seats in TN, and Pondy too

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