Holding court

Print edition : April 24, 1999

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

WHEN she arrived at the Delhi airport on April 12, Jayalalitha had reasons not to be pleased about the low-key reception accorded to her: apart from the entire contingent of the 18 MPs of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), there was just Subramanian Swamy to receive her. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vajpayee Government, which had until recently deputed senior leaders to receive her, ignored her arrival. Her friends in the Congress(I) and other parties, some of whom had attended the reception in her honour on March 29, also did not find it necessary to be present.

However, she seemed unfazed. She told mediapersons that she had come to take the final step of withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government. She regretted the decision to align with the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections, and remarked that she had wasted a whole year, which was marked by non-governance and lack of proper administration. She said that by talking to the DMK, the BJP had closed the doors for negotiations with the AIADMK. She said that she would meet leaders of "like-minded secular parties" including Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to evolve a viable alternative government.

Jayalalitha checked into the Chandragupta Maurya suite at the Maurya Sheraton hotel, along with nearly two dozen security and secretarial staff. She was dissatisfied with two hotels which she had stayed during earlier trips. Located on the 16th floor, the Maurya suite is the largest in the five-star hotel and consists of a spacious drawing room, study, dining room, two bedrooms and a well-stocked kitchen. The suite is furnished in raw silk and has wall-to-wall carpets.

Jayalalitha's entourage was booked into 16 rooms on the same floor. Media reports said that Jayalalitha had brought 48 pieces of baggage with her, but AIADMK organising secretary M. Thambidurai later denied this. He claimed that this figure included the baggage of members of the entourage. He also said that Jayalalitha was used to five-star comfort since childhood, and that she had sacrificed a successful film career to join politics.

Jayalalitha spent her first day in Delhi at the hotel itself. Subramanian Swamy arranged meetings between her and leaders of some parties, such as G.M. Banatwala and E. Ahmed of the Indian Union Muslim League, P.C. Thomas of the Kerala Congress, and R.S. Gawai of the Republican Party of India. These leaders urged her to withdraw support to the Government. RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav spoke to Jayalalitha over the phone from Patna. She also spoke to Sonia Gandhi over the phone.

Jayalalitha met President K.R. Narayanan at 11 a.m. on April 14 and submitted her formal letter of withdrawal of support to the Vajpayee Government. Outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Jayalalitha told mediapersons that it was up to Vajpayee to decide whether to resign or seek a confidence vote. She said that she would, however, prefer to defeat the Government through a no-confidence motion. She dismissed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's decision to oppose any formation that included the AIADMK.

Jayalalitha's move led to intense political activity. Senior Opposition leaders called on the President with the request that he ask the Vajpayee Government to seek a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on April 15.

Subramanian Swamy sought to use the occasion of B.R. Ambedkar's birth anniversary celebration in New Delhi on April 14, when a book and a cassette on Mayawati were released, to persuade the Bahujan Samaj Party to go along with the rest of the Opposition. Subramanian Swamy called Kanshi Ram his guru and predicted that Mayawati would one day become Prime Minister. He claimed that he was invited to the function by BSP leaders, and that it was a signal that the BSP would vote against the Government.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet after she withdrew support to the Government. She sent contradictory signals on whether the AIADMK would join the new government and whether she would be a candidate for the post of Prime Minister. She also met Laloo Prasad Yadav and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala. Surjeet's remarks with regard to DMK chief Karunanidhi pleased her. Surjeet criticised Karunanidhi for having said that Jayalalitha was more dangerous than communalism. Laloo Prasad and Chautala lavished praise on Jayalalitha for her bold stand.

Jayalalitha met Sonia Gandhi on the evening of April 15 at 10 Janpath. After the hour-long meeting, Jayalalitha said that the priority of both the Congress(I) and the AIADMK was to vote out the Vajpayee Government. She was confident that the Government would fall, and wanted the Congress(I) to clarify whether it wanted to head a coalition government. On her part, she offered the AIADMK's support to the Congress(I) whether it went for a coalition government or some other arrangement.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan at the party headquarters on April 16. She reportedly told him that she did not share the view of AIADMK parliamentary party leader Sedapatti Muthiah - as expressed during the debate on the confidence motion - that the demand for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu was not part of any hidden agenda of the AIADMK but its open demand. "She told us that it is not the party's view, but Muthiah's personal view," said D. Raja, the CPI's national secretary.

When Jayalalitha spoke to Kanshi Ram over the phone, she urged him to vote against the motion and offered to protect the interests of the BSP in an alternative coalition. Mayawati too kept in touch with Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi.

Subramanian Swamy maintained that it would be political suicide for the DMK and the Tamil Maanila Congress to support the BJP. While the six DMK MPs supported the motion, the TMC voted against it. The TMC votes were crucial to the game plan of Jayalalitha and Subramanian Swamy. Had they abstained - as they had promised the DMK they would do - the Vajpayee Government would have survived. The TMC has stated its opposition to the AIADMK's participation in any future government.

Jayalalitha would be in New Delhi probably till a new government is formed and would have to exert herself to sort out the emerging contradictions among those who voted against the motion. For the moment, however, the risk she took in withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government seems to have been worth it.

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