Dealing with Jayalalitha

Print edition : May 09, 1998

After the Jaswant Singh-Jayalalitha meeting, the AIADMK has fallen silent; Subramanian Swamy, however, has stepped up his offensive against the BJP.

GOING by the current mood in BJP circles in Tamil Nadu, the party will adopt a tough stand with respect to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha will now have to choose between the BJP and Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy. The BJP is said to have indicated to her that she would have to make her choice before the Budget session of the Lok Sabha begins on May 27. BJP sources in Chennai told Frontline that the party would not accept Subramanian Swamy's presence in the AIADMK-led front in Tamil Nadu if he continued to say that he would topple the Vajpayee Government.

BJP leader Jaswant Singh flew in from Delhi and met Jayalalitha at her Payyanoor retreat, 60 km from Chennai, on April 25. Sources said that Jaswant Singh did some "plain talking". He apparently told Jayalalitha that the BJP would not accept her three major demands: dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government in Tamil Nadu; the removal of Ram Jethmalani and Ramakrishna Hegde from the Union Cabinet; and action against a private television channel based in Chennai. The sources added that Jaswant Singh ruled out a place for Subramanian Swamy in the coordination committee. He also told her to put an end to attacks by some AIADMK functionaries on Jethmalani and Hegde.

Jaswant Singh met Jayalalitha against the background of a slanging match between Jethmalani and Hegde on the one hand and AIADMK Ministers at the Centre, M. Thambi Durai, R. Janarthanan and R.K. Kumar, on the other. The row followed the April 8 resignation of Union Surface Transport Minister Sedapatti R. Muthiah of the AIADMK after a Chennai court framed charges against him in a case of acquisition of assets disproportionate to his known source of income during his tenure as the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly from July 1991 to October 1994.

Jaswant Singh outside Jayalalitha's Payyanoor Bungalow retreat near Mamallapuram.-VINO JOHN

The situation worsened a week later. After a meeting of the AIADMK executive committee on April 15, Jayalalitha demanded that all Union Ministers who were charge-sheeted in corruption cases resign or be dismissed by the Prime Minister. The next day, Jethamalani and Hegde strongly criticised her and predicted that these "pinpricks" would end soon.

On April 18 Jayalalitha wrote to Vajpayee naming three Ministers - Communications Minister Buta Singh, Urban Development Minister Jethmalani and Commerce Minister Hegde - as being involved in cases of corruption and demanding their removal or the re-induction of Muthiah. On April 19 Jethmalani again launched a broadside against Jayalalitha. He took on Subramanian Swamy too. "It is clearly Dr. Subramanian Swamy who is pushing her into making all these wild demands," he said. Hegde wanted Vajpayee to go in for fresh elections instead of giving in to Jayalalitha's "blackmail". In reply, Thambi Durai, Kumar and Janarthanan, in a statement on April 23, asked Vajpayee to "advise Mr. Hegde to either shut up or get out."

It was at this stage that the BJP high command intervened and sent Jaswant Singh to meet Jayalalitha. Jaswant Singh had earlier come in March to placate her when she delayed giving the letters of support that would enable Vajpayee to form the government. BJP sources said that this time Jaswant Singh made it clear that junior Ministers of the AIADMK should not speak out of turn. If the AIADMK leadership had something to say, Jayalalitha should be the one to say that, he said. He also advised her against rushing to the media. The BJP high command was annoyed that her letter to Vajpayee had been released to the media.

Jaswant Singh was reportedly categorical about the BJP's decision not to invoke Article 356 to dismiss the DMK Government. A senior BJP source said: "We are tightening the screws. The idea is that this war of words cannot go on... You will find a change from now on."

There was no word from Jayalalitha about the meeting. Sources in Chennai indicated that there was no meeting ground between Jayalalitha and Jaswant Singh. Jaswant Singh, however, claimed that the "mission was a success". On the welter of charges and counter-allegations made by Union Ministers, he said that the Prime Minister "will take such action as he deems fit and proper."

The same day K.L. Sharma said in New Delhi that Subramanian Swamy would not be included in the coordination committee because he had failed to vote for the Government in the vote of confidence.

WHETHER by accident or design, a DMK executive meeting presided over by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi on April 25 condemned the demand for the dismissal of the Government that emanated from an "enemy party" and Union Ministers belonging to it as "blatant blackmail" and "devoid of any merit at all". It added that the demand was made "to subserve their vested interests, with palpable mala fides in order to avoid accountability to the courts of law in the pending cases of corruption."

The resolution also condemned the transfer of Union Special Secretary for Home Ashok Kumar, one of two officials sent as part of the Central team to study the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu, and said that this was done because he told the "truth". The resolution said that this approach amounted to "burying" federalism and marked a "dictatorial trend in interfering in the State Government's affairs."

The resolution added: "In the event of any such proclamation (for dismissal) being made in Delhi because of the blackmail of the vested interests," it would be "resisted by constitutional, lawful and peaceful methods in courts of law." The executive committee appealed to all democratic forces "to support this resistance movement."

When a reporter asked Karunanidhi whether the resolution was driven by the fear that his Government would be dismissed, he said: "This is only a reply to the threats from some terrorists in Poes Garden."

The Chief Minister called the resolution "an advance notice to the Centre that it should not give room to some people who have been trying to paralyse the administration and disrupt law and order by repeatedly claiming that the DMK Government will be dismissed."

AFTER the Jaswant Singh-Jayalalitha meeting, AIADMK leaders fell silent. However, Subramanian Swamy stepped up the offensive once it was known that he was not welcome to the coordination committee. He alleged on April 26 that the BJP citing his not having voted for the Government was an "excuse" to exclude him from the coordination committee. According to him, the real reason for the crisis was the "asymmetrical application of the criterion" on who should be a Union Minister. He said that while Muthiah was asked to resign, "tainted" Ministers such as Hegde and Advani were allowed to continue. Advani's crime - he was charge-sheeted in the Babri Masjid demolition case - was not a "political crime", he said, but "a crime against humanity and the integrity of the nation..."

Swamy met Jayalalitha in Chennai on April 27 and said that he was "free to explore the possibility of creating an alternative, secular, patriotic front" at the Centre. He declared that henceforth "in national politics, I am a free bird." He claimed that Jayalalitha had told him that Jaswant Singh "never discussed the matter" of his exclusion from the coordination committee. Although he would consider breaking away from the BJP-led alliance, he asserted that he continued to be part and parcel of the AIADMK-led front in Tamil Nadu.

Jayalalitha, BJP sources said, was faced with a difficult situation. "If Swamy remains in the AIADMK front in Tamil Nadu, then there is nothing wrong in the BJP getting close to somebody who is against her, such as the DMK. She has to choose between the BJP and Swamy."

Meanwhile, Subramanian Swamy has been busy floating the idea of a secular front to oust the BJP-led coalition Government at the Centre. He met Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav. Meanwhile, Congress(I) leader Madhavrao Scindia met Jayalalitha in Chennai, apparently in a bid to build bridges between his party and the AIADMK.

Political analysts believed that Jayalalitha was left with "no choice". She could not part company with the BJP because the stakes involved were high - there were corruption cases pending against her and her former Ministers, and breaking away from the BJP would weaken her.

The response of the other constituents of the AIADMK-led front to Swamy's challenge will have a bearing on Jayalalitha's future course of action. Of the three of them - Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) - the PMK and the TRC are participants in the Central Government. The PMK had indicated its position when its leader S. Ramadoss hinted that his party would not play along with Subramanian Swamy.

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