New formations

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

TNCC President K.V. Thangkabalu receives the seat-sharing agreement from Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on March 29.-K. PICHUMANI

TNCC President K.V. Thangkabalu receives the seat-sharing agreement from Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi in Chennai on March 29.-K. PICHUMANI

TAMIL NADU Banking on populism By T.S. Subramanian and S. Viswanathan

IT is late afternoon. A group of women are gathering wood to feed the fire of the brick kiln at Peramur in the Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency. An attempt to draw Sampoornam, one of the women, into a discussion on the elections brings a curt reply from her: We will decide on polling day. A colleague comes up with a better ploy: Have you got a free television set as promised by the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] government?

That was enough to light up the scene. The entire group of sullen women rush towards us, virtually shouting, No, in our village, Nachampatti, we have not received free television sets. We have not received free gas stoves either. Even in the neighbouring villages, while some households have received free television sets or gas stoves, others have not.

The reaction is the same across Peramangalam, Theni, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari constituencies. Meena of Pazhavur in Tirunelveli was sarcastic: I have not got the television set. But some houses have received four television sets.

But they are all praise for the governments scheme to provide 20 kg of rice a month at Re.1 a kg. The quality is sometimes good, at other times bad, they say. They equally appreciate the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), under which villagers get employment for 100 days in a year at Rs.80 a day.

Cut to the Kalakkad-Cheranmahadevi road in Tirunelveli. Sitting on a chair and leaning on a signpost near Pudur along the road, R. Balasubramanian says: The only scheme that is enshrined in the peoples heart is rice at Re.1 a kg.

While most voters in the State agree with him, they are also angry about the rise in prices and how it has cut into what they have saved by way of this scheme. They are also incensed by the frequent power cuts, ranging from two hours to 10 hours a day, which has hit agricultural operations and small and medium enterprises. P. Ramasamy of Pagalavadi in Perambalur is happy that the government has waived his cooperative farm loan of Rs.23,000, but he is angry about the power cut in his area. Although the DMK has big influence in this pocket, the power cut will definitely hit its chances. I am unable to operate my two pumpsets. It has affected agriculture, Ramasamy says. At Pattavarthi, young P. Venkatesan echoes his views: The power crisis has hit the people hard. It will influence voting.

A tour of several districts in the State has revealed that four issues are uppermost in the minds of voters: the rise in the prices of essential commodities; the power cut; the shoddy distribution of free television sets and gas stoves; and the Sri Lankan Tamil problem.

For the first time since the 1991 elections, the Sri Lankan Tamil problem will be one of the key issues. While the political parties were only too willing to use the Tamil issue to settle political scores, they gave it a wide berth when the elections were announced. However, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) are determined to go to the people on what they call the inaction of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre and the DMK government in the State.

What is the use of our getting rice at Re.1 a kg when salt sells at Rs.7 a kg? asks N. Kumar at Koneripatti in the Karur constituency. R. Murugesan of Musiri and Saroja of Peramangalam asked: When salt sells at Rs.6 a kg and kal uppu [salt crystals] at Rs.12 a kg, what is the use of getting rice at Re.1 a kg? Women are indignant that the price of gingelly oil has soared to Rs.125 a kg and good-quality Ponni rice sells at Rs.30 a kg. They are annoyed with the State government for increasing the bus fare through subterfuge by introducing limited-stop services and new types of buses.

If in 2004, a formidable alliance of the DMK, the Congress, the MDMK, the PMK, the CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) trounced the AIADMK-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance in all the 39 seats in the State and the one seat in Puducherry, the equations have changed dramatically now. The alliance formed by the DMK, the Congress, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is a much weakened one now.

While the contest will be essentially between the candidates of these two fronts, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), founded by film actor Vijayakant, is ploughing a lonely furrow. The DMDK has fielded candidates in all the 39 constituencies in Tamil Nadu and for the Puducherry seat, sticking to Vijayakants promise that his partys alliance is only with the people and God. The BJP is in the fray in 12 constituencies.

In the DMK-led alliance, the DMK is contesting 21 seats, the Congress 16, the DPI two and the IUML one. This is an uneasy alliance because the Congress and the DPI are at daggers drawn on the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. Until recently, the DPI, led by Thol. Thirumavalavan, had made common cause with the MDMK, the PMK and the CPI on the Tamil question.

Thirumavalavan, who makes no bones about his support to the LTTE, has asserted that his party will neither campaign for the Congress candidates nor oppose them. The PMK, which walked out of the UPA government on March 26 and stepped into the AIADMK parlour, has been rewarded amply.

The PMK has been allotted seven constituencies and one Rajya Sabha seat when elections to the Upper House are due in 2010. The MDMK, which joined hands with the AIADMK in the 2004 Assembly elections, got short shrift. The AIADMK gave the MDMK only four seats even though the latter first asked for seven and scaled down its demand to five. The MDMK wanted Arani and Tirupur but it did not get the two seats. The CPI(M) and the CPI will contest from three constituencies each.

On March 28, when AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa and PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss stitched up an alliance, both sounded upbeat. Ramadoss called the AIADMK-led front a victorious alliance which will win all the 40 seats. Jayalalithaa described it as a winning, unbeatable combination.

The DMKs strategy is to go to the people on the strength of its achievements. S. Muthukrishnan, DMK unit president of Kalakkad town panchayat in Tirunelveli district, said, We will go to poor people and ask for votes on the basis of our performance. In the three years of DMK rule, 7,500 teachers were appointed on the basis of merit in government schools, he said. About 28,000 people were appointed in the Public Health Department as nurses and technical assistants and in other jobs. Educated unemployed youth were getting a monthly allowance.

A Rs.7.78-crore scheme was under way to provide water to Kalakkad from the Tamiraparani river. The State government had set in motion a project linking the Tamiraparani, the Nambiyaru and the Irumeniyaru at a cost of Rs.369 crore. This would make arid areas in Nanguneri, Sathankulam and Radhapuram taluks bloom, he claimed.

Muthukrishnan said: We have done so much for the people that I have the unshakeable conviction that we will win. Jayalalithaa can only criticise. She can never list her achievements made when she was Chief Minister [from 2001 to 2006].

Attention is also focussed on the Sivaganga constituency, where Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram of the Congress will face R.S. Raja Kannappan of the AIADMK in a tough fight. Raja Kannappan, who was earlier a puissant Minister in the Jayalalithaa Cabinet but defected to the DMK and crossed the floor again to the AIADMK this year, has been rewarded with the AIADMK ticket. He is popular in the constituency. K. Chandran of Karaikudi calls him a super candidate. He belongs to the Yadava community, which has a sizable presence in the constituency. Chidambarams campaign managers seem to be banking on the rash of bank branches that he has inaugurated in the constituency.

If Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Dalit party, has kept a low profile for the past few years, its founder Dr. K. Krishnasamy is back in the fray, in the Tenkasi (Reserved) constituency. His campaign plank is development of the southern districts. The southern districts are ignored in industrial development. So my focus will be on industrial development, health, education, roads and transport, he said at Azhagapuri village. His candidature has enthused the partys cadre, who are sore with its earlier alliance with the DMK. Pitted against him are P. Lingam of the CPI and a Congress candidate (not named as on April 15).

Congressmen in Kanyakumari rose in a virtual mutiny against the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) leader K.V. Thangkabalu for failing to get the seat for the Congress and ceding it to the DMK. This also angered the fishermen of Colachel, a traditional Congress base. Fishermen such as A. Durairaj, K. Jerome, J. Killari and A. John are a disillusioned lot. The Congress has not been allotted the seat. What is the use of voting for somebody else? they asked.

It will be an interesting four-cornered contest in Kanyakumari, with Pon. Radhakrishnan of the BJP, A.V. Bellarmin of the CPI(M) and S. Austin of the DMDK in the fray. Disappointed Congressmen say they prefer Austin to the DMKs J. Helen Davidson. Christian fishermen at Reedemer Street in Kanyakumari are unhappy with the DMK for not waiving their loans or constructing a breakwater to prevent the sea erosion.

Radhakrishnan, who was elected in 1999 and became a Union Minister, is proving to be a strong contender. There were four issues before the Kanyakumari electorate, Radhakrishnan said. They were the achievements of the Vajpayee government (1999-2004); what he (Radhakrishnan) did as an MP; what others failed to do; and what he would do if elected again. He accused the rival parties of abandoning the NDA governments plan to establish a commercial harbour at Colachel, of scrapping the Sagar Mala scheme under which a harbour would have been developed at Chinna Muttom, and of trying to shift the proposed sub-centre of the Sports Authority of India from Rajakkamangalam near Nagercoil to Palayamkottai in Tirunelveli district. People have seen my performance and it is registered in their hearts, Radhakrishnan added.

Bellarmin, the incumbent CPI(M) MP, seems to be banking on his performance. His achievements include obtaining administrative sanction for establishing a fishing harbour at Thengaipattinam, expansion of the Indian Rare Earth complex at Manavalakurichi, and setting up a regional Provident Fund office at Nagercoil.

The distress of the tsunami-affected fishermen families along the Tamil Nadu coast and the despair of the victims of an agrarian crisis, particularly in the delta region, have placed the Congress and the DMK in an unenviable position. To win their confidence and vote may prove an uphill task for the two parties.

From Chennai North to Kanyakumari on the eastern coast, in at least 10 constituencies, nine in Tamil Nadu and one in Puducherry, the fishing community has a presence and its vote will play a decisive role in determining the winner.

Thousands of people affected by the tsunami in 2004 are yet to get new homes as promised by the government. The survivors complaints relate to the pace of rehabilitation, allotment of houses for fisherfolk in places far away from their work spot andnon-availability of basic amenities.

These apart, there are also charges of discrimination against Dalits who used to help fishermen in their operations, single women such as widows and divorcees, and families headed by women, in the distribution of benefits. A woman resident of Akkaraikkori, one of the worst-affected areas in Cuddalore, told Frontline that 25 per cent of the eligible families were yet to get new houses. There is no water facility in the area. As for the replacement of damaged boats, a fisherman said, Not all who had lost their boats were given new ones, and at the same time many who did not own a boat earlier were given new boats.

Fish workers anger against the government will certainly reflect in the elections, said Marimuthu, CPI(M) MLA. He said that contrary to the governments claim, the rehabilitation of tsunami victims was not yet complete in the district. Apart from this, fish workers were also agitated over the continued harassment they had to face often from the Sri Lanka Navy.

Our fishermen are frequently detained by the Sri Lankan authorities and our government has not ensured their safety and security, said Marimuthu. Marimuthu said that although the Nagapattinam Assembly constituency, one of the six components of the Nagapattinam parliamentary seat, has a large presence of the fishing community, agriculturists and agricultural workers account for the majority of the electorate in the other five Assembly segments. Agrarian crisis is likely to be a major poll plank in the Assembly segments of Vedaranyam, Thiruthuraippoondi (Reserved), Thiruvarur, Nannilam and the newly constituted Keezhvelur (Reserved) constituency.

Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam general secretary K. Balakrishnan said that ad hoc measures such as the Rs.7,000-crore loan waiver to agriculturists trapped in debt following the withdrawal of subsidies on fertilizers, and the Re.1 a kg rice scheme would not serve the long-term interests of farmers or farm workers. The NREGS had come to the relief of labourers to some extent, Balakrishnan said. There had been migration of labour to industrial centres such as Coimbatore, Tirupur, Chennai and Bangalore. The issue would be brought to the fore at least in the rural constituencies, he hoped.

Apart from the agrarian crisis and fishermens woes, the handling of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue by the Congress and the DMK will also be a key issue, campaigners say. In the Nagapattinam (Reserved) constituency, sitting DMK MP A.K.S. Vijayan is contesting for a third term. In 2004, he defeated AIADMKs Arjunan by 2.2 lakh votes. Challenging Vijayan this time is M. Selvaraj of the CPI, who has represented Nagapattinam three times. His strength lies in the fact that the three Assembly components (Nagapattinam, Thiruthuraippoondi and Nannilam) are under the control of Left parties, while only two (Vedaranyam and Thiruvarur) are under DMK control. Keezhvelur is said to be a CPI(M) bastion.

Selvaraj is confident that the failure of the DMK government to distribute two acres of land each to the landless and protect fishermen from the Sri Lankan forces will help him get re-elected. Also in the race is Muthukumar of the DMDK.

In Thanjavur, Union Minister of State for Finance S.S. Palanimanickam (DMK) is seeking election for a fifth term and opposing him is Durai Balakrishnan of the MDMK. The DMDK nominee for the seat is Ramanathan. In 2004, Palanimanickam won the seat by 1.17 lakh votes. Palanimanickams popularity and experience will work in his favour. There is a small hurdle his strained relations with some local party leaders.

Chidambaram, in what is termed as the Vanniar belt, about 100 km off Thanjavur, has drawn Statewide attention. Thol. Thirumavalavan is seeking election after two unsuccessful attempts from here. He is facing a formidable opponent in the sitting MP, E. Ponnusami, of the PMK. In 2004, Ponnusami defeated Thirumavalavan by about 90,000 votes. The margin was much more (1.2 lakhs) in 1999. Thirumavalavan, who contested both the elections on his own, finds himself in the DMK-led front this time.

He said that the fact that he was fighting this time as part of a strong alliance would be a major point favouring him. The discontent of a section of the electorate over the performance of the sitting MP would help him, he said. The welfare schemes launched by the government and its achievements in general, he hoped, would ensure his victory.

His poll plank is protecting the States rights and the rights of Tamils all over the world, including Eelam Tamils. He said his party would strive for the provision of land and houses and 50 per cent reservation for the downtrodden sections and archaka rights for women, and the industrialisation of the State.

Ponnusami recalled his service to his constituency through the allotment substantial of funds for various schemes, including many railway projects. He supported the demand for due compensation to those who provided their land for a new project of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation and for provision of jobs to their wards.

One of the key constituencies in the region is Mayiladuthurai, where Union Minister for Panchayati Raj Mani Shankar Aiyar is seeking re-election for the fourth time. Taking him on in a multi-cornered contest is a former propaganda secretary of the AIADMK, O.S. Manian. Mani Shankar Aiyars passion for panchayati raj and dedication to the cause of devolution of power to local bodies have received wide acclaim.

Manian, who has been a member of AIADMK since its inception in 1972, said both the Union and State governments had earned the displeasure of the people over acts of terrorism across the country and the sharp rise in the prices of essential commodities. Frequent power cuts had added to the misery of the people, he said.

KARNATAKA Money and power By Ravi Sharma in Bangalore

CASH and caste are the catchwords in Karnataka politics as the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) vie for the 28 parliamentary seats that go to the polls on April 30. Ideology and party loyalty seem to have given way to winnability, money power and rapport with the electorate. This was evident right from the selection of candidates to the defections and to the mode of campaigning.

Leading the way is the BJP, which, despite infighting, anti-incumbency sentiment and a consolidation of secular votes in a few constituencies, has been able to use its position as the ruling party to good effect and also attract a number of powerful communities and influential religious heads to its side. It is confident of retaining the 18 seats it won in 2004. (The Congress won eight seats and the JD(S) won two.)

The BJP, which is largely seen as a party supported by Lingayats (who along with Vokkaligas form the two most influential communities in Karnataka), was able to win the support of Vokkaliga leaders such as D.B. Chandre Gowda, H.C. Srikantiah and L.R. Shivarame Gowda in its bid to win seats in the old Mysore region, a stronghold of the JD(S).

Senior leaders in the BJP averred that it was too early to make a definitive judgment on the Yeddyurappa government the BJPs first-ever government in the South. This is a national election and it should be decided on national issues. Why should the performance of a State government or regional issues be used to judge how the BJP will run the country? said a leader.

In the Assembly elections of May 2008, the BJP won 110 of the 224 seats (it increased the tally to 115 after a round of byelections and poaching a few legislators from the opposition). The party draws ample support from the Lingayat community, which feels that Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat, was unjustly robbed of his chance to become the Chief Minister by the JD(S), the BJPs coalition partner in the previous government.

The Congress does not believe that the BJP was able to turn this sympathy, seen during the Assembly elections, into a consolidated vote bank. Explained Mallikarjuna Kharge, the Congress candidate in Gulbarga and until recently the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president: Some voters may prefer to stay on with the BJP, but what we have seen in the last nine months is that the Congress has improved its position and won back many of its traditional voters, especially those among the economically backward sections, Dalits, the minorities, and even Vokkaligas and Lingayats. We have explained to the people the good work done by the UPA government in the past five years in areas such as the economy and law and order and the measures it initiated such as the loan-waiver schemes for farmers, financial assistance to minorities and other weaker sections, subsidised fertilizers and increased allocation for education and health. The people have also realised that the BJP, for all its claims, is nowhere near being a value-based party.

Former Chief Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who is contesting in Chickballapur, is optimistic about the Congress chances. Though the choice of candidates for certain constituencies will cost us some seats, it would not be surprising if we win over 18 seats. The people have realised the folly of coalition arrangements. They want single-party rule and only the Congress has the required experience to provide that, he said.

Yeddyurappa has a tough job in hand. A score below 18, the number of seats the BJP won in 2004, will be seen as a personal failure of the Chief Minister. However, the BJP has enough cash to spend and has a large number of party workers who are for the first time reaping the rewards of being part of the ruling party.

The inability of the Congress and the JD(S) to come together in order to consolidate the secular vote has also helped the BJP. In the few seats where the JD(S) either officially withdrew from the contest or put up weak candidates in a purely unofficial arrangement, the BJP was in a tizzy since the minorities would vote for the Congress rather than the BJP. Commenting on the reluctance of the JD(S) to join hands with the Congress, a senior Congress leader said that was because Deve Gowda has his own arrangements at the national level.

Ironically, the Congress in Karnataka is today run by leaders who were once part of the united Janata Dal or its various avatars; some were even close followers of JD(S) leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda. KPCC president R.V. Deshpande, Kuruba leader Siddaramaiah, B.L. Shankar, V.S. Ugrappa, M.P. Prakash and C.M. Ibrahim had all been part of the Janata Dal.

But with a number of them now being bitterly opposed to Deve Gowda and his family, an alliance between the two parties has always seemed unlikely. A senior Congress leader said that for almost 15 years, Moily, Oscar Fernandes, Margaret Alva and Janardhana Poojary had been the eyes and ears of the Congress high command in Karnataka; the fate of most Congress workers was decided based on their reports.

For the Congress, the entry of the erstwhile Janata Dal leaders into its fold has meant that a few loyalists had to be sidelined. The party is on the verge of replacing Kharge, a Dalit who has been with the party for 40 years, as the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly with Siddaramaiah a move that is bound to infuriate many loyal party workers. But that is the price that the Congress has to pay for roping in Siddaramaiah, who wields considerable clout in his Kuruba community, which accounts for around 6 per cent of the States electorate. Moily, however, felt that the entry of leaders such as Siddaramaiah had helped the Congress.

Though the JD(S) has considerable strength among voters in the old Mysore areas (especially Hassan, Tumkur, Mandya and Bangalore Rural), in other areas of the State, especially in the northern and coastal regions, it finds it tough to break into Congress or BJP bastions. An exception is Koppal, where JD(S) leader Iqbal Ansari appears to be giving the BJP sleepless nights. The JD(S) campaign, besides stressing on the failures of the Yeddyurappa government and the attacks on churches and women, has highlighted the achievements of the 20-month-old H.D. Kumaraswamy government.

Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowdas son, ran a coalition government with the BJP. Said a JD(S) leader: Kumaraswamy is our most popular leader. He knows the political situation, and unlike his father acts according to the situation. He is not rigid. We lost many voters and the 2008 Assembly elections because of Deve Gowdas reluctance to hand over power to the BJP. We pleaded with him, saying that we could pull down the BJP government whenever we wanted. But Deve Gowda did not relent.

The JD(S) has put up no candidates in the Shimoga, Bellary, Dharwad and Chikkodi constituencies. And much to its chagrin, its candidate for Bagalkot withdrew in favour of the BJP. The party has also given the Mangalore and Udupi-Chikamagalur seats to its Third Front partners.

Explaining the absence of JD(S) candidates in some constituencies, Basavaraj Horatti, a senior JD(S) leader and former Minister, said that the party did not want to waste time and money on seats that it did not stand a chance to win. Today the trend is for candidates to ask the party for funds, as they dont want to fight the elections on their own strength. During the last Assembly elections, we spent a lot of money.

Deve Gowda has been non-committal about the role he will play or the stance of the Third Front in the post-election situation. All that he has repeatedly said is that the regional parties will play a key role after the elections.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment