Hurdles in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : August 14, 1999

SEAT-SHARING talks within the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front in Tamil Nadu, of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a constituent, ran into rough weather early in August. At one stage, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Va iko, unhappy with the five parliamentary seats allotted to it, was preparing for a stand-off with the DMK, but the hitch was subsequently resolved on August 8.

However, the DMK-led front was wracked by another convulsion on August 9, following differences between two other constituents, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) over the sharing of the nine seats allotted to the two parties by the DMK, the principal constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Unhappy with the PMK's offer of just one parliamentary seat (Salem), the TRC decided on August 9 to put up candidates in two constituencies, Salem and Rasipuram (Reserved). Earlier in the day, the PMK had declared its intention to contest eight seats, wh ich left only one seat for the TRC. Relations between the two parties had been strained for days following reports that the PMK would allot the TRC only one seat. TRC president and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy had warned that if the T RC did not get two seats, it would think of its "next plan of action".

Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi.-S.THANTHONI

The DMK's formula satisfied no one in the alliance. The MDMK was displeased that the DMK had allotted nine seats to the PMK and the TRC. The BJP accepted the six seats it was allotted. The MGR-ADMK headed by S. Tirunavukkarasu and the MGR Kazhagam led by R.M. Veerappan got one seat each. The DMK retained for itself the 18 seats it contested in the 1998 elections.

Sensing the MDMK's displeasure and hoping to resolve that crisis, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani sent word to Vaiko on August 6 that the BJP would give up one of its six seats - Sivaganga - for the MDMK. A meeting of MDM K leaders said it appreciated the gesture, but resolved that the BJP should contest from Sivaganga too. Vaiko told reporters later that the MDMK would accept the five seats and stay on in the NDA.

On August 7, however, the DMK and the MDMK were locked in another tussle, this time over the choice of constituencies. There were no differences in respect of the three seats that the MDMK won in 1998 - Sivakasi, Tindivanam and Palani; but whereas the MD MK wanted two of four other constituencies - Thanjavur, Tiruchengode, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli - the DMK was willing to offer any two out of Gobichettipalayam, Karur and Pollachi (Reserved). In order to close the MDMK's option, Karunanidhi announced t he DMK candidates for Thanjavur, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli.

After discussions with his party functionaries on August 8, Vaiko met Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi and later announced that the MDMK would settle for Tiruchengode and Pollachi. To persistent questioning by newspersons, Vaiko said he wa s happy that an agreement had been reached between the two parties.

MDMK leader Vaiko.-K.GAJENDRAN

THE mood in the DMK-led front had been markedly more upbeat barely a week earlier. On July 24, when Vaiko draped a shawl around Karunanidhi at the venue of the MDMK conference on "State autonomy" at Kanchipuram, near Chennai, the crowd burst into applaus e. It was an emotional moment for the two leaders who had parted ways in 1993. (Vaiko formed the MDMK that year after Karunanidhi expelled him from the DMK.)

In his speech, Karunanidhi returned to a metaphor used by Vaiko when the MDMK leader met him at his residence on May 18. (That visit, Vaiko had said, was akin to a son calling on his father after setting up a separate family.) Karunanidhi said in Kanchip uram: "I have come to see how the son, who broke away from the father, is running his separate family." In his concluding speech the next day, Vaiko declared, "If any harm were to come to Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) or the DMK, we will stand like a fort arou nd them."

Given the history of DMK-MDMK relations, that occasion seemed surreal to most observers. Ten days later, the new-found bonhomie all but disappeared.

The first indication that all was not well came when Karunanidhi said on July 31 that there were "hitches over the number of seats" and since they would take a while to resolve, aspirants for the DMK ticket could apply for all 40 seats (39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Pondicherry) and that in respect of seats that were not allotted to the DMK, the applicants would get back the money. This was evidently a pressure-tactic to force the MDMK, which was pitching its demand high, to fall in line.

Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy-VINO JOHN

As if on cue, State BJP general secretary L. Ganesan and PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said that their parties were not to be blamed for the hitches. Ramadoss even took a swipe at the MDMK. Alluding to the MDMK's reported insistence that it be given more s eats than the PMK, he said: "We don't have the culture of demanding that we should get more seats than our allies."

What queered the pitch was the announcement on August 2, after Ramadoss met Karunanidhi, that the PMK and the TRC would get nine seats between them. This meant that the BJP and the MDMK would get only 11 seats; both parties were displeased because both w ould get fewer seats than the PMK.

On August 3, BJP leaders Ganesan, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and State BJP president K.N. Lakshmanan met Karunanidhi and later announced that an agreement had been reached on the number of seats the BJP would contest. They, however, declined to reveal the number. Ganesan said the MDMK would deal "directly" with the BJP, a clear intimation of a crisis. Vaiko met Karunanidhi that evening, but with Vaiko holding out for seven seats there was apparently no breakthrough.

On August 4, Ganesan, Lakshmanan and Rangarajan Kum- aramangalam again met Karunanidhi and other DMK leaders, including general secretary K. Anbazhagan. It was then announced that the BJP would contest six seats. Karunanidhi disclosed that the MDMK had b een offered five seats and the Natham Assembly seat, where a byelection is to be held. It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer to the MDMK, but the party leadership remained unyielding.

Informed sources blamed the DMK for the tangle. According to these sources, when Ramadoss and Ramamurthy met Karunandihi on May 3, they were offered nine seats, but the news was kept under wraps. The sources said that the DMK had "rewarded" the PMK for n ot joining the rival front led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as Ramadoss had threatened to.

Under an earlier formula, the DMK was to give 20 seats to the BJP and ask it to share them among itself, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC. But sources said that the BJP did not want to take on that responsibility. The DMK used a clever stratagem to put the breakaway MDMK in place. It gave combined offers to the PMK and the TRC on the one hand, and the BJP and the MDMK on the other. The DMK offered nine seats to the PMK and the TRC together, and 11 to the BJP and the MDMK; even so, both the BJP and the MDMK were upset because each would get fewer seats than the PMK.

Dr. S. Ramadoss.-K.GAJENDRAN

Leaders of the MDMK hit back, and started interviewing candidates for all 40 seats. There were also sections within the DMK who felt that the PMK-TRC had been allotted more seats than they deserved; however, Karunanidhi denied that there was any resentme nt in the DMK. Sources in the DMK said the MDMK was given five seats taking into consideration its chances of victory. According to them, the PMK commanded a more powerful presence across northern and western Tamil Nadu.

MEANWHILE, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha gained a head start on the campaign trail. She addressed meetings in Chennai suburbs and later headed for interior districts. At well-attended meetings, she targeted the BJP - "a communal party, which is ag ainst the minorities" - and the DMK. "We aligned with the BJP to form a stable government under an able Prime Minister," she said. "But the BJP's mask has been ripped off. We have undunderstood that it is an evil force."

The AIADMK had earlier finalised the seat-sharing formula with its allies, under which it kept 23 for itself and gave 12 seats to the Congress(I), two seats each to the CPI(M) and the CPI and one seat to the INL.

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