Political echoes in Tamil Nadu

Print edition : October 10, 1998

THE Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's move to dismiss the Bihar Government using Article 356 drew less than enthusiastic support from the coalition constituents in Tamil Nadu.

The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which has repeatedly demanded the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government in Tamil Nadu, was more than a little ambivalent. Its general secretary Jayalalitha said that the decision to keep the Bihar Assembly under suspended animation while recommending the dismissal of the Government had spawned doubts about whether the BJP was trying to engineer a split in the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) with a view to forming a BJP-Samata Party Government in Bihar. She said that there was also a suspicion of moves to engineer a defection of MPs from the RJD and the S.P. to stengthen the BJP's position in the Lok Sabha. She advised the BJP to go in for fresh elections in Bihar. And reverting to her oft-repeated theme, she said that the M. Karunanidhi Government should be dismissed because "terrorism has taken deep roots in Tamil Nadu."

Surprisingly, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was silent on the use of Article 356 in Bihar.

The Pattali Makkal Katchi did not oppose the recommendation for dismissal, but it welcomed the Union Cabinet's decision not to press for dismissal when President K.R. Narayanan returned the recommendation for reconsideration.

The Cabinet's decision not to press for dismissal rendered infructuous the decision of some parties in Tamil Nadu to organise a Statewide bandh on September 28. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who had criticised the move to use Article 356, said that Narayanan had "blunted the sword of Article 356 for the second time". He thanked the President, and the Union Cabinet which accepted his view, for "saving democracy".

The bandh call had been given by leaders of the DMK, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Janata Dal to protest against the Union Cabinet's recommendation for dismissal. Secretary of the State Committee of the CPI(M) N. Sankaraiah said that the recommendation was anti-democratic.

Secretary of the State Council of the CPI R. Nallakannu said, "It is murder of democracy that an unstable Government at the Centre should recommend the dismissal of a Government that enjoys a majority." He added: "Article 356 should not become a weapon in the hands of irresponsible persons. This will affect the integrity of the country... Democratic forces and the people of Tamil Nadu should condemn the vindictive approach of the AIADMK to get the DMK Government dismissed, using this opportunity." TMC president G.K. Moopanar and president of the State unit of the Janata Dal G.A. Vadivelu also opposed the recommendation for dismissal.

However, Karunanidhi and Moopanar differed on whether Article 356 should be abrogated and whether there should be a debate on it. Karunanidhi said that the DMK's steadfast stand was that Article 356 should go. But "since enough has been said and written on the issue... there was no need for a debate on the issue," he said.

His ally, Moopanar, differed with him on both counts. He said that Article 356 should remain in the Constitution in order to protect the integrity of the nation. He also favoured a "purposeful debate" in order to forge a consensus on retaining Article 356. Another group of parties, the Congress(I), the RJD, the United Communist Party of India (UCPI) and the Samajwadi Party, also opposed the dismissal move but struck out on their own. Several hundred volunteers of these parties organised a 'rail roko' agitation in Chennai on September 25 to protest against the recommendation. State Congress(I) president Tindivanam K. Ramamurthy, State leader of the RJD R. Jagaveerapandian and UCPI leader D. Pandian were arrested.

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