A jubilee and a jamboree

Print edition : January 10, 1998

THE All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) virtually launched its Lok Sabha election campaign in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry at its silver jubilee conference held at Tirunelveli from January 1 to 3. The conference identified the ruling DMK as the party's "principal enemy". Party general secretrary and former Chief Minister Jayalalitha exhorted her supporters to defeat the DMK and its allies in all the 40 constituencies.

The conference identified the issues on which the party would fight the DMK. These included the "inefficient" public distribution system; the bus fare increase; the "inept handling" of the Cauvery, Periyar dam and Kachativu issues; the DMK's "kowtowing" to the forest brigand Veerappan; and its "failure to stop the Sri Lankan Navy from killing Tamil Nadu fishermen". The other issues on which the DMK would be challenged are the provision of 69 per cent reservation for the backward castes, the communal violence that erupted in Coimbatore in November-December, and last year's caste clashes in the southern districts.

The highlight of the conference was the participation of leaders of the AIADMK's alliance partners - BJP president L.K. Advani, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary V. Gopalsamy, Pattali Makkal Katchi founder Dr.S. Ramadoss, Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress president Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi and Janata Party president Dr. Subramanian Swamy.

While Advani defended his party's alliance with the AIADMK, Gopalsamy asked what the 39 DMK and Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) Members of Parliament had done on issues that were crucial for Tamil Nadu, such as the dispute over Cauvery water with Karnataka. He blamed them for not making efforts to secure for Tamil the status of an official language of the Union Government. According to Ramadoss, Advani had told him that if the BJP came to power it would allow State governments to maintain their quota of reservation in their respective States. Subramanian Swamy predicted that the DMK Government would not last beyond April.

At the AIADMK silver jubilee conference venue in Tirunelveli.-K. GAJENDRAN

The conference saw Jayalalitha and party chairman V.R. Nedunchezhiyan taking different lines on the alliance with the BJP. Nedunchezhian sounded apolegetic. "This is not a case of parties uniting on the basis of ideology," he said. Chief Ministers C.N. Annadurai and M.G. Ramachandran had formed alliances to fight the common enemy. "Similarly, Jayalalitha has formed this alliance to defeat a hegemonistic enemy (DMK) and to help the formation of a stable government at the Centre," Nedunchezhian argued.

Jayalalitha, on the other hand, affirmed that the alliance was based on ideology. She said: "Our alliance with the BJP is meant to protect Tamil Nadu's interests." The decision on the alliance was "final", she declared.

Jayalalitha described herself as a woman hounded by the DMK Government, which, she said, had foisted cases on her, got her bank accounts frozen, seized her jewellery, threatened to auction her house, and put her in prison for 28 days. "I am guiltless. My conscience is clear," she claimed. She regretted that the Congress(I) did not speak up for her when she was jailed; it was the BJP which spoke up for her, she said. Many parties treated the AIADMK as an "untouchable" after its defeat in the 1996 elections, but the situation had changed, she said, and added that all national parties vied with one another to align with the AIADMK. She went on: "The AIADMK has the power to determine the fate of India."

Introducing an element of drama, Jayalalitha returned to party treasurer Sedapatti R. Muthiah Rs.1 crore that she had borrowed from the party to pay her income tax arrears. She said that she had already paid back Rs.20 lakhs.

The conference was held on the occasion of the completion of 25 years by the party, which was founded by M.G. Ramachandran in 1972 following his expulsion from the DMK.

The entrance to the venue had fortress-like facades with rich zari work. The dais was lavishly decorated. Huge cutouts of Jayalalitha which were a prominent presence at the previous conferences, were conscpicuous by their absence. Another notable absence was that of Jayalalitha's friend and confidante Sasikala Natarajan, who too faces a number of cases.

The conference opened after procession, which took 17 hours to cross a point. An exhibition of photographs on the history of the Dravidian movement drew large crowds.

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