A parting of ways

Print edition : January 16, 2004

DMK president M. Karunanindhi (left, foreground), with party leaders after announcing the decision to pull out of the NDA in Chennai on December 20. - T.A. HAFEEZ

A new political alliance is taking shape in Tamil Nadu as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, angered by the State BJP's DMK-baiting and the National Democratic Alliance government's refusal to repeal POTA, quits the NDA.

THE stage is set for a realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu to fight the Lok Sabha elections following the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (DMK) decision to snap its ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State. On December 20, the DMK decided to quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and pull out its two Ministers from the Union Cabinet.

What prompted the DMK to strike at this juncture are reports that the BJP may advance the parliamentary elections to April or May. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi wants to use the time available to prepare mentally his party's cadre for an electoral alliance with the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and build up a campaign against the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the BJP. He would also like to use the time to drive a hard bargain with his alliance partners for a fair share of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the State and one in the Union Territory of Pondicherry.

The Congress(I), the CPI(M) and the CPI have hailed the DMK's decision to snap its links with the BJP. CPI(M) State secretary N. Varadarajan exhorted two other NDA constituents from the State - the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) - to leave the NDA. State CPI secretary R. Nallakannu opined that the DMK's decision would be a turning point in State politics.

The DMK quit the NDA over the misuse of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) by the AIADMK government headed by Jayalalithaa. The DMK had been for a year demanding the repeal of POTA but the BJP continued to swear by it, straining the relationship between the two parties. But the bottom line is that the DMK wants to harvest the minority votes in the next elections. DMK district secretaries told Karunanidhi in unambiguous terms during a meeting on November 30 that the party would lose the Muslim and Christian votes if it continued to align with the BJP. (Muslims and Christians have a good presence in the southern districts of Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari). Senior leaders such as Ko.Si. Mani, Veerapandi S. Arumugam, Arcot N. Veerasamy and Karuppasamy Pandian said the DMK would gain nothing by remaining with the BJP. They told Karunanidhi that State BJP leaders had a predilection for the AIADMK and that the BJP cadre were averse to working with the DMK. In their assessment, although Muslims and Christians were unhappy with Jayalalithaa for her support to the uniform civil code and the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and for introducing legislation banning forcible religious conversion, the DMK would not be able to win their votes if it remained allied with the BJP.

The MDMK, with two Union Ministers, may follow in the footsteps of the DMK. The State police arrested MDMK general secretary Vaiko and eight other prominent party leaders under POTA in July 2002 for making speeches in support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). (The organisation has been categorised as a terrorist outfit under POTA.) Yet the MDMK is in a quandary about getting out of the NDA because it has a good relationship with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee. Some MDMK leaders are hurt that the DMK did not consult them before deciding to quit the NDA. Another reason for the delay in the MDMK's decision is the reported hesitation of its presidium chairman L. Ganesan and Union Minister of State for Textiles `Gingee' N. Ramachandran to rush into the fold of the DMK. The MDMK is in fact a group that broke away from the DMK. Ramachandran is reluctant to quit his ministership. An MDMK leader said: "We have to be cautious in taking a decision on quitting the NDA. We have to respect our cadre's sentiments." Ganesan, M. Kannappan (MDMK treasurer and Union Minister) and Ramachandran have already held discussions with Vaiko, who is in detention at the Central Prison in Vellore.

The PMK, the third constituent of the NDA from Tamil Nadu with two Union Ministers has given itself time. Its political affairs committee, which met on December 25 under the chairmanship of Dr. S. Ramadoss, decided that N.T. Shanmugham and A.K. Moorthy will continue in the Union Council of Ministers. Although the PMK called Vajpayee a "more attractive coalition leader", it complained that the NDA government had failed to implement the litany of demands it had raised, which included the implementation of the interim order of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal, the convening of the Cauvery River Authority, declaring Tamil an official and classical language, reservation for backward classes in the private sector and implementation of the Mandal Commission report in full. Ramadoss expressed confidence that Vajpayee "will pay attention to these demands in the next 10 months and do justice to Tamil Nadu". He, however, dodged questions on whether the PMK would quit the NDA if the Vajpayee government failed to implement the demands.

Political sources said that the PMK was not averse to an alliance with the DMK but did not want to rush in because it was not sure about the number of seats it would be allotted. It has five seats in the Lok Sabha now and will not accept anything less.

The real sticking point will be the cohabitation of the PMK and the DPI. The two parties are sworn rivals and their cadre fight like Kilkenny cats in the alleys of the composite Chengalpattu (Kancheepuram district)-North Arcot (Tiruvannamalai and Vellore districts)-South Arcot (Villupuram and Cuddalore districts) region. DPI leader Thol. Tirumavalavan may not take kindly to the PMK's entry into the alliance.

Congress(I) sources confided that "high-level contacts" had been established for forging an alliance with the DMK. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president G.K. Vasan said he welcomed the DMK with "open arms". But the two parties are not yet ready to display their affection for each other openly because they fear that it will reduce their clout to bargain for more seats.

The sources said that the Congress(I) did not mind the MDMK and the PMK joining the proposed alliance even though these two parties are avowed supporters of the LTTE, which assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They pointed out that the Congress(I), the PMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI were part of an alliance headed by the AIADMK during the State Assembly elections in May 2001.

The DMK's December 20 decision did not come as a surprise, for it was a fait accompli. The demise of Union Minister "Murasoli" Maran on November 23 merely speeded up the process.

Earlier, the DMK leadership had seized the draconian POTA as an issue with which it could whip the BJP. Although the DMK and the MDMK had supported the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in Parliament in March 2002, they started ruing the decision after the Jayalalithaa government used it against political rivals such as Vaiko and Tamil Nationalist Movement founder P. Nedumaran and journalist `Nakkheeran' Gopal. Karunanidhi had repeatedly demanded the repeal of POTA, but top BJP leaders, including Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, BJP national president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Union Minister of State for Home I.D. Swamy, insisted that POTA had come to stay. Naturally, the DMK's patience was running out.

At a public meeting held in Chennai on July 11, 2003, to condemn the year-long detention of Vaiko, Karunanidhi was unusually harsh with the central BJP leadership. He said that if Vaiko and others did not come out of prison, "it remains to be seen who will come out" (hinting that the DMK would pull out of the NDA). Karunanidhi maintained that when it came to Tamil Nadu, the only language that the Centre knew was of silence. He characterised the relationship between the DMK and the MDMK as akin to the CPI(M) and the CPI. "I could have said between the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh). But that thought did not cross my mind," Karunanidhi said.

The DMK also nursed a grievance that the BJP high command had let down the DMK on crucial occasions. They include the Centre's refusal to transfer three police officers after the midnight arrest of Karunanidhi by the State police in July 2001, the BJP's refusal to scrap POTA, its recent stand that Jayalalithaa need not resign despite the Supreme Court's observation that "she must atone" for buying TANSI (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation) property, and the Supreme Court's stricture that "there is a strong indication that the process of justice is being subverted" in the "disproportionate wealth case" against her (Frontline, December 19, 2003).

At the DMK conference in Villupuram in September, Karunanidhi announced that the party would picket the offices of the State and Central governments on December 1 to press for the repeal of POTA and to protest against their "anti-people policies", among other things. (The DMK later postponed the agitation to December 15.) Although cautioned by BJP national general secretary L. Ganesan that "it will hurt the relationship between the BJP and the DMK", the DMK went ahead with the agitation.

Unwittingly, Venkaiah Naidu, who has a soft corner for the DMK, gave the DMK a chance to get out of the NDA. He remarked on December 14 in Chennai that the DMK "being in the (Central) government and going on agitation" was "not an ideal situation" for the coalition partners to be in, and that there was no constitutional crisis in Tamil Nadu under the AIADMK government. Both these observations angered Karunanidhi, and he seized the opportunity. The DMK M.Ps had submitted a memorandum to Vajpayee on December 3, complaining about the breakdown of the constitutional machinery in the State and drawing his attention to the Supreme Court's strictures in the disproportionate wealth case against Jayalalithaa.

Karunanidhi described the December 15 agitation, in which 1.5 lakh DMK workers were arrested, "a mammoth success". He alleged that Venkaiah Naidu's observations had "an ulterior motive" and announced that the DMK did not want its Ministers to remain in the Union Cabinet after creating a situation that was not ideal for the alliance. He said: "When they say it is not an ideal situation, it is not a word that can be tolerated."

On December 20 the DMK's high-level strategy committee recommended that its two Union Ministers, T.R. Baalu and A. Raja, resign and the DMK quit the NDA. "We are not members of the NDA. We are its supporters," Karunanidhi said. He promised issue-based support to the Vajpayee government. An anguished Venkaiah Naidu denied that his remark had any ulterior motive.

Karunanidhi laid the blame for the DMK's decision squarely at the doorstep of the State BJP. He said: "The BJP men in Tamil Nadu kept ridiculing and deriding the DMK. A very important reason (for our leaving the NDA) is the Tamil Nadu BJP. This decision has been taken only on the basis of the situation in Tamil Nadu. The Central BJP leaders also fell victim to the situation in Tamil Nadu." Karunanidhi said the DMK also did not like some of the policy changes at the national level. These included those on the Ayodhya issue. Also the BJP's denial that Vajpayee had upheld workers' right to go on strike as democratic upset the DMK.

A DMK leader said: "Not a day passed without the BJP ridiculing the DMK. They crossed the limit in doing so." A BJP legislator even claimed in the State Assembly that he had received the green signal from the party high command to get closer to the AIADMK . All this despite the central BJP leadership viewing the DMK as a dependable ally. The DMK began to perceive a pro-AIADMK tilt among State BJP leaders when they participated in the "annadhanam" (free feeding) scheme in temples inaugurated by Jayalalithaa in March 2002.

What hurt the DMK high command was L. Ganesan's remark that while the BJP had "friendship" with the DMK, it had a "relationship" with the AIADMK.

Karunanidhi retaliated by terminating the DMK's ties with the State BJP, maintaining that the party would, however, continue in the NDA. "We have neither a kinship nor a relationship with the Tamil Nadu BJP," Karunanidhi said.

The DMK brushed aside L. Ganesan's plea at a condolence meeting on November 30 for Maran that the relationship between the two parties should continue. The DMK signalled its reluctance to stay in the NDA when Vajpayee had a telephonic conversation with Karunanidhi and when Venkaiah Naidu asked the DMK to nominate a DMK M.P. for ministership in the place of Maran. Another straw in the wind was Karunanidhi's refusal to call off the December 15 agitation.

BJP State general secretary G. Kumaravelu provided another opportunity for the DMK to harden its stance, when he remarked on November 27 that the BJP had kept both the DMK and the AIADMK at an "equal distance" and that "the BJP has not taken any decision not to align with the AIADMK". Kumaravelu annoyed the DMK further when he maintained that Jayalalithaa need not resign despite the Supreme Court's observations against her. Reacting to Kumaravelu's remark, Karunanidhi said he would not view the comment lightly because he had information that it had been made with the BJP high command's clearance.

L. Ganesan, C.P. Radhakrishnan and legislator H. Raja tried to repair the damage but ended up provoking the DMK further. Ganesan and Radhakrishnan explained away the faux paus, saying that as long as the DMK remained in the NDA, the BJP would not align with the AIADMK. The DMK had announced that it had no relationship with the Tamil Nadu BJP, they said. "It was on that count that Kumaravelu said the BJP was keeping both the DMK and the AIADMK at an equal distance. But Karunanidhi read new meanings into it," they argued. Raja, normally a DMK-baiter, contributed his bit - he characterised the DMK as "an alliance partner" and the AIADMK an "Opposition party". However, he also implied that the DMK had shared political platform with the BJP's sworn rivals such as the Congress(I), the CPI(M) and the CPI.

Karunanidhi said that there were two important reasons for the DMK's decision to break its ties with the State BJP. One was that State BJP leaders heaped praise on Jayalalithaa's statement that political leaders who issued statements of condemnation whenever members of minority communities were victims were silent on the "barbaric crime" perpetrated in Godhra on kar sevaks. The BJP leaders ignored Karunanidhi's statement condemning the burning of 60 kar sevaks. Secondly, the BJP leaders welcomed the RSS resolutions in Bangalore, which went against the interests of minority communities.

The AIADMK is watching the developments. While the State BJP leaders would like to do business with the AIADMK because of its pro-Hindutva stance, Vajpayee is not enamoured of an alliance with Jayalalithaa. It was the AIADMK, which toppled his government in 1999. Political observers feel that at the most, there could be a seat adjustment between the AIADMK and the BJP.

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