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Opposition dilemmas

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

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The AIADMK juggernaut rolls on, while a mood of ennui seems to have set in in the DMK. The PMK is trying hard to hold its ground and the TMC leaders are anxious about life after merger with the Congress(I) in August.

THIS is the season of upheavals for major political parties in Tamil Nadu. The mood is sullen in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the principal Opposition party. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) not only defeated the DMK in two of the three byelections held on May 31, including the prized constituency of Saidapet in Chennai, but has stripped M.K. Stalin of the mayorship of the Chennai Municipal Corporation - under the recently passed legislation barring MLAs and MPs from holding important elected posts in local bodies. Stalin is the MLA from Thousand Lights in Chennai.

It was obvious that the legislation, which has retrospective effect, was aimed at Stalin, son of DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. More than Stalin losing his mayorship, what is worrying the DMK leadership is that ringing rhetoric no longer rouses the party cadres, who used to spring into action at election time or for agitations.

Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), is struggling to keep his flock together in the face of determined attempts by the AIADMK to poach them. Two Dalit legislators of the PMK announced they were quitting the party, alleging humiliation of Dalits in the PMK. The AIADMK also wrested the Acharapakkam (reserved) constituency from the PMK in the byelection, reinforcing the impression that Dalit sympathies are not with the PMK which essentially consists of the upper caste Vanniyars.

A row broke out between Dr. Ramadoss and Assembly Speaker K. Kalimuthu over the two Dalit MLAs - V. Sivakami and K. Murugavelrajan. Dr. Ramadoss demanded that Kalimuthu should disqualify them from being MLAs for exiting the PMK. Kalimuthu replied that he would not go by press reports and that they had not written to him about their leaving the PMK. The Speaker added, "I will not take any action against the MLAs. I am not here to serve the interests of the PMK and the DMK."

The DMK fears that the AIADMK government may file more cases of corruption against its leaders. So the DMK and the PMK are struggling to formulate a joint strategy to ward off the AIADMK onslaught. The DMK's tactic now is to use the PMK as a shield. Karunanidhi endorsing Dr. Ramadoss' standpoint on the Cauvery issue is a case in point (see separate story). The AIADMK strategy is to take out the PMK first and then go for the DMK's jugular.

IN the Tamil Maanila Congress, the mood is one of anxiety about the future, while the Congress(I) is upbeat. For the merger of the TMC with the Congress is all set to take place on August 12 at Madurai in the presence of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. The formal decision about the merger was taken after TMC president G.K. Vasan and its top leaders met Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on June 18. This followed meetings that Congress(I) leader Ramesh Chennithala had with TNCC president E.V.K.S. Ilangovan and Vasan.

What is worrying the TMC office-bearers is their position in the unified set-up. So they reportedly suggested to Sonia Gandhi the "1976 formula" - when the Congress(O) headed by G.K. Moopanar (father of Vasan) in Tamil Nadu merged with the Congress(I) in February 1976, after the death of K. Kamaraj, and Moopanar became president of the unified TNCC. Indira Gandhi was then Congress president and Prime Minister. But Vasan reportedly told Sonia Gandhi that he was not keen on becoming the TNCC president. There is no doubt that Sonia Gandhi is pleased with Ilangovan's ways, especially the way he has been attacking the AIADMK. Ilangovan's detractors in the Congress(I) - supporters of the AIADMK - have already fallen by the wayside. Ilangovan is confident that a unified Congress can give a good fight to the AIADMK, with ennui setting in in the DMK.

IN recent Tamil Nadu history no piece of legislation has attracted so much controversy as the Tamil Nadu Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2002 and the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Second Amendment) Act, 2002. The sole motive of the two Bills was to dispossess Stalin of his mayorship. Under the provisions of the Bills, no MLA or MP shall be "qualified for being elected and for being" Mayor or Deputy Mayor of corporations; chairman or vice-chairman of municipalities and town panchayats; president or vice-president of panchayats; and chairman and vice-chairman of panchayat union councils or district councils.

Problems began for Stalin soon after he was elected Mayor defeating AIADMK candidate N. Balaganga in a bitterly fought election in October 2001. The government curtailed the Mayor's financial powers. Stalin also faced an uncooperative bureaucracy. One who was a powerful Mayor between 1996 and 2001 when the DMK was in power, virtually became "a dummy" under the AIADMK dispensation. He fought on until Jayalalithaa dropped a bombshell in the Assembly about the "one-man, one-post" legislation.

Despite fierce opposition from all parties including the Congress, the TMC, the Communist Party of India(Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) which are not the DMK's allies, the Assembly passed the two Bills on May 10. K. Anbazhagan (DMK), Leader of the Opposition, said the motives behind the Bills would not have been suspect if they had been introduced before the local body elections in 2001. Law Minister D. Jayakumar resorted to semantic jugglery. He claimed that the laws were only "retroactive" and "retrospective."

Governor P.S. Rammohan Rao gave his assent to the Bills on June 4 and the government gazetted them the same day. Stalin had 15 days to choose between being a Mayor and an MLA. But he turned the tables on the AIADMK government, which had written to him asking him which post he would like to resign. Stalin said he would not take a decision either way and the government could deprive him of either post.

S. Udayakumar, an advocate, challenged the Tamil Nadu Municipal Laws (Amendment) Act in the Madras High Court. He argued that it was a clear case of malice because it intended to terminate the office of Stalin before he completed his tenure. Besides, Stalin was the only person who came within the "mischief" of the impugned amendment. Senior advocate K.M. Vijayan, who appeared for the petitioner, argued that no disqualifying provision was there on the date of Stalin's election as Mayor and "the voter has every right to expect his elected representative to remain in the post for the full term of five years."

On June 18 the First Bench comprising Chief Justice B. Subhashan Reddy and Justice D. Murugesan declined to stay the legislation but barred the government from conducting fresh elections to the Mayor's post. The final hearing will be held on August 5.

Stalin lost his job as Mayor on June 19 and Deputy Mayor 'Karate' R. Thyagarajan became acting Mayor from June 21 under Section 38-A of the Madras City Municipal Corporation Act, 1919. Udayakumar filed a contempt petition in the High Court, seeking to punish the acting Mayor and the State Law Secretary for having failed to keep the Mayor's post "vacant" as per the interim order of the court.

Stalin being deprived of the Mayor's post was a blow to Karunanidhi, who was already smarting under DMK candidate Ma. Subramanian's defeat at the hands of AIADMK candidate Radha Ravi by 11,925 votes at Saidapet. The DMK was simply no match for the AIADMK's manpower and the money power. Hundreds of AIADMK men were brought in from Tirunelveli district, 700 km away, to do "election work" at Saidapet. A Minister from Tirunelveli district was rewarded with an additional prized portfolio for a job well done at Saidapet.

Karunanidhi, Varada-rajan and CPI State Council Secretary R. Nallakannu had demanded a repoll in the entire Saidapet constituency, alleging that AIADMK men had captured about 150 booths and indulged in bogus voting. But the Election Commission of India ordered a repoll only in 58 booths on June 6. The DMK organised Statewide protest meetings on June 5 to highlight the irregularities in the byelections and Karunanidhi accused the Election Commission observers of being "sightless".

According to informed sources, what is worrying Karunanidhi is that the cadres do not seem to gird up their loins anymore on reading the party's diktat. The cadres' grouse reportedly is that they are not rewarded for their work unlike in the case of the AIADMK where the benefits reach all. Karunanidhi issued a statement, alleging that many DMK frontliners had not taken part in the demonstrations on June 5. He warned them, "Those who cannot function effectively should keep away. The party will not tolerate a situation where they remain inside but damage it from within."

Stalin, on his part, took to the streets to tell Chennai's voters how the AIADMK had belittled their verdict in electing him Mayor. Karunanidhi declared that the DMK would take the issue to the people's court.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 06, 2002.)

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