Unravelling of an alliance

Print edition : April 14, 2001

With the exit of constituents that could make a difference at the hustings in a highly polarised political situation, the alliance led by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam seems to have lost its position of advantage in Tamil Nadu.

MISFORTUNES seldom come singly. This seems to be true of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu. The alliance was in disarray when the date for the Assembly elections (May 10) was announced by Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill in New Delhi on March 31. The DMK had virtually shown the door to an important constituent of the NDA, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). Party president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was blunt: "If they want to go it alone, they can do so. We are not standing in their way." Vaiko, general secretary of the MDMK, was quick to take the cue and alleged that his party had been "expelled from the alliance in a planned manner".

In happier times: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi with Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Vaiko.-

In February, another important constituent of the NDA, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), had walked out to join hands with the rival front headed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) has also pulled out of the NDA, accusing the DMK of hobnobbing with caste-based parties and corrupt politicians to try and ride back to power. Ironically, TRC president Vazhappadi K. Ramamurthi signed a resolution passed by the Vanniyar Sangham, a caste outfit, on March 24 which accused the DMK of "behaving like an enemy of Vanniyars". (Vanniyars form a sizable population in the State. Ramamurthi belongs to the community. The PMK led by Dr. S. Ramadoss is also essentially an outfit of Vanniyars.)

The DMK received another jolt on April 1 when Minister for Tamil Culture M. Thamizhkudimagan joined the AIADMK. He was upset that he was not allotted the Ilayankudi constituency from where he was elected in 1996. He alleged that all decisions in the DMK were being taken with a view "to projecting Stalin". Chennai Mayor M.K. Stalin is the son of Karunanidhi.

It is thus a weakened NDA that will take on a formidable "secular" front headed by the AIADMK.

Ostensibly, the parting of ways between the DMK and the MDMK occurred because of a row over three specific constituencies the latter wanted. (The three seats that the MDMK wanted held a special significance for it. Vaiko's village, Kalingapatti, comes within the Sankarankovil constituency and he was keen that the MDMK should field a candidate there. L. Ganesan, chairman of the MDMK presidium, was keen to contest from Thanjavur. The MDMK wanted to field another top leader, Malar Mannan, from Tiruchi-1.) But what lay at the core of the crisis was the impending ascension of Stalin to power. Both parties, however, fight shy of acknowledging this. Political sources said that the DMK feared that Vaiko would be a threat to Stalin's claims if the DMK did not get an absolute majority. The MDMK, in turn, was willing to get out because it did not want to contribute to the DMK's success and thereby help Karunanidhi anoint Stalin as his successor at the appropriate time. For both the parties it is a bold gamble, and their parting may cost both dearly.

MDMK sources alleged that the DMK leaders did not at any point treat their party as a constituent of the alliance but looked upon it as an enemy. A section in the MDMK was, however, anguished over the parting of ways.

A section in the DMK was also upset over the development. The party is weak in the southern districts and the sizable Mukkulathor community there backs the AIADMK, they say adding that the MDMK's exit would further hurt the DMK's chances. The MDMK had hard-working cadres and Vaiko was a big draw in election meetings.

The line-up is clear now. The NDA includes the DMK, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Puthiya Tamizhagam, the Dalit Panthers, the MGR-ADMK, the MGR Kazhagam and caste-based parties such as the Makkal Tamil Desam, the Kongu Nadu Vellalar Katchi, the Tamil Nadu Mutharayar Sangham, and so on.

Facing them is the AIADMK-led secular front that includes the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the PMK, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), a faction of the Indian National League, the Indian Union Muslim League and so on.

The MDMK, according to Vaiko, would be an "alternative" to these two formations. It would contest 213 out of 234 seats in the Assembly but would not field candidates in the 21 constituencies where the BJP is contesting. Vaiko said that the MDMK would continue to be a constituent of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre. However, Jana Krishnamurthy, BJP president, said that his party would not share a platform with the MDMK during the campaign. According to Vaiko, there is not "even one per cent chance" of the MDMK joining the AIADMK-led front.

In the DMK's reckoning, the MDMK going it alone would amount to the formation of a third front, which factor would be advantageous to the DMK-led front. But the MDMK leaders said their party commanded 5 per cent of the votes in many constituencies and could ruin the DMK's chances in about 25 constituencies. However, informed observers note that the MDMK by itself may not win too many seats.

IT is not as if everything is hunky-dory with the AIADMK front. Problems erupted between the AIADMK and the TMC over the identification of constituencies that the TMC and the Congress(I) would contest. The TMC suffered a jolt when its top leader and former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram revolted against its decision to align with the AIADMK and set up the Tamil Maanila Congress Democratic Forum to do "propaganda during the next 60 days that a single party government under Jayalalitha cannot provide good governance." Chidam-baram has been asked by the TMC to show cause why he should not be expelled from the party.

There is bad blood between the PMK on the one side and the TMC and the Congress(I) on the other because the PMK supports the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose members assassinated Congress president and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Worse, in the neighbouring Union Territory of Pondicherry, the PMK and the AIADMK will contest together against the TMC-Congress(I) combine. This strange situation arose after the AIADMK agreed to the PMK's claim to the chief ministership for the first two and a half years and the AIADMK holding it for the remaining term. This arrangement infuriated the Congress(I) and the TMC, which now run a coalition government in Pondicherry. They argue that they should have been given a major share of the 30 seats to contest (plus three nominated seats) and allowed to form the government.

Peace was bought by delinking the matter of Pondicherry from that of Tamil Nadu. It was agreed that the Congress(I) and the TMC would contest as allies against an AIADMK-PMK alliance. Congress(I) spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said on April 3: "Our political reservations about the PMK continue. We will not be part of any power-sharing arrangement with them in Pondicherry."

What outweighs all these political developments is a vital legal question whether Jayalalitha will be able to contest in the elections. Her being convicted and sentenced to three years' rigorous imprisonment in the "Jaya Publications case" and the "Sasi Enterprises case" in October 2000 virtually disqualifies her from contesting the elections. Jayalalitha has moved the Madras High Court, seeking a direction to suspend the convictions. In her petitions she said that in a democracy "we should take pride in allowing the public to choose their leader freely, rather than crippling the will or in maiming the voice of the public by focussing on trial court judgments only." The petitions came up for hearing on April 9.

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