Vaiko's flip-flop

Published : Mar 24, 2006 00:00 IST

The MDMK ends the prolonged suspense by joining hands with the ruling AIADMK to fight the Assembly elections. By T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

A tough battle is on the cards in the May 8 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu with the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) crossing over to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led alliance. The move may also have its echo in New Delhi, where the DMK and the MDMK are partners in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA). DMK president M. Karunanidhi has asserted: "We will not accept the MDMK being part of the UPA."

Although Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi described Karunanidhi's reaction as his "personal views", the Congress seems to have developed second thoughts about allowing the MDMK to continue in the UPA. A decision on the matter will be taken after discussions at the various levels of the UPA and importance would be given to Karunanidhi's opinion, Singhvi said later. The MDMK would also be given a chance to express its views. According to DMK insiders, the party planned to take up the issue in a big way after the elections.

Congress Working Committee member M. Veerappa Moily, the party observer for Tamil Nadu, reiterated on March 14 that the UPA would decide on the MDMK's continuance in the alliance. His personal opinion was that the MDMK's switch-over was "treachery" and that its chief, Vaiko, should choose either the UPA or the AIADMK.

The other party from Tamil Nadu in the UPA is the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). In the State the UPA partners and the Communist parties formed the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), which is led by the DMK.

The moot question is what impact the MDMK's departure will have on the DPA's chances of getting a majority in the 234-member Assembly? Will it rob the DMK of an absolute majority? Or, will it facilitate the AIADMK's return to power?

The MDMK commands 4.7 per cent of the vote. In the 1996 Assembly elections, it contested alone and drew a blank. In 2001, the MDMK pulled out of the DMK-led alliance at the last minute and contested 211 seats alone. It failed to open its account yet again, but spoiled the DMK's chances in more than 30 constituencies. In these constituencies, DMK candidates lost by a few hundred to a couple of thousand votes. Had the MDMK been in the DMK camp, these candidates would have won their seats.

The AIADMK had an alliance with several parties, and won 132 of the 140 seats it contested. The results led to the conclusion that the MDMK's presence in the DMK-led alliance would have prevented the AIADMK from getting an absolute majority on its own and forced it to form a coalition government.

Although an AIADMK-MDMK alliance was in the works for some time, Vaiko gave the impression that he was hedging his bets. On January 1, he queered the pitch by declaring that the MDMK wanted to win "an honourable representation" in the Assembly. He later spoke in innuendos: "Where the hospitality is more, we will go there"; "the MDMK is like the O positive blood group that can match with anybody"; "Why do we covet a raw fruit when there is a ripe one?" K. Kalimuthu, AIADMK leader, repeatedly invited the MDMK to walk with the AIADMK. Nanjil Sampath, MDMK propaganda secretary, suggested that the MDMK grab the AIADMK invitation. This set the tone for leaders within the MDMK, including seniors such as L. Ganesan and Ginjee N. Ramachandran and district secretaries, to put pressure on Vaiko to go with the AIADMK. These were strong reasons for the DMK to suspect that the MDMK would not remain in the DPA.

The MDMK kept the DMK waiting for a response when the latter asked its alliance partners to give the number of constituencies they would like to contest. Karunanidhi threw the ball in the MDMK's court when he said the DMK would be forced to take a decision because "it looks as if the MDMK has taken a decision". Vaiko responded by swearing his loyalty to the DPA. "The MDMK, which is in the alliance headed by the DMK, is determined to strengthen it and make it win the elections," he said. On February 22, Vaiko affirmed, after meeting Karunanidhi, that the DPA would win the elections, that Karunanidhi would be crowned the Chief Minister and that he (Vaiko) would attend the DMK conference in Tiruchi on March 5.

However, on March 4, when the DMK conference was under way, Vaiko drove to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's residence and signed an agreement with her to contest the elections as allies. The AIADMK allotted the MDMK 35 seats. Vaiko was probably irked that Karunanidhi virtually served an ultimatum on him after the DMK general council met on March 3. Karunanidhi said, "I believe the alliance [with the MDMK] will continue if it agreed for 22 constituencies." The MDMK insisted on getting 25 seats.

Leaders of the DMK immediately pointed out that Vaiko went over to the AIADMK camp despite the fact that the 82-year-old Karunanidhi had gone all out to get Vaiko freed from detention after the AIADMK government jailed him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). (He was in jail for 19 months.) In an indirect reference to Vaiko's switching of sides, Karunanidhi said, "One should never forget those who lift them up." DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan dismissed Vaiko thus: "I merely take it as news... "

In January/February, when the DPA was on a high, the AIADMK was desperately looking for allies. The smile is back on Jayalalithaa's face now with not only the MDMK but the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) headed by Thol. Thirumavalavan also allying with her after Karunanidhi steadfastly spurned the DPI's overtures. "When a party gets out of an alliance, you can influence the minds of voters. The image of the DMK as a winning combination has received a beating after the MDMK's departure," said G. Nanmaran, MDMK spokesman.

While AIADMK and MDMK cadre were comfortable with one another when they were in the same alliance in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, DMK cadre treated their MDMK counterparts with indifference, he alleged. "The DMK lost a valuable chance in 2001 by underestimating the MDMK," Nanmaran said. The MDMK votes were "the deciding factor" then, he argued.

According to MDMK leaders, Vaiko's exit from the DPA had given "a momentum" to not only the elections but to Tamil Nadu politics. Otherwise, the results would have been a foregone conclusion. The traditional Dalit vote bank of the AIADMK has also been strengthened with the DPI joining it.

Leaders of the DMK are confident that the DPA would win despite the MDMK's exit. A former DMK Minister argued that the MDMK's departure "is not a total loss for us because anyhow half the MDMK cadre would not have voted for us even if they were with us".

V. Muthukrishnan, DMK leader from Kalakkad, near Tirunelveli, pointed out that the three strong parties in Tamil Nadu were the DMK, the AIADMK and the Congress. "When the Congress joins the DMK or the AIADMK, that alliance wins." Muthukrishnan pointed out that the Congress was strong in Virudhunagar, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts. The PMK, with its Vanniyar vote bank, was strong in Chengalpattu and the composite North Arcot and South Arcot districts. The CPI(M) and the CPI commanded sizable votes in the agrarian Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts and the industrial belt of Coimbatore and Tiruppur.

Congress leaders believe that Sonia Gandhi's campaign in Tamil Nadu would swing the votes in favour of the DPA. In a hard-hitting speech at the DMK conference on March 5, she appealed to the voters "to free Tamil Nadu from the misrule of the AIADMK" and "elect a strong, charismatic and caring government". If the DPA, and not merely the DMK, was projected as the one that would form the government, then the DPA would win the polls, a Congress leader said.

Meanwhile, the seat-sharing exercise got under way. In the DPA, the DMK would contest 129 seats, the Congress 48, the PMK 31, the CPI(M) 13, the CPI 10 and the Indian Union Muslim League 3. In the AIADMK-led front, the MDMK would contest 35 seats and the DPI nine. The BJP has decided to go it alone.

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