Troubled alliances

Print edition : April 08, 2011

Twists and turns mark the run-up to the elections, with the DMK and the AIADMK doing political somersaults.

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Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi with TNCC president K.V. Thangkabalu after signing the seat-sharing agreement in Chennai on March 16. His sons, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers M.K. Alagiri and Deputy Chief Minister-M. VEDHAN

IT is a whodunit that may never be solved, but the mysterious list of 160 candidates for the April 13 Assembly elections released by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) on March 16 almost tore up the AIADMK-led alliance and turned its allies into rivals overnight. As the air became thick with the possibility of the emergence of a third front, AIADMK general secretary J. Jayalalithaa quickly saved the situation. The AIADMK's allies, which include the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founded by actor Vijayakant, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), the Puthiya Tamizhagam (P.T.) and the All India Samuthuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) led by actor R. Sarath Kumar, virtually revolted because the party had appropriated to itself the seats sought by them. Jayalalithaa unilaterally announced the names of her party's candidates for six of the nine seats held by the CPI(M), six by the CPI, 17 constituencies in which Vijayakant was keen to field DMDK candidates and two constituencies that the P.T. had sought.

Worse still, the AIADMK's list indicated that the door was shut for the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), headed by Vaiko, who had staunchly stood by the party for the past five years. With the AIADMK appropriating 160 seats to itself and apportioning the remaining 74 to its allies, the MDMK had no place in the alliance. Displeased with this display of audacity, the allies told Jayalalithaa that the MDMK should be brought back into the fold and treated with dignity. On March 19, the MDMK's high-level committee and district secretaries were in a meeting separately in Chennai, and the grapevine has it that Jayalalithaa may pacify Vaiko.

The run-up to the elections to the 234-member Assembly has seen many twists and turns and even spectacular somersaults by both the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the AIADMK. If Jayalalithaa backed down and pacified her allies, the DMK's president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi stooped to please the Congress, his ally for the past seven years. The Congress threatened to go it alone after a stand-off over seat allocation. The Congress demanded 63 seats. The DMK thought its ally was ambitious. The Congress then insisted that it would choose the constituencies from where it wanted to contest. After three tense days, the DMK gave in.

The DMK has not only retained its allies the Congress, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) but has brought back into its fold the prodigal Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). In a dramatic, sleight-of-hand move, Karunanidhi roped in the Kongu Nadu Munnetra Kazhagam (KNMK), a political outfit seeking to represent the Gounder community. Two other parties included in the DMK-led alliance are the Perunthalaivar Makkal Katchi dominated by the Nadar community and the Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam (MMK), which claims to support the cause of the Mukkulathor community.

The DMK will contest from 119 seats, the Congress 63, the PMK 30, the VCK 10, the KNMK seven, the IUML three and the Perunthalaivar Makkal Katchi and the MMK one each.

The AIADMK's alliance partners include the DMDK, the CPI(M), the CPI, the MMK, the AISMK, the P.T., the Republican Party of India (RPI), the All-India Forward Bloc (AIFB), the Moovendar Munnani Kazhagam and the Kongu Ilaignar Pervai. The DMDK is to contest from 41 seats, the CPI(M) from 12, the CPI 10, the MMK three, the P.T. and the AISMK two each, the RPI, the AIFB, the Moovendar Munnani Kazhagam and the Kongu Ilaignar Pervai one each. A third front on the electoral scene is the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally, the Janata Party led by S. Subramanian Swamy. This front will contest in all the seats.

The DMDK's decision to ally with the AIADMK was the result of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Vijayakant, accompanied by his party presidium chairman Panrutti S. Ramachandran and youth wing secretary L.K. Sudheesh, met Jayalalithaa at her residence on March 4. After brief discussions, the two parties signed an agreement by which the DMDK was allotted 41 seats.

This is the first time that Vijayakant has entered into an alliance with any party. The DMDK, in its ambitious aim of emerging as an alternative to the two main parties in the State, had contested the 2006 elections alone. The party, which was founded on September 14, 2005, fielded candidates in all the seats, but only Vijayakant got elected from the PMK stronghold of Vriddhachalam. My alliance is with the people of Tamil Nadu, he had declared often. The DMDK contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections on its own, but none of its candidates won. But the DMK and the AIADMK began to eye the DMDK's vote share of 9 per cent. Hence, when Jayalalithaa released the list of 160 candidates, after cobbling up a powerful alliance, she had in fact pressed the self-destruct button.

What shocked the CPI(M) was that its team headed by G. Ramakrishnan, State secretary of the party, had met AIADMK representatives on March 16 and had made it clear that it should be allotted the nine seats it had won in 2006 and three other constituencies where it had a winning chance. Ramakrishnan said the AIADMK functionaries had said they would consult Jayalalithaa and reach the CPI(M) office the same evening to finalise the seats. But the AIADMK list, released just an hour after the discussions were held, named its candidates for the six seats where we had won in the last elections and also the other constituencies we had sought. This is shocking, he added.

On March 17, leaders of the CPI(M), the CPI, the P.T., the Moovendar Munnani Kazhagam and the AIFB held two meetings with Vijayakant, giving rise to the speculation of a third front, which would effectively isolate the AIADMK and block its chances of returning to power. The first signal that Jayalalithaa was yielding to the demand of the allies was the announcement that she had postponed her campaign tour, which was to have begun on March 18.

The previous day, she reportedly rang up the DMDK, the CPI(M) and the CPI leaders and said that she was prepared for a rapprochement. On the evening of March 18, after the leaders of the AIADMK's allies met Jayalalithaa separately, an understanding was reached. The names of the constituencies where the CPI, the CPI(M), the AIFB, the MMK and the AISMK would contest were announced. As on March 19, negotiations were under way between the AIADMK and the DMDK to finalise the 41 constituencies sought by the latter.

There has been much speculation about whether or not Jayalalithaa had endorsed the release of the list. While stories have appeared blaming a relative of her close associate, Sasikala Natarajan, for releasing the list to the press without her knowledge, the leader of an alliance partner said Jayalalithaa scanned the list of candidates and approved it.

Nothing can happen in that party without her knowledge. Jayalalithaa will not do anything without the permission of Sasikala and vice versa. The two are interdependent, the leader explained.

AIADMK General Secretary J. Jayalalithaa with CPI leaders D. Pandian and R. Nallakannu after an agreement on seat sharing.-R. RAGU

Asked how the problem was resolved, D. Pandian, State secretary, the CPI, said: It is the need of the hour. The talks went on smoothly. All is well that ends well. The ground realities have compelled every party to stand united against the ruling combine. Our front is bound to win and form the government.

At the heart of the stand-off between the DMK and the Congress, in which the ruling party emerged chastened and bruised, were three demands made by the Congress: that it should be given 63 seats, an increase of 18 from the 2006 elections; that it will choose the constituencies; and share power should the DMK-led alliance get elected.

The DMK indulged in brinkmanship on March 5 by threatening to pull out its six Ministers from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and provide only issue-based support to it. The Congress ignored the threat for more than two days. A nervous DMK sent feelers to the Congress high command indicating that the issue could be settled through discussions, and former Union Minister T.R. Baalu even rang up Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to say that the DMK was ready for a rapprochement.

A DEMANDING CONGRESS

On March 8, after some blunt speaking by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the DMK allotted 63 seats to the Congress. Sonia Gandhi told Union Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran and Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers M.K. Alagiri (Karunanidhi's son) that the Congress will not bow to the DMK's pressure and that if the DMK did not allocate 63 seats, her party was ready to contest the elections alone. The meeting took place in the presence of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Health Minister and Congress general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu.

Sonia Gandhi argued that the Congress' demand for 63 seats was reasonable and that it was not fair on the part of the DMK to create a scene by announcing that it would pull out of the UPA government when the Congress had stood by the minority DMK government in Tamil Nadu for the past five years.

She told the DMK Ministers that she was upset that the DMK had jumped the gun and finalised seat-sharing not only with the PMK and the VCK with whom the Congress is having a troubled relationship but also with the KNMK instead of forging an alliance with the Congress first.

After the meeting, Ghulam Nabi Azad announced that the Congress would contest from 63 seats. In Chennai, Karunanidhi called it a happy day and sarcastically commented that Congressmen would welcome the 63 seats given to them with reverence and devotion as if they had 63 nayanmars [Saivite saints] in their alliance.

With the rival alliances almost evenly matched, sparks are bound to fly in the election campaign. The issues that will figure the most are the resignation and the arrest of DMK's A. Raja, former Union Communications and Information Technology Minister, for his role in the 2G spectrum scam, and the alleged domination of Karunanidhi's family in politics and other fields.

Other issues that will come to the fore are the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raid on Kalaignar TV office in Chennai and the CBI interrogation of Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal, his daughter Kanimozhi, who is a Rajya Sabha member, and Sharad Kumar, managing director of Kalaignar TV, in connection with the 2G spectrum scam.

The AIADMK-led alliance received fresh ammunition to pillory the DMK after Sadiq Pasha, an associate of Raja, who was interrogated by the CBI for his role in the 2G spectrum scam, committed suicide at his home in Chennai on March 16. Frequent power cuts will be one of the dominant themes of the opposition's campaign.

The DMK wants to make its government's achievements its election plank. The Chief Minister has already penned a series of statements on various welfare schemes implemented by his government such as the distribution of rice at Re.1 a kg, free television sets and LPG cylinders; the waiver of farmers' loans; concrete houses for hut-dwellers; the 108 ambulance and medical insurance schemes; doles for pregnant women; and jobs in various government departments.

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