Emerging forces

Print edition : June 19, 2009

Praja Rajyam Party president K. Chiranjeevi greeting supporters after offering prayers at the Venkateswara temple at Tirumala on May 28.-K.V. POORNACHANDRA KUMAR

By S. Nagesh Kumar in Hyderabad

WHEN mega-star K. Chiranjeevis Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) was in the throes of birth in early 2008, political observers opined that his role in Andhra Pradesh politics would be akin to that of another film actor, Vijayakant, in Tamil Nadu. It was held that he was not poised for power but would split the votes of the two major parties in the State the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). But Chiranjeevi was not willing to take that. After all, were not people tired of N. Chandrababu Naidu of the TDP, who was at the helm for nine years from 1995, and Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress for the next five years?

I do not think that there is no political space for a new party, he told this correspondent in July 2008 when asked to draw a parallel between him and N.T. Rama Rao, who rode to power in Andhra Pradesh within nine months of launching the TDP in 1982-83. But 10 months later, Chiranjeevi has admitted that there has been a vast change in the political situation since Rama Raos time. Even if 50 per cent of the people who turned up for my road shows had voted for Praja Rajyam, the party would have produced remarkable results, he said about the outcome of the simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assembly on April 16 and 23.

The PRP ended up a poor third with 18 of 294 Assembly seats. But it managed to spoil the TDPs chances of wresting power from the Congress and restrict the Congress tally to 156 in the Assembly. It split by half the Kapu votes in coastal Andhra, which has traditionally been with the Congress. Of course, the PRP did attract the Kapu youth, many of them enamoured of the roles played by Chiranjeevi in films, but the older generation remained loyal to the Congress.

In fact, TDP president Chandrababu Naidu had left nothing to chance. He forged an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) after changing his stand on the Telangana statehood issue, offered a number of sops such as colour television sets and a cash transfer scheme, while the partys campaigners such as NTR Jr. drew massive crowds. But he dismissed suggestions that the PRP would divide the anti-establishment vote and paid a heavy price for it.

The 15.76 per cent votes polled by the PRP in the Lok Sabha elections and the 16.12 per cent it polled in the Assembly elections came mainly at the cost of the TDP. This is borne out by the fact that the TDP lost 44 Assembly seats by narrow margins. Post-election, Naidu conceded that the partys vote bank had been eroded heavily by the PRP and marginally by the Lok Satta Party of the bureaucrat-turned-politician Jayaprakash Narayan.

With more than a little help from an obliging media, Naidu was the darling of the urban middle class during his stint as Chief Minister. He placed Hyderabad on Indias information technology map, widened roads in the State capital, introduced e-Seva as a one-stop shop for payment of all bills, and initiated work on an international airport. But nothing helped him withstand the Congress wave in 2004; the TDP did not win a single seat in Hyderabad.

This time round, it was a double whammy for him. Apart from the charm that Chiranjeevi held for film-crazed youth, the Lok Satta Party also sprang a surprise on Naidu. Its USP of providing clean governance attracted educated youth, white-collared employees and housewives, sections that matter in predominantly urban constituencies. Jayaprakash Narayan himself polled 71,700 votes and defeated his Congress rival in the Kukatpally constituency in Hyderabad by 15,000 votes while other candidates from his party secured between 5 and 10 per cent of the votes, all at the cost of the TDP.

In Srikakulam, a district that has been traditionally anti-Congress, the Congress won nine out of 10 Assembly seats with a vote share of 40 per cent. The TDP and the Praja Rajyam could manage only one seat though their combined vote share was 60, said the TDPs Parliamentary Party leader K. Yerran Naidu, who lost the Srikakulam Lok Sabha seat by 82,987 votes. Although this logic of adding up votes of rival parties in a triangular contest may not hold water, it does not take away from the Praja Rajyams role in being a spoiler.

By some quirk of the election arithmetic, the TDP almost doubled its strength in the Assembly from 47 to 92 though its vote share fell from 33.11 per cent in 2004 to 24.93 per cent. Even if the total vote share of the four-party grand alliance, which included the TRS and the Left parties, is taken into consideration, the TDP fell short of the Congress vote share by nearly 1.9 per cent in the elections to the Assembly and 5.03 per cent in those to the Lok Sabha.

One reason perhaps was that the TDP and the PRP wooed the same voters the Other Backward Classes and the middle classes. The PRP fielded 104 backward class candidates in the Assembly elections, by far the highest for any party in this round of elections. A post-poll study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in The Hindu shows that the PRP polled 15.5 per cent of the OBC votes. As a result, the TDPs share of the OBC vote was confined to 37.7 per cent, a shade less than the Congress 38.3 per cent.

Chiranjeevi does not agree that the PRP cut into the vote share of the TDP. It treated the TDP and the Congress with equal disdain during the campaign, and polled nearly 70 lakh votes. What he does not mention, however, is that the PRP drew most of its leadership and, to a large extent, its cadre from the TDP. It was natural that their votes would also swing in the same direction.

By S. Dorairaj in Chennai

Although major political parties termed it a wasteful exercise, for Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijayakant the decision to go it alone in the May 13 Lok Sabha elections was a well-calculated move aimed at consolidating his vote bank. He did so with an eye on capturing power in Tamil Nadu in 2011. The DMDK may have drawn a blank in all the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the State and the lone Puducherry seat, but party activists are jubilant over its performance in 35 constituencies where its candidates secured more than 50,000 votes. The party polled 31.25 lakh votes as against the 1.32 crore votes polled by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led alliance and the 1.15 crore votes secured by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led front. The partys vote share also went up to 10.1 per cent from 8.38 per cent in the Assembly elections in 2006.

The DMDKs candidates secured more votes than the victory margins in 25 constituencies. This affected the prospects of the AIADMK in eight seats, the Congress in seven places, the DMK in three seats, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) in two constituencies each and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Marumalarchi Dravida Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) in one constituency each.

Among the prominent leaders who suffered humiliating defeats owing to the entry of the DMDK in the fray are former Union Ministers Mani Shankar Aiyar, E.V.K.S. Elangovan and R. Prabhu (all Congress), E. Ponnusamy, A.K. Murthy and R. Velu (PMK) and Pon. Radhakrishnan (BJP). Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K.V. Thangkabalu, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, former AIADMK ministers Raja Kannappan and M.C. Sampath, and Tamil Nadu CPI State secretary D. Pandian are also among the prominent losers.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram won in his home constituency, Sivaganga, by a slender margin of 3,354 votes. The DMDK nominee there bagged 60,084 votes. Endearingly called Captain by thousands of party activists and his fan following, Vijayakant had adopted the same strategy of going it alone in the Assembly elections, nearly a year after the formation of the DMDK. All DMDK candidates other than Vijayakant lost: Captain won from the Vriddachalam seat in the Vanniyar heartland. As many as 223 of them forfeited their deposits.

But securing 8.38 per cent of the votes in the Assembly elections was in no way a mean achievement for a fledgling party. The party was a spoiler in 141 of the 232 Assembly seats it contested, tilting the balance in favour of the DMK in 43 seats, besides helping 42 AIADMK, 25 Congress and 12 PMK nominees win the elections in close contests.

DMDK founder Vijayakant campaigning for the partys candidate in the South Chennai constituency.-M.KARUNAKARAN

In view of the votes it had in a large number of Assembly segments, the DMK, the AIADMK and the BJP wooed the DMDK for the Lok Sabha polls. But Vijayakant remained equidistant from both Dravidian parties. He was also sceptical about forging ties with the BJP because of its communal tag.

Different theories are attached to the DMDKs decision to plough a lonely furrow in the general elections. The most convincing one is that by becoming a junior partner in any combine, he would lose his hard-earned space in politics and would not be able to stake his claim for the Chief Ministers chair in the State in a couple of years when the DMK governments tenure comes to an end. If the party takes to alliance politics at this stage, it may not be possible to retain its image as a viable alternative to both the DMK and the AIADMK, which have been ruling the State for the past four decades.

Vijayakant was aware that it would be an uphill task to emerge successful in the Lok Sabha elections, particularly when the focus of the campaign was on national issues. Initially he gave the impression that he was not keen on the DMDK contesting the elections, more particularly in the wake of the drubbing the party suffered in the byelection to the Thirumangalam Assembly seat in January.

At one stage, he even went to the extent of appealing to political parties to boycott the Lok Sabha elections as a mark of protest against the Centres failure to respect the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu with regard to the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.

E.R. EASWARAN, Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary and candidate for the Coimbatore Lok Sabha constituency, during an election campaign at Athappagoundenpudur.-K. ANANTHAN

Also, the DMDK was the last among Tamil Nadus political parties to bring out a manifesto in the Lok Sabha elections. Flaying the DMK and the AIADMK for their failure to pressure the Central government to sort out inter-State disputes despite being part of ruling fronts at the Centre, it promised to take steps through the new dispensation at the Centre to solve Tamil Nadus river water disputes with neighbouring States, besides striving to get the agreement on the Katchatheevu island annulled and protecting the interests of Tamils belonging to other countries. Even while promising measures to expedite implementation of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal project, it said an inquiry would be ordered into the alleged irregularities in its execution. Observers say that no one can undermine the partys growing vote share against the backdrop of the waning influence of the PMK in the Vanniyar heartland in the north and the MDMKs losing grip in the south. The emergence of the caste-based Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam in the western districts of Tamil Nadu has also made the national and regional parties think about redefining their strategy for the region.

By Lyla Bavadam in Mumbai

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has done the unthinkable. It determined the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra and was responsible for the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing at least nine seats to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The positive response of voters to the MNS has come as a big surprise. It was truly a navnirman, or renaissance, for Raj Thackeray and his three-year-old party, one that was not at all expected even by the party chief. At a press conference after the elections, Raj referred to this newly discovered strength of his party by declaring, The MNS will have a say in the creation of Maharashtras next Chief Minister [in the coming Assembly elections].

Although the MNS lost all the 12 seats it contested, it polled at least one lakh votes in all the seats and came out second in some. BJP State president Nitin Gadkari admitted that the MNS had spoilt the Sena-BJPs chances of winning 30 seats, but the Congress refused to admit that it had benefited from the MNS factor.

For instance, in Mumbai, the Congress won its seats largely because of the presence of the MNS. BJP stalwarts Ram Naik and Kirit Somaiya fell here because of MNS candidates. The votes of the Sena and the MNS added up to more than those of the Congress-NCP combine.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray at a party workers meeting in Mumbai on May 22.-VIVEK BENDRE

The MNS aggressive campaigning also cost the Sena its sure-fire seats in Nashik, Mumbai North West and Thane. Losing Thane was a blow to the Sena which had held it for decades. It prompted an editorial in the Sena organ Saamna, where Sena supremo Bal Thackeray reviled his nephew Raj (without naming him), likening him to a legendary Maharashtrian traitor Pisal who assisted the Mughals against the Marathas. The editorial also highlighted the campaign strategy in which the Congress allegedly egged on the MNS to field candidates in the same seats as the NCP. The move benefited both the Congress and the MNS.

For the Congress it meant that its alliance partner was taken down several notches. For the MNS it was important to teach the NCP a lesson because of the latters closeness to the Sena. This was most apparent in the Nashik seat where the NCPs Sameer Bhujbal (son of former Sena man Chhagan Bhujbal, now with the NCP) won over the MNS candidate only by a narrow margin.

So crucial was the MNS role in the State that the NCPs tally dropped from nine out of 18 seats in 2004 to eight out of 22 seats now. The Congress, on the other hand, improved its tally from 13 of 26 seats in 2004 to 17 of 25 this time. The Senas tally remained stable over both elections because of delimitation and the BJPs dropped from 13 in 2004 to nine in 2009.

A look at the Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha constituencies is also interesting. The Congress led in 82 Assembly segments in the State, the NCP in 48, the Sena and the BJP in 64 each and the MNS in 10. This is a good start for the fledgling MNS.

The first inkling that the MNS might more than just nip at the heels of the bigger parties came in the 2006 municipal elections when it won 28 seats in nine municipal councils. The elections were held just a few months after the formation of the MNS. Although the partys success raised a few eyebrows then, the MNS was not taken seriously. However, after the Lok Sabha elections the MNS is being seen not only as a serious foe but also as a potential ally. So swiftly has its value risen that Raj bragged about the damage his party could have inflicted if it had contested all the 48 seats. Though that was stretching the capabilities of the partys infrastructure and membership (figures which the MNS is still cagey about), there is no doubt that in the Assembly elections due later this year the MNS is going to be wooed by other parties.

The BJP, for one, has taken the MNS seriously. The BJPs presence in Maharashtra was traditionally weak until it tied up with the Sena. There have been numerous flashpoints between the Sena and the BJP most of them had to do with the Sena demanding special interests for the Marathi populace and the BJP trying to play them down and preserve its image as a national, all-inclusive party. If the Sena is able to patch up with the MNS, it may reconsider its alliance with the BJP.

The BJPs image in the State is low; the average Maharashtrian sees it as using the Sena to further its own interests. Not that the Sena or the MNS has done much for the Marathi manoos, but the local electorate by and large prefers them to the BJP. It is worth noting that the MNS has prospered not because of what it has done but because of what the Sena has not done. This fact should give the two warring cousins a hint that their core electorate is still willing to back them purely because both profess a concern for Maharashtrian issues.

Raj is a dyed-in-the-wool Sainik and, given the proper channels and an appropriate role, he will be open to some form of association with the Sena. Despite his recent success, Raj knows he will have the maximum reach via the Sena. Though he has the charisma of Bal Thackeray, his party is still viewed as a breakaway group. To that extent the Shiv Sena still has more market value than the MNS.

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