Promising start

Print edition : April 21, 2006

DMK president M. Karunanidhi, with son and deputy general secretary M.K. Stalin, releasing the election manifesto in Chennai. - M. VEDHAN

In Tamil Nadu the two main alliances have firmed up seat-sharing arrangements, but the spoilers may be the few parties fighting alone.

IN the early stages of the campaign for the May 8 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the focus has been on three issues: some of the promises made by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in its manifesto; intra-party feuds in the DMK, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and even the Communist Party of India (Marxist); and the number of parties going it alone, either voluntarily or because they have been cold-shouldered by the two major alliances.

The Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) is led by the DMK and includes the Congress, the PMK, the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The other front is headed by the AIADMK and includes the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), a faction of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Forward Bloc (Santhanam faction), the Indian National League, the IUML (Tamil Nadu), the Janata Dal (Secular), and the Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam (MMK). The MDMK, headed by Vaiko, pulled out of the DPA on March 4 and joined hands with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's AIADMK. A third, smaller alliance consists of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Janata Party and several other parties.

Film actor Vijayakant's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which was founded on September 14, 2005 and is contesting all the 234 Assembly seats, has attracted much attention. Vijayakant, who stood by his decision to go it alone, has been drawing big crowds and projects himself as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK. The other parties fighting alone are the Puthiya Thamizhagam, a Dalit organisation led by Dr. K. Krishnasamy; the All India Forward Bloc headed by film actor Karthik; the Tamil Nadu Democratic Congress; and the Latchiya Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (LDMK) headed by film actor T. Vijaya Rajenderr.

In the DPA, the DMK will contest 130 seats, the Congress 48, the PMK 31, the CPI(M) 13, the CPI 10 and the IUML two. The AIADMK has fielded candidates in 182 constituencies, the MDMK in 35, the DPI in nine; the Indian National League and the INTUC (breakaway faction) in two each, and the Forward Bloc (Santhanam), the IUML (Tamil Nadu), the JD (Secular) and the MMK in one each.

Former Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi and party general secretary K. Anbazhagan are seeking re-election from constituencies in Chennai, Chepauk and Harbour respectively. Jayalalithaa has returned to the rural constituency of Andipatti near Madurai.

Vaiko and Thol. Thirumavalavan, DPI leader, have chosen not to contest in order to concentrate on campaigning. But the DPA reads a sign of nervousness in its decision not to contest. Vaiko has unleashed a high-voltage campaign against the DMK, attacking it for "family domination", and hopes to see his party make its maiden entry into the Assembly. The MDMK drew a blank in the 1996 and 2001 elections, which it contested alone.

The AIADMK will be locked in a straight contest with the DMK in 106 constituencies, with the Congress in 35, and with the PMK in 26. The DMK and the MDMK will clash in 16 constituencies. The AIADMK, the DMK, the PMK and the CPI(M) have fielded many new faces. While 21 AIADMK Ministers seek re-election, three - C. Ponnaiyan (Finance), R.T. Inbathamizhan (Youth Welfare and Sports Development), and P. Annavi (Minister for Backward Classes) - have been denied the ticket.

When Karunanidhi released his party's manifesto on March 29 and held up the "pearls" among the promises made, it was greeted with incredulity and sarcasm. Some of the pearls were: "quality" rice at Rs.2 a kg through the public distribution system, free colour television sets (to homes that do no have them) to provide "recreation and general knowledge to women", revival of the marriage assistance scheme for women; free gas stoves to poor women; payment of Rs.1,000 a month for six months to pregnant women; and two acres of land to landless peasants. These promises were apparently aimed at neutralising the impact of the two main constituencies of the AIADMK: women and Dalits.

Vaiko, Jayalalithaa and Vijayakant lost no time in criticising the DMK. Vaiko attacked the offer of rice at Rs.2 a kg as a "fraudulent scheme". He asked: "How can you sell rice at Rs.2 a kg? From where will you get the money? You [the DMK] have been alleging that the State is in a bad financial shape under AIADMK rule." Jayalalithaa preferred to denounce the DMK offer of free colour TV sets. It amounted to promising the moon, she said.

But the DMK seems to be enjoying the attention its manifesto has attracted. Its leaders are happy that the manifesto is being debated and that its contents have reached the people. Speaking at a public meeting in Chennai on April 5 inaugurating the DPA's campaign, Karunanidhi said it was entirely feasible to implement the promises made. Provision of rice at Rs.2 a kg was not impossible because it would cost only Rs.540 crores extra a year, he said. This was not a big amount in Tamil Nadu's budget of Rs.36,000 crores., he added. (Rice is now sold in ration shops at Rs.3.50 a kg.)

"For the colour television sets scheme, I know where to get the money," Karunanidhi said. Thousands of crores of rupees was being siphoned off by some distilleries, which passed off cheap liquor as quality liquor by sticking labels of expensive brands on bottles, he alleged. "If this loot is stopped, money can be had to distribute colour television sets." The scheme would not cost Rs.15,000 crores as Jayalalithaa claimed, he said. He was sure that if Rs.530 crores was set apart in the first year and another Rs.530 crores in the second year, the scheme could be executed. There were 55 lakh acres of wasteland in Tamil Nadu. Steps would be initiated to distribute it to landless farmers, he said.

The Congress, the PMK and the Left parties defended the DMK's promises. According to K. Varadarajan, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, it was at his party's insistence that the DMK said in its manifesto that it would provide two acres to every poor, landless peasant family. Varadarajan described the AIADMK manifesto as "duplicitous" and added: "It has announced the creation of five lakh jobs. But did the AIADMK not contribute to unemployment?" This was a reference to the Jayalalithaa government's dismissal of 1.5 lakh government employees and ban on recruitment.

CHIEF MINISTER JAYALALITHAA campaigning at Saidapet in Chennai.-R. RAGU

Apart from the sound and fury over the manifestoes, the major parties found themselves having to deal with fierce revolts in the ranks over the choice of candidates; rebellion broke out mainly when party strongholds were ceded to allies.

Jayalalithaa changed AIADMK candidates in nine constituencies, including two in Pondicherry. She allotted Madurai Central to L. Santhanam of the Forward Bloc and later named former Speaker K. Kalimuthu as the AIADMK candidate there. But taking into account Kalimuthu's frail health, she replaced him with S.T. K. Jakkaiyan. The AIADMK high command was apparently not prepared for the hostility that greeted Sivakami Vincent's nomination to the Dharapuram seat. Sivakami Vincent was elected on the PMK ticket in May 2001 but crossed over to the AIADMK. Following the virulent opposition, Jayalalithaa replaced Sivakami Vincent with M. Ranganayaki.

In the AIADMK, there is considerable resentment in Madurai, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin and Kanyakumari districts over the choice of candidates. At Cheranmahadevi, partymen are disillusioned that a particular family has been favoured again and again: former Speaker P.H. Pandian was elected AIADMK legislator four times from there and now his son, Manoj Pandian, has been given the ticket for the second time.

"Father and son are alternately" ruling the roost in the constituency and "we are vexed", said an AIADMK worker.

At Alangulam, V.P. Eswaran alias Murthy was given the AIADMK ticket only to have it taken away to be given to M. Pandiaraj, who is said to be unpopular among AIADMK workers of a particular community. At Radhapuram, party cadre are unhappy over the choice of L. Gnanapunitha. They feel that she is not strong enough to oppose the DMK's M. Appavu.

Yadavas are aggrieved that Jayalalithaa has ignored the community totally in the distribution of the ticket in Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts. "In every constituency in these undivided districts, there are about 30,000 Yadavas but not even one has found a place in the AIADMK list of candidates," said a Yadava leader of the AIADMK. Two Yadavas have been given the ticket, but they have been asked to contest from Ranipet and Rishivandhiyam, which are in the Vanniyar-dominated belt, he said. He alleged that the AIADMK had ignored the Yadavas because an influential Yadava member in the 1991-1996 Jayalalithaa Cabinet, R.S. Raja Kannappan, had formed his own party and subsequently merged it with the DMK. Raja Kannappan is the DMK nominee from Ilayangudi constituency.

Mutinies have jolted the DMK as well, the most serious being at Mugaiyur. When the popular A.G. Sampath, former MLA from the constituency, was not renominated and the seat was allotted to the PMK, partymen smashed DMK flag pedestals and burnt banners. Sampath's followers alleged that the seat was allotted to the PMK to sideline Sampath and was done at the behest of former DMK Minister K. Ponmudi. Sampath is the son of the late DMK Minister A. Govindasamy. Sampath has since resigned from the party and announced that he would contest as an independent.

The DMK suffered a big embarrassment when Asokan, who was elected twice from Tiruvarur, joined the AIADMK after he was denied the ticket. Asokan was known as a protege of M.K. Stalin, Karunanidhi's son. Tiruvarur is Karunanidhi's home district. At Tiruvidaimarudur, a DMK worker, Jayaraman, cut off his index finger because the seat was allotted to the PMK, overlooking the claims of four-time DMK legislator S. Ramalingam. Jayaraman justified his extreme act by saying that he did not want the voting ink to be applied on his index finger. Fans of film actor Sarath Kumar, who is a DMK activist, are belligerent because his loyalists have been denied the DMK ticket.

The Congress has had its share of trouble, with its workers coming to blows. Leading the rebellion is former legislator Dr. A. Sellakumar. His supporters protested against "dynastic rule" in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) when the high command appointed M. Krishnaswamy as TNCC president. Krishnaswamy's son Vishnu Prasad is Tamil Nadu Youth Congress president. Dr. Sellakumar's men also burnt effigies of M. Veerappa Moily, Congress observer for the State, because they were upset with the constituencies allotted to the party. Dr. Sellakumar's men were beaten up by Congressmen belonging to rival factions at the party headquarters.

Unlike the 2001 Assembly elections and the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, there is no discernible wave this time. According to G. Ramakrishnan, CPI(M) State Secretariat member, when there was no wave, the arithmetic of an alliance's strength came into play. "Arithmetic always works in Tamil Nadu. Every section of society has been affected by AIADMK rule. In the absence of a wave, the arithmetic will work."

Pondicherry, which has 30 seats, is also going to the polls on May 8. The Congress is the ruling party there. The AIADMK-led alliance has got its act together on sharing seats, while the Congress, the DMK and their partners are still to reach an agreement. While the AIADMK will contest 16 seats, 10 constituencies have been allotted to the Puducherry Munnetra Congress led by P. Kannan, and two seats each to the MDMK and the DPI.

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