A rally and a message

Print edition : September 26, 1998

The September 15 rally in Chennai proved that the MDMK has emerged out of the shadow of its dominant ally in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK, and begun to assert itself against Jayalalitha.

NEW vistas seem to have opened up for Marumalarchi Dravida Munn-etra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko after a rally and a public meeting at the Marina beach in Chennai that the party organised on September 15. With top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition attending the event, the MDMK, a minor ally in the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led coalition, emerged out of the AIADMK's shadow. It was a sign of the MDMK asserting itself against the AIADMK and its leader Jayalalitha. Other AIADMK allies - Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader Dr.S. Ramadoss and Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) leader Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi - took part in the meeting, which became a symbol of their political proximity to the BJP and alienation from the AIADMK.

The AIADMK's own rally and public meeting, held the same day in Tiruchi, drew big crowds. Despite a provocative speech that Jayalalitha made there, there are indications that she may now shed some of her defiance and hostility towards the BJP. She rushed back to Chennai the next day for a meeting with Samata Party leader and Defence Minister George Fernandes, a trouble-shooter for the BJP-led coalition.

While in Chennai, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced plans for a Cabinet expansion after his return from the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York towards the end of September. Top BJP sources indicated that the AIADMK would get a couple of Cabinet berths in the place of Sedapatti R. Muthiah and R.K. Kumar, the party's representatives who resigned a few months ago. The PMK, whose representative Dalit Ezhilmalai is Minister of State for Health, would also get more berths.

There is pressure on the MDMK to join the Central Government. Vaiko has said that he himself would not join the Ministry and so the MDMK may have to decide on suggesting one or both of its MPs for ministerial positions.

At the MDMK rally on the Marina beach, (from left) Era. Chezhiyan, Farooq Abdullah, Prakash Singh Badal, Vaiko, A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, S. Ramadoss, George Fernandes and Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi.-S. THANTHONI

VAIKO has more than one reason to be pleased with the latest development. The MDMK stole a march over the other Dravidian parties, which had competed with each other to organise the 90th birth anniversary of C.N. Annadurai, Dravidian movement stalwart and former Chief Minister.

Vaiko said, "This renaissance rally will be an event in the history of Tamil Nadu politics." Union Home Minister L.K. Advani described Vaiko as "the principal organiser of this spectacular rally" and praised his capacity for hard work.

Vaiko gave the celebrations an all-India character by inviting important leaders of the BJP and its allies: Vajpayee, Advani, Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal), Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah (National Conference), George Fernandes (Samata Party), Era. Chezhiyan (Lok Shakti), Ramadoss and Ramamurthi.

Only Ramadoss had a kind word for Jayalalitha at the Marina meeting. He said that she had played a major role in the formation of the non-Congress Government (the BJP-led Government) at the Centre. Vaiko, who declined to be drawn into a controversy over Jayalalitha's boycott of the meeting, said that the separate meeting by the AIADMK, also a Dravidian party, would only "add to the glory of Anna (Annadurai)".

THE MDMK rally, in which thousands of party workers took part, was well organised. As contingents of MDMK cadres marched by, Vajpayee, Advani, Fernandes and Vaiko took the salute from a dais on the arterial Radhakrishnan Salai. There were folk-dance performances and floats that depicted the "top", the election symbol of the MDMK, and another that glorified India's nuclear tests.

MDMK marchers with portraits of C.N. Annadurai and Periyar.-N. BALAJI

Vajpayee and Fernandes paid tributes to Anna. Vajpayee called Anna "a nationalist" who did not let his legitimate pride for Tamil Nadu and the Tamil language obscure his vision of India as one nation. He added that Anna's love for Tamil did not mean that he was anti-Hindi. Vajpayee also recalled instances when Anna differed with 'Periyar' E.V. Ramasami, the founder of the Dravidian movement, on issues. When Periyar wanted August 15, 1947 - Independence Day - to be observed as a " day of mourning", Anna said that it was a day to rejoice because British imperialism had been defeated. Anna gave up his demand for a separate Dravidanadu after the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962. Vajpayee spoke of Anna's fight for social justice.

At the meeting, Vaiko claimed that "Vajpayee had made India a mighty nuclear power." He ridiculed those who raised "jungli cries" against the tests. He said that China had supplied nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, whose Ghauri missile could target any city in India. Of Pakistan, he said: "If you dare challenge us, we will give a fitting reply."

Vaiko said that in the Lok Sabha elections, the people of Tamil Nadu had given a mandate for a stable government under the leadership of Vajpayee. He said: "The MDMK will not do anything to betray the trust of the people. The MDMK will give unconditional support to the BJP Government...We will stand by this Government."

Responding to Jayalalitha's attempt to belittle the MDMK by referring to it as a five-year-old child and the AIADMK as a 26-year-old warrior, he said the MDMK would grow steadily.

Long-time political rivals M. Karunanidhi and Vaiko at the Chennai airport on September 16, while waiting to see off the Prime Minister.-T.A. HAFEEZ

THE MDMK show provided the BJP an occasion to try and endear itself to Dravidian cadres. A BJP leader said that the presence of Vajpayee and Advani at the event was the first step in the BJP's long-term plans to expand its base in Tamil Nadu. He said, "We would like to consolidate ourselves in Tamil Nadu. We do not want to be like the Congress(I), forever riding on the shoulders of the DMK or the AIADMK. We would like to grow slowly." He referred to the "growing Hinduisation" of the Dravidian parties and their gradual distancing from the original rationalistic and atheistic stance. In this context, Era. Chezhiyan's statement at the rally was relevant. He said: "Tamil Nadu and the Dravidian parties have come to terms with Vajpayee" and vice versa.

The meeting also accentuated the "group within the group" syndrome in the AIADMK-led alliance, which includes the MDMK, the PMK, the TRC and the Janata Party led by Subramanian Swamy. Their divide had come into the open earlier when Jayalalitha wanted to withdraw support to the Vajpayee Government over the Cauvery issue, and Vaiko, Ramadoss and Ramamurthi rejected her demand. Only Subramanian Swamy stood by her. With the MDMK rally, the alienation was complete.

By encouraging the alienation, the BJP has pushed Jayalalitha into a corner where she has limited options. She has to stick with the BJP for the present because contrary to her expectations, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi has made no overtures to her. There is little doubt that if she moved towards the Congress(I), her allies would desert her. Ramadoss and Vaiko have ruled out any truck with the Congress(I). However, there is too much at stake for the AIADMK and its allies to break up their alliance with the BJP. In the event of elections following a collapse of the BJP-led Government, none of them may be able to find another suitable ally.

Meanwhile, after its overtures to the Congress(I) were spurned, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), an ally of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), has announced that it has no plans to merge with the Congress(I). The TMC will go along with the DMK for now, even though it intends to assert its independent stature by the 2001 Assembly elections.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi of the DMK is also biding his time. No doubt, he will continue to seek to stoke the AIADMK's fears about his party getting close to the BJP, even though ideological differences would stand between him and the BJP. For the moment, however, the DMK has reasons to perceive the MDMK, which broke away from it five years ago, as the real threat. After the sudden comeback, Vaiko, who has brought the fledgling MDMK out of political wilderness, is unlikely to make a quick retreat.

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