Tough battle

Print edition : April 28, 2001

The two rival fronts in Tamil Nadu, led by the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, are ready for an all-out battle.

DESPITE the impressive performance of its government in implementing welfare schemes and development projects, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu is on slippery ground. Urban and rural voters in Tiruchi, Madurai and Coimbatore while praising the government headed by M. Karunanidhi for its performance, blamed it for the "lack of money circulation". Lack of money circulation, they complained, had led to a slump in trade, industry and construction activity. Farmers are sore over the fall in the prices of produce such as sugarcane, banana, oilseeds, coconut, cotton and vegetables.

Voters say the DMK government has failed to capitalise on its good work by not publicising it and also not countering the propaganda that it was to blame for the lack of money circulation. Besides, they do not approve of the DMK aligning with caste-based parties in its bid to take on the formidable rival combine-led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). "What is the use of the DMK government building samathuvapurams (egalitarian villages) when it aligns with caste parties?" people ask.

Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi releasing the party's manifesto in Chennai in the presence of Arcot Veerasamy (left) and K. Anbazhagan.-S. MAHINSHA

Voters are also unhappy with the DMK for sending the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which the DMK heads in the State. The MDMK's exit is viewed as a result of the DMK's manipulative move to pre-empt any threat from its leader Vaiko to Chennai Mayor and legislator M.K. Stalin from succeeding father Karunanidhi if the DMK is returned to power. They felt the MDMK's exit deprived the NDA of hardworking cadres. Besides Karunanidhi there is no good orator in the NDA. Vaiko's oratorical skills are a sure draw at public meetings.

Another "minus point" of the DMK is that even though many of its legislators had done good work in their constituencies, they had antagonised the cadre by not doing any favours. This was a complaint against Lalgudi legislator and Food Minister K.N. Nehru, Jayankondan MLA K.S. Ganesan and Andipatti legislator P. Asaiyan, all of whom are in the field again. Voters in Lalgudi said that Nehru had a "tough fight on hands". They are unhappy over his scheme to convey water in a pipeline from the Coleroon bed to Perambalur and the villages around it. The AIADMK is raring to put up a good fight here sensing the people's mood. T.S. Karnan, of Thinniam village, said, "After 25 years, an AIADMK candidate is contesting from Lalgudi. We are happy. Every AIADMK man here has contributed Rs.25 to Rs.50 for the election campaign."

Voters are reluctant to explain why they are unhappy with the DMK government although they praise it for its various schemes.

Nor are people clear about what would be in store if Jayalalitha is returned to power. A silver lining for the DMK is that several women this correspondent met said they would vote the rising sun, the DMK's symbol.

There may also be the transfer of a sizable chunk of Dalit and Yadava votes to the DMK-led alliance because the Puthiya Tamizhagam headed by Dr.K. Krishnasamy and the Dalit Panthers led by R. Tirumavalavan, both Dalit parties, and the Makkal Tamil Desam (a Yadava grouping) headed by S. Kannappan, have aligned themselves with it. The New Justice Party, claiming to be a conglomeration of Mudaliar sects, has also tied up with the DMK.

At Silal, a village in the Pattali Makkal Katchi-dominated Vanniyar belt, N. Kaliamurthy, an AIADMK supporter, said he would vote for the DMK because the Dalit Panthers was partnering it. He said, "Forgetting my political difference with Tirumavalavan, I will vote for him because he fights for my community." There is fear among the Dalits here that the Vanniyars would prevent them from voting. (The Vanniyar-dominated PMK has cast its lot with the AIADMK after pulling out of the NDA).

AIADMK leader Jayalalitha campaigning at Theni.-K. GANESAN

The Puthiya Tamizhagam has a strong support base in Anuppapatti, Mekkalapatti, Acharipatti, T. Bommia-naickenpatti, Thimmarasunaickenpatti and Mallaiyapuram villages, which fall under the Andipatti constituency, one of the two constituencies from where Jayalalitha is contesting. At Rajagolam-patti, a Dalit colony, women were angry that Asaiyan, the DMK legislator, had built good roads in areas where caste Hindus live but neglected their "colony".

Surprisingly, the uncertainty over Jayalalitha's eligibility to contest has turned out to be a non-issue. A few men, obviously belonging to the AIADMK, ominously hinted that there would be a "bloodbath" and that "men belonging to rival parties will not be allowed to enter our villages" if her nominations were rejected.

The election campaign shifted into top gear on April 15, with the two rival fronts finalising their seat-sharing arrangements. On April 14, the Tamil New Year day, the DMK, the AIADMK and the MDMK announced their lists of candidates. On April 9, DMK president Karunanidhi launched the NDA election campaign in Tiruchi. Jayalalitha began her campaign after filing her nomination at Krishnagiri in Dharmapuri district on April 16. The MDMK organised a massive public meeting in Coimbatore on April 14.

The Tamil Nadu Assembly has 234 seats. While the DMK is contesting 167 seats, its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded candidates in 21 constituencies, the Puthiya Tamizhagam in 10, the Dalit Panthers in eight, the Makkal Tamil Desam in six, the New Justice Party in five, the MGR ADMK in three, the Tamilaga Muslim United Jammait in three and the MGR Kazhagam in two.

The AIADMK is contesting from 141 constituencies, the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Congress(I) together from 47, the PMK from 27, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) from eight each, the Indian National League, the Forward Bloc and the Thamilaga Munnetra Kazhagam from one each.

There is simmering trouble in both the alliances. The DMK has fielded 74 new faces. This has caused heartburning among legislators who have been denied the ticket. A couple of them have resigned from the party. 'Murasoli' Maran, Union Commerce and Industry Minister and nephew of Karunanidhi, threw a bombshell when he announced his retirement from active politics. He was reportedly hurt that the leadership did not drop inefficient Ministers and that the party had welcomed caste parties into its fold.

In the "secular" front headed by the AIADMK, the TMC is sore that Jayalalitha denied it 16 seats it had won in 1996. That year the TMC contested 40 seats and won 39. This time it is contesting from 32 constituencies only, having apportioned 15 to the Congress(I). This has angered some party legislators. A few of them have quit the TMC and joined the TMC Democratic Forum founded by former Union Minister P. Chidambaram. Chidambaram has been expelled from the party for opposing the alliance with the AIADMK.

The AIADMK has given a wide berth to constituencies in Chennai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi where the DMK has a strong base. It is banking on the support in the rural belt. With the campaign already on, the battle is expected to become fierce as the poll date, May 10, draws close.

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