The Pondicherry picture

Print edition : May 26, 2001

THE disappointment could not have been worse for Dr.S. Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). He pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre in February and signed a pact with AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha in March that if the PMK-AIADMK alliance were to be voted to power in Pondicherry, a PMK nominee would be the Chief Minister for the first two and a half years followed by an AIADMK nominee for the rest of the term. Dr. Ramadoss said that his ambition was to instal a Vanniyar as Chief Minister in Pondicherry in 2001. (The PMK essentially represents the interests of the Vanniyar community.) But his party did not win a single seat though it contested 10 seats in the 33-member Assembly. The AIADMK did a little better: it won three of the 20 seats where it fielded candidates.

Chief Minister P. Shanmugham.-K. PICHUMANI

In the event, the strategy of the Congress(I) and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), along with the Communist Party of India (CPI), to form a Third Front in the Union Territory paid off. Although the Congress(I) and the TMC contested as allies of the AIADMK and the PMK in Tamil Nadu, they went it alone in Pondicherry. They disapproved of the pact between Jayalalitha and Dr. Ramadoss because a Congress(I)-TMC coalition government, headed by P. Shanmugham, already existed in the Union Territory. The Congress(I) and the TMC also steered clear of the alliance among the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Puducherry Makkal Congress, the BJP and the Dalit Panthers.

The Congress(I)-TMC alliance is all set to form the government again, with the Congress(I) winning 11 seats and the TMC two. Jayalalitha assured Congress general secretary Pranab Kumar Mukherjee on May 16 that the AIADMK would offer unconditional support to the coalition. The Congress(I) and the TMC also hope to secure the support of two independents who got elected. With the support of three AIADMK legislators, the alliance would be assured of having 16 legislators behind it. (Of the 33 seats in the Assembly, 30 are filled through election and the rest through a process of nomination.

The DMK-led alliance came second with 12 seats. The DMK won seven, the Puducherry Makkal Congress headed by P. Kannan four and the BJP one.

The election of the leader of the Congress(I) Legislature Party was not a smooth affair. The 11 Congress MLAs and Pradesh Congress(I) Committee members, who met on May 18, failed to choose the Chief Minister as there was an intense tussle between the former Chief Minister V. Vaithilingam and incumbent Tourism Minister N. Rangaswamy. They entrusted the decision to Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi's choice was Shanmugham. Azad announced his name when the Congress(I) Legislature Party met on May 19. Thus Shanmugham's election as the leader of the legislature party was a "smooth" and "unanimous" affair. The meeting took place in the presence of All India Congress Committee observers Motilal Vohra and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Shanmugham and Congress(I) member of Parliament from Pondicherry M.O.H. Farook.

Even during the campaign, it was clear that the AIADMK-PMK alliance was nowhere in the race. The fight was essentially between the Congress-TMC-CPI front and the DMK-led alliance. (The CPI lost in both the seats it contested.) Besides, although a sizable section of the people of Pondicherry are Vanniyars, it would appear that they did not take kindly to Dr. Ramadoss' vaulting ambition to instal a Vanniyar as Chief Minister and thus transport his caste politics from his native Tamil Nadu to Pondicherry. Dr. Ramadoss set out energetically in March, but dropped out of the campaign later. A political observer said: "Caste politics will not sell here. The PMK has been white-washed."

Political observers said the Congress(I) and the TMC did well because of Shanmugham's record of governance in the last one year. His government's schemes targeted the rural poor. Free plots were distributed to poor people in several areas. Congress candidates won from many rural constituencies, including Tirupuvanai, Bagur, Lawspet and four out of the six in the Karaikal region. The candidates of the DMK won mostly from urban constituencies.

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