Fronts and challenges

Print edition : June 05, 1999

EVEN as the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) firmed up a new pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front in Tamil Nadu, roping in the erstwhile allies of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) - the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) - there were signs of a formidable challenge to it emerging from a broad-based front of secular and democratic parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communis t Party of India (CPI) took the initiative to bring the secular parties together.

The fall of the BJP-led Government in April - when the AIADMK, a constituent of the coalition, turned against the Government and the DMK, then in the Opposition, supported it - saw the collapse of the fronts led by these two parties, necessitating the fo rmation of new alignments for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

The general secretary of the CPI (M), Harkishan Singh Surjeet, who was in Chennai on May 27 and 28, held separate discussions with Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) president G.K. Moopanar and AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha. Surjeet's visit was to guide the State secretariat of his party in evolving its poll strategy. The CPI's general secretary A.B. Bardhan and national secretary D. Raja were also in Chennai on May 26 to participate in the deliberations of the State executive of the party. According t o Surjeet, "Anybody who can contribute to the defeat of the BJP will have a role to play and should contribute." He described the AIADMK as a secular party "as its mass base is secular". Bardhan said that the CPI considered the AIADMK a secular party bec ause it had done well to get out of the BJP's orbit. As for charges of corruption against the AIADMK leadership, he argued that even in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections this was not an issue. Although it was talked about it did not cut much ice, he said.

Thus, the way has been virtually cleared for the State units of the CPI and the CPI(M) to go in for an alliance with the AIADMK. According to CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu, the executive authorised the State secretariat to hold talks with the CPI(M), the TMC, the Janata Dal and other anti-BJP and democratic parties to form a broad-based front in order to take on the BJP-DMK combine. CPI(M) State secretariat member G. Ramakrishnan said that his party's "central task" was to defeat the communalism of the BJP. Describing the elections as "a fight between communalism and secularism", he said: "Any other issue is secondary."

Both the CPI and the CPI(M) were highly critical of the DMK. The CPI(M) State committee, which also met in Chennai on May 28 under Ramakrishnan's presidentship, denounced the DMK for "totally reversing its stand against communalism and taking the worst o pportunistic stand by voting in support of the BJP-led Government and also in aligning with the BJP front." The State committee resolution added, "The stand of the DMK goes against its preaching of self-respect and the principles of Periyar (E.V. Ramaswa my, the founder of the Dravidian movement) and Anna (DMK founder C.N. Annadurai) and is harmful to secular, democratic movement." In Surjeet's view, the mass base of both the DMK and the AIADMK is secular but the DMK has suddenly jumped onto the BJP band wagon without any reason.

What is holding up the finalisation of an anti-BJP front is the Congress(I)'s delay in deciding on an alliance with the AIADMK. Besides, another secular party with a substantial following in the State, the TMC, has reservations about joining hands with t he "corrupt" AIADMK. Moopanar has told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi that his party will have nothing to do with the Congress(I) if it aligns with the AIADMK. TMC general secretary Peter Alphonse said, "We will support neither communalism nor corrup tion. We will work out our strategy accordingly."

Sources in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee(I) indicated that the party was keen to ally with the AIADMK and it hoped to persuade the TMC to have "seat adjustments" with the AIADMK as part of a broad front. The Left parties are also mounting pressure on the TMC to give up its rigid anti-AIADMK stand.

MDMK general secretary Vaiko with Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi at the latter's residence in Chennai on May 19.-S. MAHINSHA

The CPI(M) and the CPI have ruled out the formation of a third front in Tamil Nadu as envisaged by the TMC. The TMC would like this front to comprise the TMC, the CPI(M), the CPI, Puthiya Thamilagam and other secular parties, but not the AIADMK. In the L eft parties' assessment, a three-way fight, isolating Jayalalitha, would be only to the advantage of the DMK-BJP combine.

Jayalalitha, for her part, had discussions with a number of parties that are opposed to the BJP, such as the Janata Dal, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party. She also held talks with the leaders of a breakaway group of the PMK.

Earlier, the Congress(I) had deputed Sharad Pawar to Chennai for "preliminary" discussions with Jayalalitha on a possible alliance with the AIADMK. But the Congress(I) leader's subsequent revolt against party president Sonia Gandhi and the inner-party cr isis that followed hampered further moves in this direction.

Three minority organisations have also pledged their support to the emerging anti-BJP front: the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Indian National League (INL), both political parties, and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), a non-pol itical organisation. The IUML has declared its support to the AIADMK; M.A. Latheef, the general secretary of the INL, a breakaway group of the IUML and an ally of the DMK until recently, has expressed its readiness to join the AIADMK-led front. TMMK pres ident M.K. Jawahirullah has said that his organisation will support a Sonia Gandhi-led front.

Although Puthiya Thamilagam, which has a Dalit mass base, is undecided, its president, Dr. K. Krishnasamy, has said his party will oppose any front of which the BJP is a constituent.

AT the other end of the spectrum, DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi took further steps to firm up his party's alliance with the BJP and other former allies of the AIADMK. An interesting sidelight of these moves was a meeting between Karunan idhi and his arch rival for the last six years, MDMK general secretary Vaiko, at the former's residence on May 19. Vaiko, who was a popular leader of the DMK and was perceived to be close to Karunanidhi, formed the MDMK in early 1994 a few months after h is expulsion from the DMK. Describing the meeting as "significant and cordial", Vaiko said it was "like an estranged son visiting his father". The two leaders had "preliminary" discussions on the alliance and agreed to set up committees to discuss the mo dalities of seat-sharing. The PMK's founder leader S. Ramadoss did not envisage any problem in seat-sharing with the DMK.

Karunanidhi reiterated the view that Jayalalitha's corruption was more dangerous than communalism and said that the DMK's support to the BJP was "a logical continuation of its strategy to fight corruption". MDMK spokesman K.S. Radhakrishnan wondered how the Left parties could describe the AIADMK as a secular party since, he said, Jayalalitha supported the kar seva in Ayodhya when she was Chief Minister and allowed bricks to be sent for that purpose.

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