Tamil Nadu

Interesting contests

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Chief Minister and Jayalalithaa speaking at an AIADMK election campaign in Theni district on March 25. Photo: R. Ashok

New Alliances

THE April 24 single-phase elections to the Lok Sabha from Tamil Nadu promise to be interesting because a six-cornered contest is in the offing in almost all the 39 constituencies. The lone seat in the neighbouring Union Territory of Puducherry also faces a multi-cornered contest. In 2009, the battle was essentially between the two powerful alliances led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).

The DMK has no major allies after it pulled out of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre in March 2013 over what it perceived as the Centre’s insensitive stand on the Sri Lanka Army’s killing of an estimated 60,000 Tamils in May 2009 during the final stages of its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The DMK has retained its alliance with the Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). It has also brought into its fold the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK) and the Puthiya Thamizhagam (P.T.), both of which were with the AIADMK during the 2011 Assembly elections. The DMK will contest 35 seats, the VCK two, and the IUML, the P.T. and the MMK one each. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) plans to contest 25 seats.

The AIADMK is going it alone. In a display of overconfidence, the ruling party showed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) the door; both were its allies in the 2009 and 2011 elections. The All India Samathuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK), founded by the actor and legislator R. Sarathkumar, and a few caste outfits are backing the AIADMK.

Chief Minister and party general secretary Jayalalithaa named the AIADMK’s candidates for the Tamil Nadu and Puducherry seats on February 24, her birthday. The announcement carried a hint of what was in store for the Left parties. She, however, said talks were under way with them on seat-sharing. “After an agreement is reached on the sharing of constituencies, the AIADMK candidates will withdraw from the constituencies allotted to these two parties,” Jayalalithaa said. She then swung into the election campaign from March 3, ignoring the two Left parties. Left leaders held several rounds of negotiations with AIADMK leaders. In the end, Jayalalithaa despatched a few Ministers to the CPI(M) office on March 4. “Amma” had asked them to tell the Left leaders that “we came together happily and let us part gladly”, the Ministers said. The AIADMK thus unilaterally broke this partnership.

Unfazed, the CPI(M) and the CPI decided to face the elections together, a decision that has enthused their cadre. The two parties will contest nine seats each. “We are not able to ascertain the causes for the AIADMK’s unilateral decision,” a senior CPI(M) leader said. “It is a political decision. It is not the number of seats that led the AIADMK to break its relationship with us,” he added.

Informed sources said that with pre-election surveys predicting a win for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Jayalalithaa did not want to antagonise the BJP by remaining in the company of the Left. She shed her ambition of becoming the Prime Minister as she did not want to be seen as a rival to the BJP’s Narendra Modi. “If a government were to be formed at the Centre with the AIADMK taking part in it, the people of this country will get a lot of benefits. You will also get benefits. Tamil Nadu will prosper,” is her refrain as she reads from a prepared text at meeting after meeting. While she attacks the DMK and also the UPA, of which it was a constituent, for corruption and non-performance, she spares the BJP. She does not even utter the name BJP in her 45-minute addresses. No wonder CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, State CPI(M) secretary G. Ramakrishnan, and CPI State secretary D. Pandian criticise her for her silence on the BJP.

According to informed sources, however, Jayalalithaa is annoyed with the BJP for its camaraderie with actor-turned-politician Vijayakant. She had tried to neutralise the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) he leads, and eight of its legislators had deserted it. The BJP worked for about three months to herd together sworn rivals such as the DMDK, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Kongu Nadu Makkal Desiya Katchi (KNMDK) and the Indian Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) under its overarching umbrella. Thamizharuvi Manian, a writer and former Congressman, played an important role in forging this coalition of parties with differing ideologies and caste affiliations. While the lion’s share of 14 seats has gone to the DMDK, the BJP and the PMK will contest from eight constituencies each, the MDMK from seven, the KNMDK, the IJK and the All India N. Rangasamy Congress (in Puducherry) from one each. What holds one’s interest are the developments on two different fronts. One is the plight of the Congress, which is completely isolated in Tamil Nadu. The other development is the sibling feud between M.K. Azhagiri and M.K. Stalin, sons of M. Karunanidhi, DMK president and former Chief Minister. Azhagiri would not accept Karunanidhi’s virtual declaration that Stalin would be his successor. His activities resulted in his expulsion from the party on March 26 (see box).

Congress' predicament

The Congress, which finds itself without any allies, has to blame itself for this pitiable situation. The factors that have alienated the Tamil voter include the “insensitive handling” of the issue by the Centre of the Sri Lanka Navy firing on fishermen from Ramanathapuram, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai districts of Tamil Nadu; its claim in the Supreme Court that the Katchativu island belongs to Sri Lanka and not to Tamil Nadu; and the perception that it is shielding Colombo from an international probe into its war crimes against Tamils in May 2009. Defeat is staring so hard at the State Congress that its senior leaders such as P. Chidambaram, G.K. Vasan and K.V. Thangkabalu have fled the ring even before the bell has rung for the bout. Chidambaram’s son, Karti, will be the Congress candidate from Sivaganga, which has been the Union Finance Minister’s bastion. The Congress is fielding its candidates in all constituencies.

Congress leaders told Frontline that their party found itself in this terrible situation because of “the AICC’s [All India Congress Committee] attitude and approach in providing guidelines to the TNCC [Tamil Nadu Congress Committee] on who should be its election partners.” The AICC did not consult the TNCC about the party’s strategy for the Lok Sabha elections in the State and it had no “planning managers to devise State-wise strategies”, one of them said. Even after the AIADMK decided not to have any truck with the Congress and the DMK general council resolved on December 15, 2013, that the party would not align either with the Congress or with the BJP, the AICC was in no hurry to find out whether the State unit could forge an alliance with the DMDK, the PMK and others.

In the DMK camp, party treasurer Stalin was “100 per cent” against the revival of ties with the Congress. Stalin was able to resist pressure from a powerful group that included Azhagiri (who had to resign as Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers when the DMK pulled out of the Manmohan Singh government), T.R. Baalu, Kanimozhi (Karunanidhi’s daughter), N.K.K.P. Periasamy and Suresh Rajan, all of whom saw nothing wrong in the renewal of ties.

The NDA, too, hit big roadblocks when seat-sharing talks were on. The sticking points were constituencies from where the BJP, the PMK and the DMDK wanted to contest. For instance, the BJP, the PMK and the DMDK wanted to contest from Salem. Besides, the DMDK and the PMK demanded Villupuram, Arni and Kallakurichi. The BJP was put in an embarrassing position when Vijayakant started his election campaign on March 14 as planned although no seat-sharing agreements had been reached. He began his campaign from Gummidipoondi in Tiruvallur constituency and even named the DMDK candidates for Madurai, Tiruchi, Namakkal, Tiruvallur and Chennai Central. His failure on March 14 to canvas for the BJP or mention Modi created consternation in the BJP. It took six more days to iron out the differences before the BJP-led front became a reality in the presence of BJP president Rajnath Singh.

During an election tour of Madurai, Theni, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga, Tirunelveli, Tenkasi and Kanyakumari constituencies in southern Tamil Nadu between March 17 and 20, this correspondent found that there was no big issue working against the AIADMK. If the 16-hour daily power cut hobbled the industrial and farm sectors and made homes dark for 30 months after the AIADMK came to power in May 2011, the duration of daily power cuts varies between four and 10 hours now. While Jayalalithaa maintained that she inherited the power shortage from the previous DMK government, Karunanidhi blamed the AIADMK’s failure to start new electricity generation projects when it was in power from 2001 to 2006 for the power crisis.


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