Tamil Nadu

The game changer?

Print edition : April 15, 2016

DMDK leader Vijayakanth. Photo: L. SRINIVASAN

Vaiko (centre) of the MDMK announces the formation of the alliance in Chennai on March 23. Others in the picture are Thol. Thirumavalavan (left) of the VCK, G. Ramakrishnan of the CPI(M) and R. Mutharasan of the CPI. Photo: M. PRABHU

Vijayakanth joins hands with the People’s Welfare Front, leading to a five-cornered fight in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections.

After making his political suitors wait for weeks on end, the film actor Vijayakanth finally announced on March 23 that his party, the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), would join hands with the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections scheduled to be held on May 16. The PWF comprises the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a Dalit party. With this, the State is likely to witness a five-cornered contest to the 234 Assembly seats, the others in the fray being the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led alliance, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK).

In a swift and dramatic move, Vijayakanth and the leaders of the four PWF constituents came together on March 23 to forge what has been christened “the DMDK-PWF alliance”. Vijayakanth has been projected as its chief ministerial candidate. While the DMDK will contest 124 seats, the four PWF constituents together will field candidates in the remaining 110 constituencies. If the alliance is voted to power, a coalition government would be formed, its leaders said. CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan, CPI State secretary R. Mutharasan, MDMK general secretary Vaiko and VCK founder Thol. Thirumavalavan are confident that the alliance will provide a “credible and viable alternative” to the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK and the AIADMK, which have been alternately ruling Tamil Nadu for nearly 50 years now.

Vijayakanth, who had always wanted to project himself as the chief ministerial candidate, used his favourite expressions again on March 23 when he met reporters: “When the PWF leaders met me today and told me that ‘You be the king and we will be the kingmakers’, I immediately signed the seat-sharing agreement. Vaiko asked me whether he could announce that a coalition government would be formed [if this alliance is voted to power]. I immediately told him that he could do so.”

Ramakrishnan said the alliance would bring about “a big transformation in Tamil Nadu politics”. “A change of government is a certainty,” he said.

The AIADMK, the DMK, the BJP and the PMK are now without any major allies. The AIADMK, headed by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, has not been able to win over any important party to its side. The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), founded by G.K. Vasan after he fell out with the Congress in November 2014, is all set to throw in its lot with the AIADMK. But the TMC is an electorally untested entity.

The AIADMK is bereft of big allies after it shabbily treated the DMDK, the CPI(M) and the CPI which had partnered with it in the 2011 Assembly elections. Once ensconced in power, the AIADMK drove a wedge in the DMDK. Eight of its 29 legislators deserted Vijayakanth and threw in their lot with the AIADMK. On February 25, they formally joined the AIADMK and Vijayakanth lost his position as the Leader of the Opposition. Jayalalithaa also refused to allot any constituencies to the CPI(M) and the CPI in the Lok Sabha elections held in 2014.

The DMK has only the Congress, enfeebled by factionalism, and the Indian Union Muslim League, as its allies. The BJP has no partner whatsoever. Its leader Pon. Radhakrishnan, the Union Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways and Shipping, admitted that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that the BJP heads at the Centre and in other States “does not exist in Tamil Nadu now”. The DMDK and the PMK pulled out of the NDA after they faced the Lok Sabha elections together in 2014. “The BJP will, therefore, contest in all the 234 seats,” Radhakrishnan said.

The PMK is ploughing a lonely furrow but is gallantly projecting its leader, Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, who is the son of the party’s founder, Dr S. Ramadoss, as its candidate for the post of Chief Minister.

Caught unawares

Both the DMK and the BJP, which were assiduously wooing Vijayakanth, were ill at ease with the actor’s decision. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had repeatedly invited Vijayakanth to partner with his party in the coming elections. The DMK considered the DMDK’s 6 per cent vote share crucial for it to return to power in the State.

When Vijayakanth made it clear at a DMDK conference in Kancheepuram on February 20 that his cadres wanted him to be the “king” and not merely “a kingmaker”, DMK leaders kept inviting him for a tie-up. Again, even after Vijayakanth announced on March 10 at the women’s wing meeting of the party that “I will go it alone” and “I thank those who invited me to their alliances”, DMK leaders were hoping in vain that he would join hands with them.

Again, on March 20, he appealed to voters, in an interview to a television channel, not to vote for either the DMK or the AIADMK and instead favour the DMDK as they were “aware” of these parties’ performance for about 50 years. Yet, when Karunanidhi met reporters on March 21 after he chaired a meeting of DMK district secretaries, he said, “I have still not lost hope” about the alliance with the DMDK. He answered in the affirmative when asked whether talks were under way on this.

DMK leaders were therefore shell-shocked two days later when Vijayakanth forged a seat-sharing arrangement with the PWF. When a reporter asked M.K. Stalin, DMK treasurer and Karunanidhi’s son, how he viewed the development, he replied, “We don’t look at it in any way. We are merely doing our work.”

Informed sources said that Vijayakanth opted out of the alliance with the DMK because he felt “humiliated” by the propaganda reportedly unleashed by the DMK about the negotiations between the two parties. The propaganda apparently pertained to the number of seats that the actor wanted, his reported insistence on being given the Deputy Chief Minister’s post, and his apparent bid for a big share in the number of seats for the local body elections which would follow the Assembly elections. Besides, Stalin kept insisting that the DMK would not agree to form a coalition government.

“If he went with the DMK, he could not become an alternative to the DMK. He thinks it is necessary to project himself as a chief ministerial candidate,” informed sources said. He was also afraid that just as the AIADMK lured eight of his party MLAs to its fold, the DMK would weaken his party once he helped it to return to power. “He had a phobia of allying with the big parties” after his experience with the AIADMK, the sources added.

Vaiko said there was hope at the PWF leaders’ first meeting itself with Vijayakanth on December 23 last year and so the four parties in the front had agreed to project Vijayakanth as the chief ministerial candidate. “I will be the commander of the joint forces of the DMDK-PWF front and lead it to victory,” Vaiko said.

According to K. Balakrishnan, CPI(M) legislator, although the CPI(M) had an alliance with the MDMK in the 1996 Assembly elections and earlier in 1984 with other parties, “this is the first time in 50 years that we have forged a strong front against both the DMK and the AIADMK”. He was, therefore, confident that “people will vote for us”.

The BJP is isolated because of its refusal to consider Vijayakanth’s demand for the DMDK to head the NDA in the elections and for him to be declared the chief ministerial candidate. The BJP also brushed aside the DMDK’s demand that Vijayakanth’s brother-in-law, L.K. Sudeesh, be made a Rajya Sabha member and a Union Minister.

With the line-up clear now, campaigning will hot up once the parties finalise their candidates and the constituencies they will contest from.

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