Upbeat, but cautious

Published : Dec 22, 2002 00:00 IST

UNLIKE in May 2001 when Jayalalithaa was in a hurry to be sworn in Chief Minister after her party's victory in the Assembly elections, this time she does not seem to want to rush. Within an hour of news reaching her that the High Court had acquitted her, she announced that she would contest the byelection, which is likely to be held in February in Andipatti. Asked when she would assume the chief ministership, she replied that she would take the right decision at the appropriate time.

Apparently, the lessons learnt in May and September (when she had to step down as Chief Minister after adverse observations by the Supreme Court) have not been lost on her. She is prepared to wait because the judgment in the coal import case, another corruption case against her, will be out in a few weeks from now. Jayalalithaa did not want to take legal risks this time, AIADMK sources said. If she were to be sworn in Chief Minister without becoming a legislator, it will be challenged in court, citing the nine cases pending against her, including eight on charges of corruption relating to the period 1991-96 when she was Chief Minister.

The mood is upbeat in the AIADMK now. Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, who is only too keen to give up the Chief Minister's post, looked genuinely relieved.

A beaming Jayalalithaa characterised the acquittals as a manifestation of "god's mercy" and quoted from Subramania Bharati's poem that "conspiracy will encircle Dharmic life but Dharma will triumph in the end". The High Court orders had proved that false cases had been foisted on her, she said.

T.M. Selvaganapathy, Lok Sabha member from Salem and former Local Administration Minister, looked relieved that he too had been acquitted in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. But he declined to react, saying, "I don't want to say anything which overlaps (sic) what madam has said."

Former Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi said: "We respect justice. We respect justice more than a judge respects justice... To get justice, we should travel a long road."

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy said that he will challenge Jayalalitha's acquittals in the Supreme Court. He was the original complainant in the Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises cases. R.S. Bharathi of the DMK, another original complainant, could also go in appeal. The State obviously would not appeal because the AIADMK is in power.

According to AIADMK sources, Jayalalitha may simultaneously contest from the Perundurai constituency, which may be vacated by AIADMK legislator K.S. Palanisamy.

JAYALALITHAA has perhaps decided to contest from Andipatti and Perundurai since the AIADMK is facing rough weather on the political and economic fronts. The mood is sullen.

Employees of State-owned transport corporations struck work in November demanding bonus payment on a par with what they received the previous year. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Board employees also threatened to go on strike.

The government's announcement of punishing increases in electricity tariff, bus fare, milk price and the price of rice sold in ration shops angered the people. (Frontline, December 21) The AIADMK's allies, who were already feeling alienated, called a State-wide bandh on December 7. Important allies such as the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), had contested the local body elections in October on their own. The Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) opposed the AIADMK on the issue of price rise. The TMC, the Congress, the CPI(M) and the CPI backed the bandh.

The DMK and its ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), gave a separate call for a bandh.

Jayalalithaa thus has no notable allies now and the AIADMK looks vulnerable. In order to soften the ground and to foil the bandh, Panneerselvam announced certain tariff and price reductions on December 5. The increase in the price of rice supplied through the public distribution system would come into effect only from May next, he said. Karunanidhi called the reduction an eyewash. The announcement was aimed at the Andipatti election and people should not be fooled by it, he said.

Enthused by the support for the bandh, PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said a common candidate should be fielded against Jayalalithaa at Andipatti. Karunanidhi warmed up to the idea, saying that it should be duly considered.

Surprisingly, Bharatiya Janata Party State president S.P. Kirubanidhi ruled out BJP support for such a common candidate against Jayalalithaa. Earlier, the AIADMK singularly supported the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) tabled by the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, whereas the DMK, a constituent of the NDA, opposed POTO. This fuelled speculation that the AIADMK would soon become an ally of the BJP. However, BJP spokesman Vijaykumar Malhotra dismissed such speculation.

A BJP leader said: "Jayalalithaa may be ideologically close to the BJP because she supported the kar seva in Ayodhya. But when it comes to practical politics and relationship, any day we will trust the DMK. The BJP is in no mood to accommodate Jayalalithaa."

Informed political sources meanwhile said that Jayalalithaa would not like to lose Muslim and Christian votes by allying herself with the BJP, especially when other parties are opposed to her.

Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president E.V.K.S. Ilangovan said the Congress would announce its decision only after the election date was announced.

The Left parties are clearly disillusioned with Jayalalithaa. CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu cautioned the AIADMK "not to dig its own grave" by ignoring the interests of lakhs of people who voted for it. The government could easily raise funds if it had the political will. It had not punished big industries for not paying taxes and electricity bills. But the poor farmer and daily wage earner were burdened with the price rise, he said.

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