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Opinion | Next | Prev


Advantage Jayalalitha?

Rasheeda Bhagat

ONE of the most common refrains in Tamil Nadu politics is that till M. G. Ramachandran was alive, the DMK, led by its president, Mr M. Karunanidhi, could not win an Assembly election in Tamil Nadu. The worst insult the mega hero of the Tamil screen is su pposed to have heaped on the DMK chief was winning the 1984 election from his hospital bed in the US, where he had gone for a kidney transplant.

But with MGR's death in 1985, and the subsequent AIADMK split, the DMK won a comfortable 151 seats in a house of 234. Mr Karunanidhi was, however, not destined to complete his term as Chief Minister and, in January 1990, his Government was dismissed unde r the infamous Article 356-A.

The next Assembly elections were in May 1991, after a period of President's rule. But they came after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination at Sriperumbudur. In the wave that swept out the DMK, perceived by the people to be soft on the LTTE, the AIADMK returned t o power with 164 seats, the highest won by a single party, save the marathon victory of C. N. Annadurai's DMK in the historic 1971 elections, when it won 184 seats.

In the five years of her regime, the AIADMK chief and then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalitha, systematically frittered away the goodwill and faith the electorate had credited to her party's account. As she became entrenched and familiar with the task of running the government, one horror story of corruption and patronage followed another, especially in the last two years of the AIADMK regime.

Gradually, the whispers of mammoth corruption in her regime became screams. For the people of Tamil Nadu, no more evidence was needed to prove the charges of corruption against the then Chief Minister and her close friend Ms Sasikala than the marriage ce lebrations of the latter's nephew and the former's foster son. The glitter and pomp of that mega marriage drove the last nail in the AIADMK government's coffin, and it was sent packing by the people in the 1996 elections.

Mr Karunanidhi's party which, unbelievably, got just two seats in the 1991 elections, was back in business, with 173 seats, nine higher than the AIADMK got in the previous election. The AIADMK, on its part, got a measly four seats. Ms Jayalalitha herself lost the election from Bargur constituency which, along with Kangeyam constituency, had returned her to the Assembly with such huge margins hardly five years before.

What followed her ignominious defeat -- the plethora of corruption cases against her and her Cabinet colleagues, the raids on her house, her imprisonment and her vows to return to power and put her detractors, particularly Mr Karunanidhi, in the same cel l where she had been imprisoned -- is now history.

It is time again for elections in Tamil Nadu. This is the first time Mr Karunanidhi will be completing a full term in office as Chief Minister. But apart from this, not much is happening in the DMK-led Front to cheer him.

After squabbling for a week, the MDMK, led by Mr Vaiko, parted company after `Big Brother' Mr Karunanidhi refused to accept his demands of giving certain constituencies to his party. Before the break came, last Saturday, the MDMK chief faced a significan t revolt from his party's senior leaders and cadre for being `shortchanged' by the DMK. Against the 30 seats his party had asked for, the DMK high command acceded only 21. This, the MDMK leaders and cadre felt, was a deliberate insult to the party.

What must be distressing Mr Karunanidhi, though he has been maintaining a brave front, is that the DMK-led Front has been receiving one blow after another. First came the bitter and acrimonious parting by Dr S. Ramadoss, chief of the Pattali Makkal Katch i, who accused Mr Karunanidhi of deliberately trying to weaken his party by dividing the Vanniyar vote in the State and encouraging dissidents in the PMK.

Not only did the PMK walk out of the NDA at the Centre and the DMK Front in Tamil Nadu, it crossed into enemy territory. Ms Jayalalitha was swift in firming up an alliance with the PMK, offering it 30 months of rule in Pondicherry if the AIADMK Front eme rged a winner in the Union Territory.

Next came the MDMK's exit and before Mr Karunanidhi could say `Vaiko', one of his Tamil zealot friends in the Cabinet, the Minister for Tamil Culture and Development, Mr Tamizhkudimagan, had crossed over to the AIADMK camp. As media cameras captured the image of Ms Jayalalitha welcoming the former to her camp, he gave two reasons for his exit from the DMK.

He accused the DMK chief of deliberately allotting his constituency -- Elayankudi -- to an alliance partner to challenge his `self-respect'. The second and more damaging reason, which must have been music to the AIADMK chief's ears, was that

``all decisions in the DMK are being taken keeping the youth wing leader, M. K. Stalin, as the focal point, and people like me are being sidelined.''

Getting nothing more than mere ``sympathy'' from the DMK chief, he decided to switch camps, he added.

Bolstered by the presence in her camp of the TMC, the PMK, and the Congress(I) which, once again, has got a piggy-back ride, not to mention the Left parties, it seems to be Advantage Jayalalitha.

But weighing heavily against the positive arithmetic of alliance politics is the near-certain probability that, convicted as she is in the TANSI case, Ms Jayalalitha will not be allowed to contest the elections. This, then, will be the opponents' biggest plank. Who will your Chief Minister be, will be the rhetorical and powerful question bound to be raised from platform after platform.

Unfortunately for Mr Karunanidhi, the Tehelka expose could not have come at a more inopportune moment. He and his lieutenants will invariably raise the question to the electorate: The AIADMK's was the corrupt regime you threw out five years ago. Do you w ant to bring it back? But the question will not ring true in an environment sullied for the DMK not only by the Tehelka tapes but also by allegations of corruption against the family members of the first two families in the State -- that of Mr Karunanidh i and Union Industry Minister Mr Murasoli Maran.

As for Ms Jayalalitha, she must be hoping that public memory is short and the several charges of corruption against her, her close friend Ms Sasikala and the latter's family, would have been forgotten in five long years.

It is unlikely that this has happened. But for the electorate of Tamil Nadu, it will indeed be a Hobson's choice. It may not be an exaggeration to say that they will be left with a miserable choice -- the devil or the deep sea. To be fair to Mr Karunanid hi, it must be said that he did provide fairly good administration. But meeting the aspirations of the electorate requires much more. And he did not even get the alliance arithmetic right this time. The image that comes through at the moment is not of th e feisty politician but that of a tired old man.

(Feedback can be sent to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in)

Related links:
Will Jaya pull off a mahajot in TN?
PMK blames DMK chief for quitting NDA

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