Debating India


Barkis Isn’t Willing

Monday 2 May 2005, by ANAND*S.

Jaya’s softened her mien with a string of rollbacks, yet can’t find even one ally

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R. S.Kumar

Amma Alone

- All mainstream political parties are wary of a tie-up with the AIADMK given Amma’s autocratic style of functioning

- PMK’s Ramadoss was a ’possible’ ally but he wants no truck

- The Shankaracharyas’ arrest has alienated the BJP

- The AIADMK is still too haughty to ally with the Dalit parties

There are three political untouchables in Tamil Nadu today. The AIADMK, the BJP and, of course, the Dalit parties-the Dalit Panthers of India and Puthiya Tamizhagam. With two assembly constituencies-Gummidipoondi and Kanchipuram-facing bypolls on May 14, the AIADMK leadership has been trying hard to win over allies, but no one seems interested. That the battle for the bypolls and the eventual assembly elections will be bitter became evident when the DMK and AIADMK clashed on the streets of Chennai on April 19 over a byelection to two municipal corporation wards. Having made a clean sweep of the 40 seats in TN and Pondicherry in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the rainbow Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA)-led by the DMK and comprising the Congress, Vaiko’s MDMK, Ramadoss’ PMK, the two Left parties and the Muslim League-is intact.

Desperately seeking allies, chief minister J. Jayalalitha, ahead of her visit to Delhi to attend a CMs’ conference, gave a call to the CPI(M) to consider reviving the third front. After Prakash Karat assumed charge of the politburo, she urged the Left to withdraw support to the "anti-people" upa saying an alternative would emerge automatically. While TN assembly speaker K. Kalimuthu dutifully predicted that Amma would be the future PM, Karat’s response to a query about meeting her was: "Are you threatening me? Why would you wish danger on me?" CPI leader D. Raja, who hails from TN, was equally caustic: "We know what we should do. There is no need to take advice from her." Jayalalitha may have prime ministerial ambitions, but for now retaining her hold in TN appears increasingly difficult.

Not just the Left, most parties in TN dread the idea of allying with the AIADMK. If the experience in the assembly is anything to go by, no MLA would be allowed to intervene unless he wishes to praise Amma. Becoming her ally would mean losing one’s own voice. The BJP is no major player in the state, but after the arrest of the Shankaracharyas, the party can’t be expected to ally with the AIADMK. It would rather contest assembly polls alone.

Jayalalitha would be disappointed, for after the May 2004 drubbing, she reversed several policy decisions. The anti-conversion legislation, the ban on animal sacrifices, the measures against government employees who struck work, cancellation of free power to farmers, the scores of defamations cases against the media-all were withdrawn. She thought the Veerappan extermination capped her achievements. In arresting Jayendra Saraswati, she may have thought she’d enter into the good books of secularists. But nothing seems to have helped the AIADMKk’s cause.

And while she may have got Hyundai and Nokia to set up shop in TN, the chargesheet in the "mini flyover scam", for which she arrested DMK chief M. Karunanidhi in June 2001 and implicated his son M.K. Stalin, is yet to be filed. In contrast, trial in the Rs 66.65-crore "disproportionate wealth case" against her is under way at the special court in Bangalore. Judge A.S. Pachchpure has warned that the "accused (Jayalalitha) cannot remain absent from proceedings without sufficient grounds" and has indicated that she be there on May 9. Conviction in this case could jeopardise Jayalalitha’s political career.

Amma’s desperation became most evident last week when she announced the withdrawal of her pet Rs 300-crore Veeranam scheme, which envisaged sourcing water to Chennai from the Veeranam lake-a move that would hit farmers in four districts. During the 2004 campaign, she had projected it as one of her successes. Now, it’s a volte-face: "Since the voice of the people is the voice of god, I decided against the implementation of the project," she said. Every policy reversal is showing her as being unsure of her ground.It is said the state government handled the fallout of the tsunami fairly well.But by 2006, this won’t win the AIADMK an election.If it’s thinking of disturbing the DPA, it has to dangle the carrot of power-sharing and tempt some allies out.

In the DPA front, the PMK was expected to stake claim for the Kanchipuram seat (given that it falls in the Vanniyar belt) and the MDMK for Gummidipoondi (courtesy the Naidu predominance there). However, postponing seat-sharing to the real battle for the assembly, all the allies have decided to let the DMK contest the two bypolls. PMK’s Ramadoss, seen as the most likely to succumb to AIADMK overtures, has reinforced his commitment to the DPA. Amma could have at least tried to woo the Dalit parties ignored by the DPA, but she seems too haughty to do that.

The DMK is likely to wrest the two seats from the AIADMK in the bypolls, but it’s an alliance government post the 2006 assembly poll that’s the larger unresolved issue. Karunanidhi has been allergic to any such move, even reprimanding Congress’ E.V.K.S. Elangovan for mentioning it. But power-sharing seems inevitable given the erosion of the DMK’s base in the southern districts, forcing it to rely on the Congress and MDMK. In the northern districts, it has to bank on the PMK. DMK’s choice for chief ministership in 2006 will be another bone of contention. Karunanidhi, 81, has not ruled himself out. Voices like that of DMK MP Trichy Siva are pressing for a greater role for Stalin, but other allies may not agree to such inheritance claims.

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