Debating India


The DMK’s turnabout

Saturday 24 April 1999

The circumstances surrounding the fall of the Vajpayee Government may lead to a realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling DMK finds itself politically isolated.

in Chennai

EVEN as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha helped push Vajpayee Government out of power, her principal political rival in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi, stood politically isolated from his erstwhile allies. Karunanidhi’s gamble in deciding to support the BJP-led Government in the vote of confidence, breaking ranks with four allies - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Janata Dal - failed.

Indeed, no party in Tamil Nadu has emerged with a creditable image from the latest political battle. Clearly, it was not "national security", as Jayalalitha claimed, but her personal agenda to get the DMK Government dismissed and extricate herself from the corruption cases she faces that in the end drove her to desert the BJP-led Government. On the other hand, the DMK’s volte-face and its voting alongside the BJP made a mockery of its claims to upholding the Dravidian legacy of combating communalism; Karunanidhi sought to justify his decision by saying that "Jayalalitha’s corruption is more dangerous than communalism."

The TMC seems to have emerged relatively unscathed; the party made known its stand opposing in equal measure the BJP’s communalism and the AIADMK’s corruption. TMC president G.K. Moopanar did not yield to pressure from the DMK, some other parties and film actor Rajnikant to bail out the Vajpayee Government by voting in support of the confidence motion or abstaining during the vote. Moopanar also reportedly told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and other Congress(I) leaders that his party would not support a Congress(I)-led Government in which the AIADMK was a partner.

Soon after the Vajpayee Government was voted out, Moopanar, in a clear reference to the AIADMK, said: "Corrupt elements cannot be allowed to go out of one door and re-enter the government through another door... The TMC hopes that the Congress(I) will adhere to the principles contained in the (Pachmarhi) declaration and that the new formation will fight the twin evils of communalism and corruption."

Sources in the Left parties said that the DMK had placed "personal interests above national interests" and had lost out eventually. Informed sources in the TMC and the Left parties said that the DMK had stood on prestige and that its actions were motivated by a desire to see that Jayalalitha did not get the "credit" for toppling the Vajpayee Government. A Left leader said: "If the DMK had joined us, the credit would not have gone to Jayalalitha. She has accomplished what she set out to do."

Karunanidhi shrugged off the defeat of the BJP-led Government, saying: "In a democracy, victories and defeats are common... I do not want to pretend that I do not feel sad about the defeat." He said the reason for the defeat was the "magnanimity" of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi in allowing Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang to vote on the motion.

THE fall of the Vajpayee Government and the circumstances that led up to it may lead to a realignment of political parties in Tamil Nadu. The TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI may part company with the DMK and forge a new front, and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Vaiko, which was a constituent of the BJP-led coalition, may join it. The Congress(I) and the AIADMK may formalise an alliance and may be joined by the PMK led by Dr. S. Ramadoss.

When it became clear that the AIADMK was preparing to withdraw support to the Vajpayee Government, the BJP set in motion efforts to win the DMK’s support. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Vajpayee spoke to Karunanidhi on the phone on April 9 and 10 respectively and sought his party’s support. Informed sources in the BJP and the DMK said that Karunanidhi told them that the DMK’s ideology was opposed to that of the BJP’s Hindutva, and that in any case only the party executive could take a decision.

The first indication that the DMK might strike out on its own came on April 11, when newspersons asked Karunanidhi what strategy the DMK would adopt in the light of the political developments in New Delhi. Karunanidhi asked: "How can we be in a front in which Jayalalitha is a part?" The DMK also came under pressure from the BJP, which pointed out that over the past year the Prime Minister had not yielded to the AIADMK’s repeated demands for the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government. Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi of the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress too spoke to Karunanidhi and told him that even if the DMK did not support the BJP, it should do nothing that would assist Jayalalitha in her efforts to topple the Government.

Even after the DMK indicated that it would go with the BJP, Moopanar stuck to his stand. "We will always work against corruption and communalism," he said. When Moopanar met Congress(I) leaders in the first week of April, he put forward only one condition: a Congress(I) government should not include the AIADMK.

DMK leaders Murasoli Maran, MP, and Health Minister Arcot N. Veerasamy met Moopanar on April 12 in order to explain their party’s stand. But Moopanar made it clear that the TMC would have nothing to do with either the AIADMK or the BJP and that it expected the DMK to take a similar stand. No such assurance came from Maran and Veerasamy.

Jayalalitha left for New Delhi on April 12, ruling out the possibility of a rapprochement with the BJP because Vajpayee and Advani had spoken to Karunanidhi.

On April 13 the DMK executive met and passed a resolution which said that since Jayalalitha posed "the biggest threat to the State and the nation, the DMK will not support any formation in which Jayalalitha found a place directly or indirectly." Karunanidhi summed up his party’s intention when he said: "Jayalalitha’s corruption is a bigger threat than communalism." The resolution added that Jayalalitha was bent on toppling the Government not because she opposed communalism but because she wanted to extricate herself from the corruption cases she was facing. Besides, the "one and only item on her agenda" was to get the DMK Government dismissed, it said.

The DMK’s stand shocked the Left parties. State CPI secretary R. Nallakannu and State CPI(M) secretary N. Sankariah issued a joint statement asking the DMK to reconsider its stand and take "a political position which will be firmly against the BJP Government."

When Frontline met Nallakannu and Sankariah separately, they assailed the DMK line that "Jayalalitha’s corruption is more dangerous than communalism." They agreed that Jayalalitha was monumentally corrupt and that she had tried to extricate herself from the corruption cases against her and that the BJP had aided her in this. But, they noted, the five parties in the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu had fought this. However, when the AIADMK had withdrawn its support to the Vajpayee Government because of "internal contradictions" and the Government was about to fall, the five parties should back that move, they said. Jayalalitha’s corruption could be tackled later, after the Government fell, they reasoned.

Sankariah said: "We will not protect anybody who is corrupt. The law will take its own course."

Both Nallakannu and Sankariah squelched the DMK’s fears that if the Congress(I) formed a coalition government with the AIADMK as a partner, the DMK Government would again be dismissed. Nallakannu said that in the absence of a majority, the Congress(I) would not be able to dismiss the DMK Government, and that in any case the Communist parties would firmly oppose any such move. Nallakannu said that the DMK’s decision to support the BJP at this juncture "does not behove Tamil Nadu’s political background because the legacy of the Dravidian parties is to oppose sectarian politics."

Informed sources said that Karunanidhi felt "insulted" that CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet met Jayalalitha in Delhi on April 14. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan too met her the next day.

Karunanidhi accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of initiating steps that "certainly fragmented" the Third Front. He said: "I do not know what prompted Mr. Surjeet to ignore the DMK and talk to Jayalalitha." He wondered what had become of the assurances from West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and Surjeet that the DMK and the TMC were very much a part of the Third Front and that a collective decision would be taken. He accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of not consulting the DMK on the fast-moving developments in New Delhi. He said he was sure that the political parties which had lined up behind Jayalalitha now would see her in her true colours at the appropriate time.

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury refuted Karunanidhi’s allegation that he had not been consulted by the Left parties. He said the Central and State leadership of the CPI(M) had been in constant touch with the DMK. If the DMK wanted to change its position, the Left should "not be used as an excuse," he said.

With the defeat of the Vajpayee Government, the DMK, which is without friends, may face tough days ahead in the political arena. Karunanidhi admitted as much when he said that the DMK had been isolated from the Left parties. "But we will not be isolated from the people," he added.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 9, Apr. 24 - May. 07, 1999

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