Debating India

New alignments in Tamil Nadu

Saturday 19 June 1999, by SUBRAMANIAN*T.S.

Shifting alignments point to a transformation of Tamil Nadu’s politics.

in Chennai

THE three-year-old alliance between the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) in Tamil Nadu came to an end on June 2 when the general council of the DMK formalised its recently started relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party by joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

TMC president G.K. Moopanar reacted tersely: if the relationship between the DMK and the BJP had been finalised, it would mean the end of his party’s ties with the DMK. He said: "We will not accept anybody partnering communal forces. There is a fundament al contradiction on this (between the TMC and the DMK)."

However, the parting of ways between the two parties was not marked by any acrimony; this reflected the personal relationship between DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Moopanar. There is anguish in both the DMK and the TMC over the sepa ration because even in the recently held byelections to several hundred wards in the local bodies, the DMK-TMC alliance did remarkably well, as it had done in October 1996. Karunanidhi was confident that the breakdown of ties would not affect the DMK-TMC -Communist Party of India (CPI) coalition Government in Pondicherry headed by R.V. Janakiraman, who belongs to the DMK. "The situation there is different", Karunanidhi said. Moopanar too is not willing to rock the boat there. However, the CPI has decided to pull out of the Pondicherry coalition. The CPI national council, which met in Calcutta on June 5, 6 and 7, stated in a resolution: "By joining with the BJP, the DMK has acted against the mandate of the people of Pondicherry. In the context, the conti nuation of the CPI in the coalition Ministry in Pondicherry has become untenable. The withdrawal from the Government will be coordinated with the TMC, which is an ally of the party."

The fall of the BJP-led Government at the Centre in April saw the emergence of new political partnerships in Tamil Nadu. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), which were with the AIADMK, turned against it when it withdrew support to the BJP-led Government. The TMC, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI, which were with the DMK until then, were chagrined that the DMK threw its weight behind the BJP. While the CPI(M) and the CPI have now teamed up with the AIADMK led by Jayalalitha, the TMC is very reluctant to do so on the ground of the AIADMK’s record. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the Indian National League (INL) and the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazahagam (TMMK) have pledged support to the AIADMK-led front.

Attention is now on the TMC because Moopanar has declared that his party is opposed to the communalism of the BJP and the corruption of the AIADMK in equal measure. The Left parties are trying hard to convince the TMC that it should join the AIADMK-led front in order to avoid the splitting of secular votes. The TMC began on June 7 an exercise to gauge the opinion of its top and middle-level leaders. Just ahead of this meeting, CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu had a one-hour discussion with Moopanar.

The TMC meeting took place in the backdrop of Congress president Sonia Gandhi despatching Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony to hold "preliminary talks" with Jayalalitha on building an alliance.

EVEN as Manmohan Singh and Antony came to Chennai and met Jayalalitha on June 3, Moopanar flew to New Delhi and had two meetings with Sonia Gandhi. He is believed to have raised with her the TMC’s problems in going along with a Congress-AIADMK alliance. Moopanar led a section of the Congress(I) out of it in April 1996 to form the TMC, over the issue of the party aligning with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu.

Manmohan Singh said that "various permutations and combinations were possible" but declined to elaborate. He said the Congress and the AIADMK were "working towards" an alliance. Congress sources said Jayalalitha was keen that the TMC should be brought in to the Congress-AIADMK fold. She told reporters that it was the Congress(I) which was making efforts to "rope in" the TMC. She would be happy if the TMC came along.

A TMC leader said: "A decision would be taken by the general council. Whatever the decision be, the leaders said it should be in the interests of the TMC."

THE DMK general council’s decision to join the NDA caused no surprise because the party had voted in favour of the Vajpayee Government in April. But what was surprising was that the general council’s lengthy resolution made no mention of the BJP at all. Fulsome praise was reserved for the NDA and Vajapayee. Moopanar pointed this out to reporters. Karunanidhi gave a bizarre twist to the issue by insisting that the DMK was only a constituent of the NDA in which the BJP also found a place.

The DMK resolution took pains to declare that the party would continue to be a "friend and volunteer" of the minorities. If any harm came to the minorities, the DMK would not hesitate to renounce power and become a "shield" to protect the minorties, it d eclared.

The resolution listed reasons for the DMK joining the NDA. It said that when the Indian political system was becoming increasingly bipolar, the DMK had to choose its path carefully. So it would support that political front which respected regional parties, recognised India’s "plural society" and acknowledged that federalism was the instrument of keeping that plural society united; it would support that front which would form a coalition government at the Centre even if one of the parties in the front wo n a majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha; and it would support that front which had an "able and seasoned leader when the guns are booming on the borders". The DMK, therefore, "wholeheartedly" decided to join the NDA led by Vajpayee, the resolution said.

YET, the DMK leadership’s nervousness was evident when Karunanidhi took part in the 104th birth anniversary celebrations of IUML leader Quaid-e-Milleth Mohammed Ismail on June 5. Karunanidhi and PMK president Dr.S. Ramadoss assured Muslims that their par ties would quit the NDA if the interests of the minorites were under threat from the formation. Karunanidhi said he was unable to comprehend the criticism of the DMK because nobody had earlier faulted the AIADMK for teaming up with the BJP.

The AIADMK, keen on wooing the Vanniya community, has embraced the breakaway faction of the PMK led by Dheeran, and also former AIADMK Minister Panrutti S. Ramachandran (who is a Vanniya). The PMK mainly represents Vanniyas and is strong in North and Sou th Arcot, Salem and Dharmapuri districts. Meanwhile, INL leader M.A. Latheef has accused Karunanidhi of encouraging the breakaway faction of the INL.

The CPI(M) stepped up its attack on the DMK after the latter’s general council met. The two Communist parties began a joint campaign against communalism. Defending the ties with the AIADMK, CPI(M) State secretary N. Sankaraiah said corruption would be a non-issue on a national platform. The AIADMK’s opposition to the BJP was the only reason why it found acceptance among the Left parties, he said. He called the PMK, the MDMK and the TRC opportunists because they had won on the vote-bank of the AIADMK in the 1998 elections.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 13, June 19 - July 02, 1999

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