CAN JAYA ROCK THE DYNASTY?
Despite the 2G scam and a spate of allegations against Karunanidhi's extended family, the DMK alliance may still make it at the hustings
Akash Bisht Delhi
Considered a day of bad luck, Friday the 13th could well spell doom for either of the two alliances battling it out for supremacy in the forthcoming Tamil Nadu assembly elections. The Election Commission had earlier announced that counting for the crucial elections would take place on May 13, a Friday. While political pundits may not have predicted a clear winner yet, many believe that despite the obvious odds stacked against it, M Karunanidhi's DMK alliance may make its way past the magic number.
Experts cite several reasons for backing the DMK alliance despite an arithmetically stronger alliance of AIADMK led by J Jayalalithaa. They believe DMK has shown more flexibility in accommodating its alliance partners compared to AIADMK, which has rubbed many of its partners the wrong way by unilaterally releasing its list of candidates. Indeed, compared to the AIADMK alliance, the DMK alliance is considered a more stable conglomerate by the people of the state.
AIADMK's allies include the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) founded by actor Vijaykanth, CPM, CPI, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) and the All India Samuthuva Makkal Katchi (AISMK) led by actor R Sarath Kumar. This alliance came under serious threat when Jayalalithaa declared its 160 candidates, many for seats sought by its alliance partners. "She fielded her party candidates for seats held by CPM, CPI, DMDK and PT. This sent the alliance into a self-destructive tizzy. However, she quickly opened dialogue and managed to convince the partners to go ahead with the alliance," says a senior politician from Tamil Nadu.
Besides, what could also work against Jayalalithaa's electoral fortunes is the absence of a firebrand orator like MDMK chief Vaiko, who decided to boycott these elections after the AIADMK supremo snubbed him when he demanded more seats for his party. "Jayalalithaa has not been able to create confidence among her coalition partners and this has damaged the trust factor," says a political analyst.
Many believe that Karunanidhi and his partners have the money and muscle that could turn the tide in their favour. However, the road to Chennai is going to be no bed of roses for them either, as they struggle with a flood of corruption charges, especially the multimillion 2G scam. Also, the anti-incumbency factor and issues like price rise, Tamil fishermen versus the Sri Lankan navy, and hooliganism by family members of DMK leaders are bound to keep the party on the backfoot.
Considered a prudent administrator compared to the populist welfare juggernaut that the DMK unleashed five years back, this time around, Jayalalithaa is not ready to take any chances with the freebies the present regime has on offer. She has bettered the promises made by the ruling party, saying she would not only continue the welfare schemes but also extend it to other beneficiaries. This has blunted the edge of the attack on her party based on the DMK rumour that she would put a stop to all the schemes. Surprisingly, she has declared that she will continue the DMK regime's schemes as well. "She has learnt from her mistakes and knows that she might have lost the last elections because of her approach towards such freebies," says a senior politician.
The strongest factor that could work in Jayalalithaa's favour is the mammoth 2G scam that has brought the DMK to its knees, with one of its Union ministers, a Dalit, in Delhi's Tihar jail. A political observer explains: "The irony of distributing colour TVs to the poor is that now even the rural populace, which was unaware till recently, is watching the 2G scam saga unfold on the same TV set that was gifted to them by their beloved chief minister. With DMK concentrating on rural Tamil Nadu, this move seems to have backfired."
Moreover, there is strong resentment among the powerful Tamil film fraternity - film stars hold a strong command over populist perceptions in the state - over the involvement of the chief minister's family in their day-to-day affairs. "This family has a monopoly over the film industry and they decide whether anyone would become a star or not," says a senior journalist. Even the industrialists have started to prefer Andhra Pradesh due to increasing interference from the "greedy and ambitious" family members of the DMK patriarch.
Additionally, with the apparent signs of fissure with Congress, its leading partner, the DMK alliance could well suffer some setbacks in some parts. The grapevine has it that senior Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram, among others, are against the alliance because of pressure generated by the 2G scam. This tussle could lead to a different kind of political drama unfolding in southern Tamil Nadu. "It remains to be seen whether Chidambaram or MK Alagiri would lead the campaign in this part of the state," says a senior politician. Many believe this non-cooperation between the two major partners could hamper the alliance's prospects.
Experts believe that Jayalalithaa's tirade against the ruling party would also address its handling of the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. Indeed, there is a strong impression among ordinary Tamils that DMK was a mute spectator when a virtual genocide by Mahinda Rajapaksa's army was underway, and fellow Tamils were being butchered in Sri Lanka, tortured and forcibly confined in camps unfit for human habitation. "People have not forgotten what their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka had to go through and what they continue to face," says Manjunath, a Chennai resident. This is where, many believe, Vaiko could have played an important role. Known for his firm and vocal stand on the issue, Vaiko could have led the charge and hurt DMK's prospects.
Although Jayalalithaa lost Vaiko's support, the silver lining is that she managed to convince Tamil superstar Vijaykanth's DMDK to join her alliance. Earlier, Vijaykanth had decided not to align with any political party. In the 2006 assembly elections, DMDK had managed to secure an impressive 8 per cent of the vote share. The tally rose to 10 per cent in the recently held parliamentary elections. As it was widely perceived that MDMK had eaten into AIADMK's vote share, the newly forged alliance between the two parties is being seen as a magic cocktail that will surely influence the outcome of the coming elections.
For the seasoned politician in Karunanidhi, however, this is not too much to handle. He has decided to give a fresh new look to his party by fielding as many as 58 newcomers, mostly youngsters. Besides infusing new blood in its ranks, the DMK has shown maturity in selecting constituencies for itself, without treading on its partners' toes - unlike its main rival, AIADMK.
Whatever the election results may be, experts believe that the days of single-party rule in Tamil Nadu are waning and the era of coalition is here to stay. "No single party is in a position to win the people's mandate. Hence, coalition politics has come out stronger, which would be the trend in the coming elections too," says a political observer.
Many believe that huge amounts of money would change hands before the polls, and whoever pumps in more money would come to power. "Jayalalithaa has the arithmetic but DMK has muscle and money power. This could well be the winning edge that DMK has over AIADMK," concludes a veteran politician.