April 16, 2001

India Today, April 16, 2001



Anything To Declare, Mr Verma?
The arrest of the Central Board of Excise & Customs chairman has revealed the rot that has set in the premier revenue- collection authority. An inside story of his assets, and rise to position of power. Plus: The sex and smuggling controversy arising from his dubious links with Uzbek nationals.

The Silk Route
The Customs played an active role in a smuggling racket by Uzbek couriers that could have compromised the nation's security.

Rites Of Passage Despite stringent internal controls, the CBEC is one of the most sullied departments in the country.



The Earth Citizen
The former United States president returns to India to share the sorrows of quake-hit Gujarat.



In Quest Of Numbers
There's a scramble for winning combinations, from caste-based alliances in Tamil Nadu to political pragmatism in Bengal and Assam.



Green And Bear It
The Delhi Government's complacency leads to a bumpy ride for commuters.



Free At Last
Removal of quantitative restrictions on all imports will transform the Indian market like never before.





Ill-Timed Divorce

Vaiko's parting of ways with Karunanidhi will help neither him nor the DMK in the coming polls

Interview: M. Karunanidhi

Vaiko is a man of gestures. When the fiery orator is not speaking, his body does. Sample this: March 26, Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters. The MDMK leader is in a closed-door meeting with Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. He insists that all the 21 constituencies in which the MDMK was to put up candidates should be from his wish list. Karunanidhi agrees to 18. Abruptly, Vaiko gets up and walks out. Five days later, it is official. "I have been forced to snap ties with the DMK. We will put up candidates in all constituencies except where the BJP is contesting," says Vaiko. The "brothers" have parted ways, once again.

West Bengal: In The Nick Of Time
Wannabe Weds A Has Been

The MDMK's exit is the latest in a series of blows to the electoral prospects of the DMK in Tamil Nadu. S. Ramadoss' PMK, Vazhapadi Ramamurthy's Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress and Tamizhkudimagan, the DMK's minister for Tamil culture and development, have deserted the party, much to the delight of AIADMK General Secretary J. Jayalalitha. "The DMK is rude to its allies," says Ramamurthy, "and the exit of the MDMK will help the AIADMK win." While Ramamurthy hasn't decided on his future course of action, the grouping together of the Vanniyars is a big threat to the DMK.



UNNATURAL ALLIES: The break-up between Vaiko (right) and Karunanidhi had long been coming

The great political truth that seats decide affiliations was reinforced when the MGR-ADMK grudgingly accepted the renewed offer of three seats and a DMK minister defected to the rival camp because he was not offered his native constituency of Elayankudi. Tamizhkudimagan, an associate of Karunanidhi for 14 years, had no qualms in heading immediately for Jayalalitha's residence to accept the AIADMK membership. "It was an insult to my self-respect," he says. "All party decisions revolve around M.K. Stalin, sidelining people like me."

But Karunanidhi is undeterred by the mention of his son's name. "We allocate seats based on the person's influence in the constituency. I gave some alternatives, but Tamizhkudimagan was stubborn, " he says.

A common refrain of both Ramamurthy and Tamizhkudimagan is that Karunanidhi's "harsh attitude" towards the allies stems from his "overt promotion" of Stalin. Curiously, the charge didn't come from the MDMK, whose war cry against the DMK sounds more serious than the others.

A discerning look reveals the DMK-MDMK divorce was waiting to happen. Despite the two parties blaming each other for the separation, both yearned for it. Only, the means adopted by the MDMK were more blatant.

A party born out of Vaiko's opposition to Stalin's rise in the DMK, among other things, the MDMK was not a natural ally. With Stalin being projected as Karunanidhi's heir apparent, it would have been difficult for Vaiko to stay put for long. When he chose an early exit, the DMK chief was not against the idea.

There is a clear design in the latest episode. Everything appeared smooth when the DMK allotted the MDMK 21 seats on a par with the BJP. Vaiko submitted a list of 43 constituencies from which the DMK was to choose seats for the MDMK. A week ago, however, Health Minister and the DMK's chief negotiator, Arcot N. Veerasamy, announced that the MDMK had been given 18 seats from the list, while three more would be allotted later.

That was when a smear campaign began within the MDMK. The DMK was accused of giving the MDMK only 12 seats of its choice. On March 26, Vaiko called on Karunanidhi with a new wish list of 21 seats. It was a short meeting that ended in Vaiko's walk-out.

On the evening of March 31, the scene at the MDMK office summed up the party's psyche. Inside, Vaiko told reporters: "The party has never lost its balance or patience." Outside, activists ran amok, grinding traffic on Marshal's Road to a halt. Inside, Vaiko continued, "I still have love and respect for Karunanidhi." Outside, MDMK workers burnt effigies and raised anti-DMK slogans. Inside, Vaiko replied to a question on whom he considered his enemy in the polls, "We don't consider anybody our enemy. We will appeal for votes but won't harm the BJP's prospects. We will continue as an ally of the NDA at the Centre." Outside, an MDMK activist shouted: "Defeat Karunanidhi. We brought him victory. Now he wants caste outfits, not us."

At one point even Vaiko couldn't suppress his wrath entirely. "The DMK charged us with murder to expel us in 1993. Now it charges us with dishonesty to throw us out. Its uncharitable attitude has pushed me into this option." Though he ruled out the possibility of joining the AIADMK front, Vaiko could not deny that his party contesting alone would benefit the Jayalalitha combine.

Karunanidhi claims he is confident of winning the elections despite the turn of events. But BJP state General Secretary L. Ganesan admits that the MDMK's exit is a "temporary setback". BJP National President Jana Krishnamurthi says the party will not play mediator between the warring parties. It is a tricky situation since Vaiko continues to back Vajpayee.

As far as Vaiko is concerend, he cannot offend the BJP, given the presence of MDMK men in the Vajpayee Government. Also, having hit out at Jayalalitha, he cannot immediately walk into the AIADMK combine. It may take a while before he can do that. A pertinent reason for him to go back is the presence of the PMK in the front. Though Vaiko has stated that the MDMK will contest all seats except those allotted to the BJP, sources say he will not fight PMK candidates either.

The AIADMK is upbeat. Says spokesman V. Maithreyan: "Now the victory of the AIADMK front is a foregone conclusion. What will the DMK do with the BJP, Puthiya Tamizhagam and Dalit Panthers? Wherever the MDMK isn't contesting, its votes will go in our favour."

Vaiko might succeed in playing spoilsport in constituencies where the DMK would have otherwise won, but that might not mean many seats for his own party. Whether all of Vaiko's lieutenants will stay with him is another question. But then that is a price the MDMK leader must be prepared to pay for being a political suicide bomber.

Care Today


Rock Solid
Here's the big truth for those who doubted the band's durability: Deep Purple is still together--and after 33 years of full-detonation rocking.


Looking Glass

Delhi Exhibition:
Ghislaine Aarsse Prins

Delhi Restaurant:
Art Diva Cafe

Mumbai Bar:
Starboard Bar


    Web Exclusives
  More and more elderly people are daring to break social constraints in search of companionship, reports INDIA TODAY's Namita Bhandare in Despatches.



India Today, April 9, 2001

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