ASSEMBLY POLLS 2001: TAMIL
Vaiko's parting of ways with
Karunanidhi will help neither him nor the DMK in the coming polls
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.
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.