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Wednesday, March 21, 2001

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Politics of perdition - I

By P. Radhakrishnan

IT IS a cruel irony that the meaning and message of these words of wisdom should find their evil transmogrification in the land of the Buddha, the Apostles, and the Mahatma, to name a few. The transmogrification is such that in the ever-increasing political turnabout, tussle, turmoil, skulduggery, calumny and cacophony men in penitential habiliments unburdening the stones on their own unable to unburden them on hapless alleged adulteresses is illusion, and men hurling stones at each other in their overweening desire to share the spoils of office, hurting in the process, as though as vicarious punishment, those who help them return to power or remain in politics, is reality.

The reference is to the indulgence of India's political buccaneers. Through brazen mendacity, charades, chicanery, corruption, criminality, crass opportunism, and what have you, all in a country where ideology is passe and politics is the articulation of the perfidies of power by strutting and stalking every available and conceivable political space. The fast unfolding political scenario in Tamil Nadu for the Assembly elections already reflects these problems. This raises issues of vital concern to the very survival of this State as a democracy and as part of the Indian Republic. These are best understood in the context of the dramatis personae of the principal political parties.

There are numerous caste, class, and linguistic political outfits in Tamil Nadu such as the JD(S), the RPI, the Peasant and Workers and Construction Workers Party, the Puratchi Thalaivar Anna DMK led by the former AIADMK leader, Mr. S. D. Somasundaram, the Dravida Vizhippunarchi Kazhagam, the Makkal Marumalarchi Kazhagam, the several caste associations of the Nadars, and the Puthiya Needhi Katchi of the Mudaliars headed by the former AIADMK MP, Mr. A. C. Shanmugam, and the Tamil Nadu Telugu Federation. Some of these are with the AIADMK and some with the DMK though as yet not in their lists of seat sharing, and some are either independent or undecided. As their role in the Assembly elections is still hazy, its discussion will be premature.

So, to turn to the two major contentious contending Fronts, the AIADMK-led Secular Front - a misnomer and much hackneyed usage - has the dubious distinction of out-foxing its bete noire, the DMK, by clumsily completing its ``take it or leave it'' seat- sharing well ahead of the latter. With the AIADMK itself retaining as many as 141 seats in an Assembly of 234 seats, this sham was throwing crumbs to, what?. Ms. Jayalalitha would have others believe, her allies; more so, when she has minced no words in her testimony that it is only seat-sharing and not power- sharing, it is the AIADMK which will be in power, and she and she alone will be the Chief Minister. All the same, in the prevailing malignant, morbid and moribund political milieu, for the self- seeking political opportunists even crumbs can be hard currency. That makes the recipients of the remaining 93 seats important enough: TMC 47; PMK 27 (for the 12-13 per cent Vanniyar population); CPI 8; CPI(M) 8; and one seat each to the Indian National League (for the 5-6 per cent Muslim population), the All India Forward Bloc, and the Tamizhaga Munnetra Kazhagam (a Dalit outfit led by Mr. John Pandian).

Shortly after placing the PMK leader, Dr. S. Ramadoss, high on the AIADMK political ladder, with some dilly-dallying, prevarication and hedging, Ms. Jayalalitha first slammed the door behind the TMC President, Mr. G. K. Moopanar, with a hard-nosed snub. If what she did makes sense it was in the style of The Panchatantra tales: Your party is not worth even 15 seats. Yet I offered you 35 and your Sonia baggage five. You were too greedy to demand more. Despite this, Mr. Moopanar succumbed to the temptation of latching onto the Jayalalitha juggernaut when she offered seven more seats. This was presumably because he was desperate to keep the TMC-Congress combine, already in their last gasp, above the State's political quicksand and in his perception only the AIADMK could help him do so.

Though the PMK is now with the AIADMK-Front, it is not the only Vanniyar party. The smaller, localised and breakaway parties are with the DMK-Front. Assuming that the DMK-AIADMK together share about 15-20 per cent of the potential Vanniyar votes in general, that is independent of any organisation, and the smaller parties split among themselves 15-20 per cent for the DMK, the PMK may still get about 50-60 per ent votes. This is crucial for the AIADMK when seen against the numerical preponderance of the Vanniyars who are concentrated in the northern districts, especially in South Arcot where they are about 30-32 per cent.

As the AIADMK is a major Dravidian party, its support-base, despite fluctuations since 1996, is still strong. With this, and the support of (a) the PMK; (b) the 5-6 per cent Thevars concentrated in the southern districts; (c) the TMC-Congress which may have some support base in the upper and middle castes, and among the unpredictable 3-4 per cent Nadars concentrated in one district (14-15 per cent) thanks to Mr. Moopanar's mumbo- jumbo on Kamaraj rule; and (d) the Left parties, whose support- base is still in the working class and in those who are still naive enough to believe in their ever-changing lexicon on secularism, notwithstanding the fact that they have already made mincemeat of it, Ms. Jayalalitha has reason to feel euphoric, and exude confidence in her formidable front. So, all that she needs now is a swearing-in ceremony. More so, when she and her allies have no political agenda other than to dislodge from power the ``corrupt, nepotistic, communalist, chauvinistic, unholy and unprincipled'' DMK-Front and other political forces represented by it, and the TMC-Congress death wish of this turning into a body blow to the BJP.

In contrast to Ms. Jayalalitha's imperious, impervious and impulsive seat-sharing, the DMK leader, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, who claimed in one context that the DMK-alliance is a BC-MBC-Dalit Front (thereby meaning either the DMK does not care for the upper castes or the upper castes do not care for it) and in another context that he is the protector of all communities, has not been a man in a hurry in his poll strategy.

As of now, the DMK's seat distribution is: BJP 21; MDMK 21; PT 10; DPI 7; Makkal Tamil Desam Party of the former AIADMK Minister, Mr. S. Kannappan, 6 (for the 4-5 per cent Yadavar population); Tamizhaga Muslim United Jamaat of a former TMC MLA, who quit the TMC protesting against its alliance with the AIADMK), 3; Kongunadu Makkal Katchi 1; Tamil Nadu Mutharaiyar Sangam 1 (for the 2-3 per cent Mutharaiyar population); Farmers and Toilers Party 1; and Thondar Congress (a new party floated by the former TNCC President, Mr. Kumari Anandan) 1.

If the DMK lost a major vote-bank with the PMK's break with it because of the PMK's hawkish Tamil Eelam postures, Dr. Ramadoss' suspicion that the DMK was propping up a rival Vanniyar party, the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), and the DMK's reluctance to curb the DPI (Dalit Panthers of India) for its alleged role in the caste clashes in Cuddalore, this loss is offset by the PT (Puthiya Tamizhagam) and the DPI joining the DMK-Front.

The PT, led by Dr. K. Krishnasamy, contested the last three Lok Sabha elections and the 1996 Assembly elections, and proved its vote-base among the (4-5 per cent) Pallar or Devendrakula Vellalar in the southern districts where theyhave been taking on their Thevar oppressors and tormentors, fighting for their rightful place in society in which the traditional caste disabilities still shadow them, and fighting violence and indignity with violence and high-tech international publicity of violation of their human rights. Unlike the PT, the DPI, led by Mr. R. Thirumavalavan, entered electoral politics only in 1999, for the Lok Sabha elections. But its vote-base is much larger (11-12 per cent), among the Adi-Dravidar in the northern districts, where they have been engaged in fighting the oppression of their Vanniyar tormentors. Both the parties contested the 1999 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the TMC-led Third Front, but severed their link with the TMC because of its alliance with the AIADMK, which has the support of the anti-Dalit PMK and Thevars.

(The writer is Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.)

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