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Will Jayalalithaa split the DMK alliance?

By T V R Shenoy
Last updated on: February 17, 2006 23:00 IST
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On February 1, Pakistan thumped India at Karachi by 341 runs. Fifteen days later India had won the One-Day International series, with a game in hand. How do you explain the turn in fortunes?

The second oldest political dynasty in India does not know the answer, but devoutly hopes that nobody else cracks that conundrum either!

If the Nehru-Gandhis are the first family of Indian politics, the Karunanidhi clan take the palm for being second. The DMK is really little more than a family-run corporation. And the family patriarch, M Karunanidhi, was wise enough to lay down clear lines of authority so that various branches of the younger generation would not clash.

The Marans -- the late Murasoli Maran having been Karunanidhi's nephew -- look after the family interests in Delhi. And the Stalin side, named for Karunanidhi's son, is in charge of Tamil Nadu operations.

This thoroughly business-like model, however, shares one flaw seen in many Indian corporate houses, in that the managers themselves don't necessarily own all the shares. And Chairman of the Board Karunanidhi is worried that his plans to anoint Stalin as the managing director could be stymied by a minority shareholder -- namely Vaiko.

To refresh everyone's memory, the 2004 general election witnessed a clean sweep for the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu. Issues did not matter, it was a matter of cold arithmetic -- on the lines of every parliamentary poll in the state since 1998.

1998 was the year that Jayalalithaa demonstrated the electoral potency of coalitions. She snapped her old links with the Congress, to join hands with the BJP, the PMK, the MDMK, and Dr Subramanian Swamy.

None was in the same league as the DMK and the AIADMK, but each had its own areas of influence. Together, they were so effective that the DMK-Tamil Maanila Congress combine was decimated, while the Congress itself, as I recall, failed to win a single seat from Tamil Nadu. (The Tamil Maanila Congress consisted of those Congressmen who left Narasimha Rao, chiefly G K Moopanar and P Chidambaram.)

The DMK ditched Moopanar and his men in 1999, to join hands with the BJP, persuading the other smaller parties to throw over Jayalalithaa. And in 2004 the DMK boss tossed over the BJP for the Congress. Jayalalithaa and the BJP then formed an alliance, which proved utterly useless given the overwhelming combination against it.

The lesson is clear: principles are a fig leaf, and all that goes into electoral success in Tamil Nadu is the arithmetic of alliance. But in the absence of any overarching ideological framework, both Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi must work hard to keep their allies from bolting.

Now AIADMK presidium chairman K Kalimuthu has created a storm by inviting MDMK chief Vaiko to join the AIADMK front: 'Karunanidhi has locked up his allies fearing they will desert him. Some of them are trying to get out breaking the lock and some others by scaling the wall. Vaiko is not comfortable there. If only the chief minister orders me, I will storm into that locked room and rescue him.'

To sweeten the bait, Kalimuthu rhetorically demanded, 'Is Karunanidhi willing to announce Vaiko will be made deputy chief minister?' implying that Jayalalithaa would do so. To which Vaiko's colleague Nanjil Sampath responded, 'I thank Thiru Kalimuthu for welcoming Vaiko.'

What Vaiko said about Jayalalalithaa in March 2004

Vaiko and the DMK were always unnatural allies. Officially, the DMK expelled Vaiko for his continued support for Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka (a hot potato in Tamil Nadu ever since Rajiv Gandhi was killed). The unspoken reason was Vaiko's resentment over the manner in which Karunanidhi favoured Stalin. Today, old wounds are bleeding once again.

When was the last time that the Sun TV channels bothered to show Vaiko? Sun TV, if you didn't know, is run by the Maran side of the Karunanidhi dynasty.

Almost exactly one year after the 2004 general election, by-elections were held in Kancheepuram and Gummidipundi assembly constituencies, in May 2005. To general surprise, the AIADMK won both seats, suggesting that Jayalalithaa had regained ground. If Vaiko bolts, the anointment of Stalin might have to wait a little longer. And who might go with him?

The danger is apparent to the Congress. Sonia Gandhi has done what she can, naming M Krishnaswamy to head the Tamil Nadu unit of her party. Don't be surprised if you have never heard of him, Krishnaswamy has one qualification that nobody else does -- he is the father-in-law of Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who is the son of the Pattali Makkal Katchi chief S Ramadoss. Dynastic politics is obviously not limited to the DMK and the Congress!

As I write, Vaiko has pulled a disappearing act for three days, calmly ignoring the DMK's calls for explanations. Add to this the fact that Jayalalithaa's birthday is on February 24, and you have all the ingredients for a thriller.

Switching channels, I hear Imran Khan denouncing Bob Woolmer for ignoring the talent on his side and being complacent, while India became more aggressive. Could you say the same of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi?
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T V R Shenoy