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Jayalalithaa's rising national ambition and DMK’s sibling war

Shekhar Iyer, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, January 30, 2014
First Published: 01:44 IST(30/1/2014) | Last Updated: 19:30 IST(30/1/2014)

Between Jayalalithaa’s pole-vaulting ambition to become a key player at the Centre and the unfolding saga of the DMK first family’s sibling rivalry, Tamil Nadu will play — if not as predominant as Uttar Pradesh — certainly a major role that will have a big say on the next prime minister after the Lok Sabha polls.

Tamil Nadu, along with Puducherry, accounts for 40 parliamentary seats, which is half of UP’s 80 seats. But unlike UP, where the spoils will have to be shared unless a wave hands all the seats to one party, Tamil Nadu presents a scenario where formation of alliances — or even their absence — holds the magic.

Seen as the most fancied player, Jayalalithaa prefers that the battle is multi-cornered. What’s more, her rising national ambition will block her personal friend, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, from influencing her politics.

Barring her alliance with the Left, she has made it clear that the AIADMK would not align with any national party before the elections. She wants her party to contest and win the maximum number of seats from the state amid the “Jaya for PM” chorus. Her campaign theme is: “If Tamil Nadu has to survive, prosper and progress, we will have to win all the 40 seats from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.”

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Jayalalithaa’s optimism is fuelled by the DMK’s internal crisis and its inability during the past 40 months to pose any challenge to the AIADMK, which has managed to keep anti-incumbency issues under control.

If the DMK is bedeviled by the sibling rivalry involving its top boss, M Karunanidhi, and his two sons, MK Alagiri and MK Stalin, the Congress feels isolated since the DMK snapped ties with it. Attempts to revive the ties have been plagued by Karunanidhi’s “blow-hot-and-cold” approach.

Alagiri was suspended from the party after he came out in the open against brother Stalin in their battle for control of the DMK.

Karunanidhi is now more concerned about Alagiri going on the offensive to damage the standing of his younger son and chosen successor, Stalin, by torpedoing the DMK’s prospects in the southern districts. The DMK patriarch has so far resisted attempts by some family members to let off Alagiri to end the stand-off.

On the other hand, the Congress is not sure what it should do. It is doubtful whether senior party leaders, including Union minister P Chidambaram, will seek re-election from Tamil Nadu in the absence of a strong alliance.

In the 2011 assembly elections, Jayalalithaa’s party won 38.4% votes. Even if assuming her government’s popularity has dipped, pollsters do not see the AIADMK share going below 27%.

Ideally, a combined front, consisting of the Congress, DMK and the DMDK, would be a strong formation to take on the AIADMK. But despite hectic parleys, neither the Congress nor the DMK has succeeded in forging a common alliance against the AIADMK because of the DMDK of actor Vijayakanth, which has shown reluctance so far to join hands to avoid a split in anti-Jayalalithaa votes.

The DMDK, along with the Congress and DMK, could eliminate a multi-cornered contest, which would have suited the AIADMK immensely because of the arithmetic of their respective vote share.

The DMK, which got 25% votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, got only 22% in the 2011 state polls. The Congress is stated to be in dire straits as it is estimated to have not more than 2% votes.

Vijayakanth fought the 2011 assembly polls in the company of Jayalalithaa, but parted ways soon after. With an impressive 5-6% votes in his favour, he is in caught in a Hamlet-like situation — having to choose between retaining the DMDK’s identity as an “anti-DMK, anti-AIADMK force”, or settle for an alliance that will help him make a mark in the parliamentary elections.

As things stand today, some pollsters see Vijayakanth’s strategy could be to join hands with the BJP and try to exploit a pro-Narendra Modi mood in the deep south. DMDK leaders see the BJP being able to pick up 15-16% votes because of the “Modi factor”.

Besides the MDMK and the PMK already under its wings, the BJP is looking for a rainbow alliance by including regional outfits like the Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam and Thevar Paervai. It eyes Kanyakumari, Coimbatore, Tiruchy, Tirupur and the Nilgiris Lok Sabha constituencies, which it had won in the 1998 and 1999 parliamentary elections.

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