by T.N. Subramanian, Frontline, April 8-21,2006
In Tamil Nadu the two main alliances have firmed up seat-sharing arrangements, but the spoilers may be the few parties fighting alone.
IN the early stages of the campaign for the May 8 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the focus has been on three issues: some of the promises made by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in its manifesto; intra-party feuds in the DMK, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and even the Communist Party of India (Marxist); and the number of parties going it alone, either voluntarily or because they have been cold-shouldered by the two major alliances.
The Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) is led by the DMK and includes the Congress, the PMK, the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The other front is headed by the AIADMK and includes the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), a faction of the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the Forward Bloc (Santhanam faction), the Indian National League, the IUML (Tamil Nadu), the Janata Dal (Secular), and the Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam (MMK). The MDMK, headed by Vaiko, pulled out of the DPA on March 4 and joined hands with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's AIADMK. A third, smaller alliance consists of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Janata Party and several other parties.
Film actor Vijayakant's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which was founded on September 14, 2005 and is contesting all the 234 Assembly seats, has attracted much attention. Vijayakant, who stood by his decision to go it alone, has been drawing big crowds and projects himself as an alternative to the DMK and the AIADMK. The other parties fighting alone are the Puthiya Thamizhagam, a Dalit organisation led by Dr. K. Krishnasamy; the All India Forward Bloc headed by film actor Karthik; the Tamil Nadu Democratic Congress; and the Latchiya Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (LDMK) headed by film actor T. Vijaya Rajenderr.
In the DPA, the DMK will contest 130 seats, the Congress 48, the PMK 31, the CPI(M) 13, the CPI 10 and the IUML two. The AIADMK has fielded candidates in 182 constituencies, the MDMK in 35, the DPI in nine; the Indian National League and the INTUC (breakaway faction) in two each, and the Forward Bloc (Santhanam), the IUML (Tamil Nadu), the JD (Secular) and the MMK in one each.
|DMK president M. Karunanidhi, with son and deputy general secretary M.K. Stalin, releasing the election manifesto in Chennai.
Former Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi and party general secretary K. Anbazhagan are seeking re-election from constituencies in Chennai, Chepauk and Harbour respectively. Jayalalithaa has returned to the rural constituency of Andipatti near Madurai.
Vaiko and Thol. Thirumavalavan, DPI leader, have chosen not to contest in order to concentrate on campaigning. But the DPA reads a sign of nervousness in its decision not to contest. Vaiko has unleashed a high-voltage campaign against the DMK, attacking it for "family domination", and hopes to see his party make its maiden entry into the Assembly. The MDMK drew a blank in the 1996 and 2001 elections, which it contested alone.
The AIADMK will be locked in a straight contest with the DMK in 106 constituencies, with the Congress in 35, and with the PMK in 26. The DMK and the MDMK will clash in 16 constituencies. The AIADMK, the DMK, the PMK and the CPI(M) have fielded many new faces. While 21 AIADMK Ministers seek re-election, three - C. Ponnaiyan (Finance), R.T. Inbathamizhan (Youth Welfare and Sports Development), and P. Annavi (Minister for Backward Classes) - have been denied the ticket.
Rice at Rs.2 a kg
When Karunanidhi released his party's manifesto on March 29 and held up the "pearls" among the promises made, it was greeted with incredulity and sarcasm. Some of the pearls were: "quality" rice at Rs.2 a kg through the public distribution system, free colour television sets (to homes that do no have them) to provide "recreation and general knowledge to women", revival of the marriage assistance scheme for women; free gas stoves to poor women; payment of Rs.1,000 a month for six months to pregnant women; and two acres of land to landless peasants. These promises were apparently aimed at neutralising the impact of the two main constituencies of the AIADMK: women and Dalits.
Vaiko, Jayalalithaa and Vijayakant lost no time in criticising the DMK. Vaiko attacked the offer of rice at Rs.2 a kg as a "fraudulent scheme". He asked: "How can you sell rice at Rs.2 a kg? From where will you get the money? You [the DMK] have been alleging that the State is in a bad financial shape under AIADMK rule." Jayalalithaa preferred to denounce the DMK offer of free colour TV sets. It amounted to promising the moon, she said.
But the DMK seems to be enjoying the attention its manifesto has attracted. Its leaders are happy that the manifesto is being debated and that its contents have reached the people. Speaking at a public meeting in Chennai on April 5 inaugurating the DPA's campaign, Karunanidhi said it was entirely feasible to implement the promises made. Provision of rice at Rs.2 a kg was not impossible because it would cost only Rs.540 crores extra a year, he said. This was not a big amount in Tamil Nadu's budget of Rs.36,000 crores., he added. (Rice is now sold in ration shops at Rs.3.50 a kg.)
"For the colour television sets scheme, I know where to get the money," Karunanidhi said. Thousands of crores of rupees was being siphoned off by some distilleries, which passed off cheap liquor as quality liquor by sticking labels of expensive brands on bottles, he alleged. "If this loot is stopped, money can be had to distribute colour television sets." The scheme would not cost Rs.15,000 crores as Jayalalithaa claimed, he said. He was sure that if Rs.530 crores was set apart in the first year and another Rs.530 crores in the second year, the scheme could be executed. There were 55 lakh acres of wasteland in Tamil Nadu. Steps would be initiated to distribute it to landless farmers, he said.
The Congress, the PMK and the Left parties defended the DMK's promises. According to K. Varadarajan, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, it was at his party's insistence that the DMK said in its manifesto that it would provide two acres to every poor, landless peasant family. Varadarajan described the AIADMK manifesto as "duplicitous" and added: "It has announced the creation of five lakh jobs. But did the AIADMK not contribute to unemployment?" This was a reference to the Jayalalithaa government's dismissal of 1.5 lakh government employees and ban on recruitment.