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Friday, June 6 1997

Jaya in a jam -- AIADMK pays the price for cultist politics


The fissionable nature of the All-India Anna DMK was evident on Tuesday when the party split vertically. The AIADMK's has been the fate of a party that had linked its fortunes to those of a leader of larger-than-life pretensions. It could have only crumbled after the collapse of the cardboard colossus that was Jayalalitha, with a personality cult constituting its only political platform. It has taken only a single electoral debacle to set on a path of swift disintegration a party that has held a decade-long sway over Tamil Nadu, just as it took only a single term in a grossly abused office for Jayalalitha to squander away a massive popular mandate. With the once worshipped vote-catcher turning a vote-snatcher, the false votaries had no further use for her. The exodus of the long line of her erstwhile lieutenants from veterans R.M. Veerappan and S.D. Somasundaram to victorious split-maker S. Thirunavukkarasu was only to be expected. The personal record of the rebels may be unflattering, but that is unlikely to bestow a martyr's halo and consequent political benefits on the former Chief Minister, who is facing challenges to her supremacy on all sides.

There is little doubt that the split spells a serious setback for Jayalalitha in the immediate context, despite the unconscious humour in a situation ripe with factional warfare, particularly the suspense over who would hold the `real' party general council session first. The question of numbers remains to be conclusively answered, and substantive post-split issues (from the poll symbol to the party properties) are being left for the Election Commission and the courts to settle. It is already clear, however, that Jayalalitha is losing out on at least two counts. The development, in the first place, comes as a dampener to hopes of a post-election recovery for the ``Revolutionary Leader''. Claims of continuing cadre support cannot bring enough comfort to compensate for the loss of half the Rajya Sabha seats the party once held and three out of the party's far from enviable strength of eight MLAs in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Pondicherry. The reverse follows the semblance of recovery seen by some in the results of the Pudukkottai Assembly by-election. The advantage of the impressive AIADMK showing here, with the DMK struggling to retain the seat, has ironically gone to Thirunavukkarasu, who had campaigned in place of an allegedly ailing Jayalalitha. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly from the medium-term viewpoint, in public perception, the split is pitting Jayalalitha against the spectre of AIADMK icon M.G. Ramachandran. If the rebels' slogan of restoring `MGR rule' finds a sufficient popular response, if only among the electoral base the party founder had built up, the DMK will have added reason to rejoice. And it is not only Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, his party and his political camp that stand to gain from such a prospect. The people of Tamil Nadu, who have learnt bitter lessons from a past ridden with personality cult politics and the consequent rule of the arrogantly corrupt, are no lesser beneficiaries.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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