Frontline Volume 17 - Issue 09, Apr. 29 - May 12, 2000
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


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THE STATES

Trouble in the AIADMK

Jayalalitha expels from her party three senior leaders and replaces 36 district secretaries; the expelled leaders vow to resist the "the takeover" of the party by relatives of Sasikala Natarajan.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

THE All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is in the midst of a major shake-up. Party general secretary Jayalalitha removed 36 of its 50 district secretaries and expelled three top leaders - Karuppasamy Pandian, Sedapatti R. Muthiah and S. Reg upathy - from primary membership on April 14 in an attempt to quell a brewing revolt against the domination of the AIADMK apparatus by Sasikala Natarajan and her family. Sasikala is a close friend of Jayalalitha and lives with her at her Poes Garden resi dence in Chennai.

V. GANESAN
Jayalalitha (right), along with friend Sasikala, coming out of the Special Court in Chennai after being indicted in the Pleasant Stay Hotel case in February.

Prior to their expulsion, Karuppasamy Pandian and Regupathy, who were the Tirunelveli and Pudukottai district secretaries, were removed from these posts. Pandian was also deputy general secretary. Muthiah, former Union Minister, lost his job as party tre asurer. Jayalalitha also removed 200 panchayat union secretaries and 50 town secretaries and made sweeping changes in the women's, youth and medical wings of the party, the Jayalalitha Peravai, a front organisation of the party, and the All World MGR Fan s' Association.

At the core of the standoff is the resentment of senior leaders at Sasikala's family trying to capture the party by placing their loyalists in key posts; Another cause is the increasing importance given to T.T.V. Dinakaran, Sasikala's nephew. He was elec ted to the Lok Sabha in October 1999, and was nominated secretary of the Jayalalitha Peravai.

Jayalalitha said that Karuppasamy Pandian, Muthiah, Regupathy and two others had been expelled because "they acted contrary to the objectives of the party, hurt its dignity; and operated in a manner that would bring disrepute to it." She claimed that a " special investigation" revealed that the leaders who were removed/expelled "had made money through agents" in the party's organisational elections.

Muthiah countered by saying that Jayalalitha had become "a handmaiden of the Mannargudi mafia" (Sasikala's family belongs to Mannargudi, near Thanjavur, in Tamil Nadu) and that she had lost her "mental balance" under the influence of the Sasikala family. Muthiah said: "Jayalalitha has become bold enough to destroy and bury the AIADMK, founded by MGR ( former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran) and built on the blood of its cadres... The Mannargudi group, which has occupied Poes Garden, has a big plan..."

Muthiah alleged that the "Mannargudi family" was trying to capture not only the party but its property and funds. For instance, he said, a party property (what was earlier the Safire theatre) in Chennai had been advertised for sale without identifying it or mentioning its owner, the AIADMK. He said though he was the party treasurer, he did not know that the property had been put up for sale. Without the General Council's permission, no party property could be sold, he explained. He also alleged that the party's posters for the 1999 elections were printed at Anjaneya Printers, owned by Sasikala.

According to Muthiah, the real reason for their expulsion was that they were not prepared to tolerate the "hegemony of the Mannargudi family."

Regupathy was even more sarcastic: "I feel happy and peaceful. I don't feel that I have been removed from the AIADMK founded by MGR but from 'Annan Dinakaran Munnetra Kazhagam'."

Pandian too said that they were expelled because they would oppose the ultimate "pattabhishekham" (crowning) of Dinakaran.

However, they do not want to take any precipitate action. Karuppasamy Pandian, noted for his organising capability and oratorical skills, said, "We will sit down and think leisurely. To vanquish Jayalalitha, we are prepared to join hands with forces that can do the job best." Regupathy said he and the others were prepared to work with R.M. Veerappan and S. Tirunavukkarasu. (Jayalalitha had earlier expelled Tirunavukkarasu and Veerappan from the AIADMK. While Tirunavukkarasu founded the MGR-ADMK, Veerapp an established the MGR Kazhagam. The two parties have one Lok Sabha seat each). More than Jayalalitha, their target is Sasikala; this, they say, is to retrieve the AIADMK from her.

Pandian, Muthiah and Regupathy have vowed to challenge their expulsion in the court, to question the election of Jayalalitha as general secretary, and to seek the derecognition of the party.

The latest moves in the AIADMK against the Sasikala family go back to May 1996 when the party was trounced by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in the State Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. There was turmoil in the party, its leaders strongly feeling that the party had come to such a pass because of the influence exerted by Sasikala and her family on Jayalalitha. Jayalalitha issued a statement distancing herself from Sasikala but when the situation stabilised, the relationship seemed to have been res tored.

The AIADMK recovered ground in the February 1998 Lok Sabha elections and became a partner in the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, only to pull it down soon afterwards. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the AIADMK did not do badly: i t and its allies won 13 out of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu.

On January 18 this year Jayalalitha began a series of meetings with branch secretaries, panchayat union secretaries and representatives of the women's and youth wings from each of the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies. She wanted to analyse the reasons for the electoral defeat. The defeat in the three Assembly byelections in February added to the urgency of the exercise.

Says T. Kathiresan, a political observer: "These consultations were supposedly held to identify the reasons for the electoral defeat, to strengthen the party and to discuss the coming Assembly elections. Organisational elections had been held (15 months ago) and the real agenda was to find out which leader was strong where. Jayalalitha wanted to know whether the district secretaries had become too powerful. She realised that the involvement of the cadres and leaders was not as it was in the days of MGR. She was also aware that partymen were using her to build themselves up financially."

In the meetings, the branch secretaries, who form the backbone of the party, alleged that the district secretaries and town secretaries had installed their own choices in various party posts and had received money for this. Loyalists like them were sidel ined, they alleged.

Muthiah, who was convicted and sentenced to 25 months rigorous imprisonment on March 8 in the "disproportionate wealth case" against him, had fallen foul of Jayalalitha earlier. He was suspected of not having exercised his vote properly when the Vajpayee Government sought a vote of confidence in April 1999. Muthiah was denied the ticket in the subsequent Lok Sabha elections. He was also accused of not having worked for the victory of Dinakaran in the Periakulam constituency.

Jayalalitha accused Karuppasamy Pandian of receiving money in the organisational elections and alleged that he and Regupathy were bargaining with the DMK in order to join it. According to her, she removed former Ministers and office-bearers in the AIADMK headquarters because they had got together to commit irregularities in the party elections. She said: "Former Ministers and office-bearers became partners of DMK men in 'wine shops', 'contracts' and 'businesses' and betrayed the party. Our partymen led to our defeat."

Karuppasamy Pandian replied that it was Jayalalitha who appointed men to various posts, apportioning the posts among various factions. He dared Jayalalitha to contest against him from the Tirunelveli Lok Sabha seat. He charged that the AIADMK was being r un now only to safeguard the ill-gotten wealth. Regupathy pointed out that it was Jayalalitha who had nominated these 36 district secretaries. If they had made mistakes, she must be held responsible for them.

A source in the AIADMK said: "If the verdicts in the remaining corruption cases also go against Jayalalitha, many of the district secretaries, who were removed from their posts, will join the DMK. Otherwise, they will try to capture the AIADMK sans the S asikala family."

JAYALALITHA suffered a setback on the legal front. On April 18, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not proper for the Madras High Court to have interfered in the trial of Jayalalitha in the TANSI (Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation) cases, which in volved a sum of Rs.3.5 crores, especially when the trial was in an advanced stage before a Special Judge. Justice K.T. Thomas added: "Pre-empting the trial is neither the practice nor a precedent of the Supreme Court."

On February 25, the Supreme Court, on a Tamil Nadu Government petition, had stayed the order of Justice S. Thangaraj of the Madras High Court discharging Jayalalitha from the two TANSI cases. The Supreme Court had then directed the Special Judge to conti nue pursuing the cases including Jayalalitha as an accused in them but not pronounce orders. These corruption cases relate to two firms, Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises, in which Jayalalitha and Sasikala are partners, buying the State-owned TANSI property below the guideline value in 1992 when Jayalalitha was Chief Minister, causing loss to the Government.

The DMK, meanwhile, sailed through its organisational elections. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was unanimously elected president on April 8 for the eighth time in a row. Education Minister K. Anbazhagan and Electricity Minister Arcot N. Veerasamy were bo th unanimously elected party general secretary and treasurer respectively. Karunanidhi also had his way with the creation of 50 party district secretaries' posts and elections were held to them. Earlier, there were only 32 posts.

Karunanidhi did not have much difficulty in enforcing a new rule that district secretaries should not be Ministers too. This saw the easing out of Ministers such as Veerapandi S. Arumugam, Ko. Si. Mani, K.N. Nehru, K.Ponmudi. Mullaivendhan, T.Krishnan, P ongalur N. Palanisamy, K. Pitchandi, M.R.K. Paneerselvam, N.K. Periasamy and I. Periasamy, from their district secretaries' posts. Any dissent was smothered.

However, all is not well with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Tamil Nadu. On April 18, Dr. Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) launched a broadside against Karunanidhi, accusing him of not having done anything for the Vanniya community (the PMK's support base is predominantly Vanniya) and of merely watching the ongoing battle between Dr. Ramadoss and Vazhappadi Ramamurthi, the leader of the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC), another NDA constituent.

Countering Dr. Ramadoss' statement, Agriculture Minister Veerapandi S. Arumugham enumerated the benefits that have accrued to the Vanniya community during DMK rule. Arumugam said that Karunanidhi treated the leaders of the parties that are part of the ND A as well as of other parties with respect, which they reciprocated. The Minister added: "Just because he respects all people for the reason that they are Tamilians, nobody should try to provoke him under the impression that all he wants is to stick to p ower. It would be good for the NDA if the PMK, which is a constituent of the formation, desisted from making allegations against our movement and our leader." (Dr. Ramadoss, Vazhappadi Ramamurthi and Veerapandi Arumugham belong to the Vanniya community.)

On April 22, however, Dr. Ramadoss performed a volte-face. He denied having said on April 18 that the DMK had not done anything for the welfare of the Vanniya community; he said he had merely pointed to "some deficiencies", indicating that more co uld have been done for them. He said: "We have fraternal feelings towards Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) and the DMK. Karunanidhi is a big leader. I don't want to say anything that will hurt his feelings."

Dr. Ramadoss also emphatically said the PMK's alliance with the DMK for the Assembly elections, due in 2001, "will continue." He added, "I will be in the NDA and I will continue in the NDA. There is no question of any option."


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