Frontline Volume 19 - Issue 03, Feb. 02 - 15, 2002
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU


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THE STATES

Friendless in Andipatti

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa faces a crucial byelection in the Andipatti constituency without the support of parties that were her allies until recently.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
in Chennai

THE sizzle has gone out of the February 21 byelection in the Andipatti constituency in Tamil Nadu. The byelection has assumed importance because All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is contesting and if elected, she will become Chief Minister again.

K. GANESAN
AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa taking the oath after filing her nomination papers in Andipatti on January 24.

The AIADMK's allies in the Assembly elections in May 2001 - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India - are no longer with it. They have announced that they would not "participate" in the byelection. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president E.V.K.S. Ilangovan's attempt to form a third front to take on the AIADMK and the alliance led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has come a cropper with the CPI(M) giving a wide berth to the Congress. The suggestion from Dr. S. Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), that a common candidate be fielded against Jayalalithaa had no takers either.

The DMK attacked the Election Commission over its refusal to postpone the poll in Andipatti, after doing so in Saidapet and Vaniyambadi. DMK president M. Karunanidhi and the party's Members of Parliament submitted memorandums to President K.R. Narayanan and Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh protesting against the Commission's decision and alleging large-scale irregularities in the voters' lists. The Commission had postponed the byelections in Saidapet and Vaniyambadi "in view of large-scale inclusions and deletions from the electoral rolls without following the prescribed procedure". The DMK targeted Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy and demanded his removal "for not discharging the mandated duty" as per the Constitution. The Commission brushed aside the DMK's criticism, saying it was in bad taste and had personal overtones.

Karunanidhi called the postponement a conspiracy. He declined to characterise as a victory the postponement of the byelections in Saidapet and Vaniyambadi. "Bagging two out of three is not victory," he said. He fears that "an atrocious election" will take place in Andipatti with the police and "AIADMK goondas" influencing the result.

The Commission's decision angered also the TMC, the Congress, the CPI(M), the CPI, the PMK and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK). They said that there were more irregularities in the preparation of the voters' list in Andipatti than in the other two constituencies. Ilangovan alleged that the government machinery was being misused in Andipatti for the AIADMK's election propaganda.

G. Ramakrishnan, a State Secretariat member of the CPI(M), pointed out that while vacancies in Vaniyambadi and Saidapet had arisen "naturally" because of the death of legislators (M.A. Abdul Latheef of the Indian National League and V. Perumal of the DMK respectively), the vacancy in Andipatti was created by the resignation of an AIADMK legislator (Thanga Thamizhchelvan). According to him, the yardstick that applied to Saidapet and Vaniyambadi should apply to Andipatti also.

In May 2000, the AIADMK rode back to power, supported by the TMC, the Congress, the CPI(M), the CPI and the PMK. The AIADMK-led front defeated the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed in the State by the DMK. Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister. However, she stepped down in September after the Supreme Court struck down her appointment because she had been disqualified from contesting elections as she had been convicted and sentenced to two years' and three years' imprisonment by a Special Judge in two corruption cases against her in October 2000.

O. Panneerselvam of the AIADMK replaced her as Chief Minister. Subsequently, Justice N. Dhinakar of the Madras High Court acquitted her in both the cases on December 4, 2001. This has enabled her to contest the byelection.

The last hurdle before Jayalalithaa was cleared on January 22 when the Supreme Court declined to stay her acquittal by the High Court. Justices K.T. Thomas and S.N. Phukan admitted the special leave petitions challenging her acquittal and issued notice to Jayalalithaa, the other accused and the Tamil Nadu government. The petitioners were R.S. Bharathi, an advocate with DMK affiliations, and Subramanian Swamy, Janata Party president.

Within a few months of the AIADMK returning to power, its relationship with its allies became frosty. The PMK walked out on it first and rejoined the DMK-led alliance. In the local bodies elections held in October last, the Congress and the CPI(M) contested on their own while the TMC and the CPI remained its allies. The TMC and the CPI too fell out with the AIADMK after the latter started making overtures to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Panneerselvam government announced steep increases in bus fare, electricity tariffs, milk prices and the price of rice sold through the public distribution system. A hartal called by the Congress, the CPI(M), the CPI and the Congress on December 7 to protest against the increase in prices accentuated the divide.

JAYALALITHAA soon hit back. The AIADMK unilaterally announced the candidature of Dr. V. Maitreyan for the Rajya Sabha seat that fell vacant with the death of TMC president G.K. Moopanar. Jayalalithaa said the TMC did not get the seat because it did not approach her. The AIADMK also decided to contest in Vaniyambadi.

According to AIADMK leaders, G.K. Vasan, Moopanar's son and the present TMC president, did not get the Rajya Sabha seat because the TMC backed the hartal. They said that when the TMC and the CPI protested, the government scaled down the price increases. So Jayalalithaa expected the TMC to back out of the hartal. It did not. According to them, the INL did not get the Vaniyambadi constituency because the seat was given to Abdul Latheef, and not to the INL per se, which they said existed only nominally.

That the CPI(M) would formally part ways with the AIADMK was clear when N. Varadarajan, member of the party's Central Committee, wrote a hard-hitting article in the party's Tamil newspaper, Theekkadir, charging the AIADMK with launching "a brutal economic offensive against the poor and the working class". He said the Left and secular parties' struggle against the "anti-people and anti-democratic policies" of the AIADMK government would intensify.

State politics started hotting up from January 9 when the CPI announced that it would not support the AIADMK in the three byelections. The party's State secretary R. Nallakannu listed the reasons: the AIADMK government ignored the allies' demand that the "unbearable" burden imposed by it on the people be eased; it rejected the reasonable demand of transport workers for bonus; it supported the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) promulgated by the Union government; and it remained silent on the re-induction of George Fernandes as Defence Minister.

On January 12, a "deeply hurt" TMC announced that it would not support the AIADMK in the byelections and that it would oppose the DMK-led alliance as well. S.G. Vinayagamurthy, vice-president, said that while the denial of the Rajya Sabha seat to Vasan was a reason for the decision, the main factor was the price increases. Hours later, the CPI(M) followed suit. Efforts were under way the same day to form a third front comprising the Congress, the TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI. But these failed because the CPI(M) had decided at the all-India level to have no truck with the Congress.

The same day, Election Commission Secretary K.J. Rao announced that the Commission had directed the Electoral Registration Officers of the Saidapet and Vaniyambadi constituencies not to publish the final rolls of voters. That was consequent to his making on-the-spot inquiries in the two constituencies into allegations of large-scale deletions from and additions to the voters' lists. On January 15, the Commission ordered the postponement of the byelections for these seats. The Commission, however, said the byelection in Andipatti would be held as scheduled, on February 21, because it had found no substance in the allegations of large-scale inclusion of names in the voters' lists there.

Vasan, CPI(M) State secretary N. Sankaraiah and Nallakannu jointly declared that their parties would not take part in the Andipatti byelection because there was "no room for the poll to be held there in a free and fair manner". Ramakrishnan said these parties would ask their cadres and supporters not to work in the election and not to vote. Under pressure now, the Congress too announced that it would not take part in the byelection.

Karunanidhi announced that 'Vaigai' Sekar of the DMK would be the NDA's candidate in Andipatti. DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan said the NDA's campaign would focus on the 'anti-people' policies of the AIADMK government. The MDMK nominated V. Jayachandran as its candidate. Puthiya Tamizhagam leader Dr. R. Krishnasamy is also in the field.


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