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Going South


DIFFICULT TO PLEASE: Jayalalithaa has snubbed Sonia Gandhi in the past. But she is also wary of aligning with the BJP

This is the first time that both the BJP and the Congress are without a strong ally in Tamil Nadu. Both the DMK and AIADMK seem to be in no mood to reach out to the national parties.

With a near fatal blow from the DMK patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi, Congress' future looks pretty precarious in Tamil Nadu. It's a grim reminder of how he forced the national party into a suicidal electoral pact in 1971. Indira Gandhi, who was keen only on increasing her tally in the Lok Sabha, agreed to concede all the seats to DMK in the assembly elections at a time when Congress had the largest vote share in the state. People soon lost hope in the Congress, which showed no inclination to regain power in the state that it ruled for 20 years since Independence and lost to the DMK in 1967. With just five MLAs, today, it cannot even re-elect its state president to the Rajya Sabha when his term ends in July.

The only occasion Congress came anywhere close to regaining its lost glory was in 1996, when the electorate was fed up with the AIADMK and somewhat hesitant to bring back the DMK, dismissed in 1991 for being soft on the LTTE. Many, including actor Rajnikanth, tried to prop up the Congress under the leadership of a reluctant G K Moopanar. However, then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao chose to continue the party's alliance with the AIADMK. Moopanar quit the party, only to tie up with the DMK.

Today, after DMK's pull out from the UPA, the Congress is virtually a political outcaste in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi has clarified that there will be no pact with the Congress in the next Lok Sabha polls. With students, techies, lawyers and general public resorting to protests across the state for more than two weeks to condemn Sri Lanka's alleged war-time atrocities on Tamils, no political party is willing to team up with the Congress. More importantly, the Congress is not even the third largest party in the state. That slot is now occupied by actor Vijayakanth's DMDK.

Says Dalit activist and political commentator, D Ravikumar: "As on date even smaller parties are reluctant to join hands with the Congress. The AIADMK will not tie up with Congress because Jayalalithaa herself is nurturing prime ministerial ambitions. But closer to the polls, parties that are left out by the two Dravidian majors - DMK and AIADMK - might go with Congress. The PMK has made it clear that it will not align with the two main Dravidian parties. But, it might tie up with the Congress. "

Chief minister J Jayalalithaa made her mind clear on the subject two months ago. She declared that her party would go with neither the Congress nor the BJP in the next parliamentary elections. A change of mind at this juncture is quite unlikely, says political commentator Gnani Sankaran. Moreover, a Congress-AIADMK alliance will not carry much credibility as they have been fighting each other for the last 11 years. "The national parties are keen on aligning with her before polls, but her plan is to bargain with them only after elections, " says Sankaran.

Many senior Congress leaders from the state, with whom Jayalalithaa has strained relations, are trying to open up channels of communication with the AIADMK leadership. Five years ago, Jayalalithaa had expressed her wish to join hands with the Congress if it was ready to dump DMK. But a lot has changed since then and today she talks from a position of strength.

From her point of view, Congress, which is bogged down by allegations of corruption, is not expected to do well in the next elections. The BJP is not doing well either. It makes sense for her to align with one or the other after the polls.

"The Congress high command is not desperate either, " says an analyst. The lack of personal rapport between Rahul Gandhi and regional leaders in Tamil Nadu could be a handicap for the Congress, he adds. "Rahul is not enthused by the idea of aligning with either Dravidian party. He was hesitant about establishing a relationship with Karunanidhi in the last five years and it is doubtful that he will be able to do business with Jayalalithaa either. He did not meet Karunanidhi even once though visited the state thrice in the last few years. He even refused to acknowledge the DMK's presence in the alliance while speaking at finance minister P Chidambaram's Sivaganga constituency in 2009 during the election campaign. He will dare everyone in Tamil Nadu as he is looking at a long haul here, " said Sankaran.

The chemistry between the AIADMK and the Congress leadership has never been the same after Rajiv Gandhi's death. Jayalalithaa does not share a good equation with Sonia either. She made Sonia wait at a rally in Villupuram, about 150 km from Chennai, during the 1999 general elections. In both the parties only top leaders matter and if they don't share a good rapport, it impacts relations of the rank and file between the two parties as well.

Says political analyst M Thamizharuvi Manian: "The Congress' future appears bleak in the state. This will be the first time that the party will not have even a single MP from Tamil Nadu. It may lose its deposit in all the constituencies in the state if it contests alone. Karunanidhi has pulled out of the UPA because of the rising tide of popular sentiments against the Congress for not doing or saying enough against Sri Lanka. However, after the polls, one cannot rule out the possibility of the DMK doing business with the Congress or the AIADMK joining hands with the BJP".

But, though Jayalalithaa shares a good rapport with Narendra Modi, she would not risk a pact with the BJP, which is not a major force to reckon with in Tamil Nadu. She would not wish to antagonise the minority community.

Since 1998 - when the BJP emerged on the national scene - the 2014 elections could be the first time that both the national parties are going ahead without a strong alliance partner in Tamil Nadu. Political analysts and one-time advisor to Jayalalithaa, Cho Ramaswamy, however, feels that it is too early to comment on the future of the Congress. "I will wait for further developments before commenting, " he says.

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