The Tamil Nadu Rajya Sabha Potboiler

Raja (second from left) with DMK supremo Karunanidhi and Kanimozhi Photo: Getty Images
Raja (second from left) with DMK supremo Karunanidhi and Kanimozhi
Photo: Getty Images

For the last 17 years, the Rajya Sabha election in Tamil Nadu was like a tame draw in a Ranji Trophy Test match. It had few spectators, interested only statisticians and was perhaps an event of mere academic interest for poll pundits. In sharp contrast, the contest in a few days promises to resemble an IPL semi final! This could determine the composition of the teams for the grand finale in 2014. At one end of this battle is the chosen one of a ‘Captain’, struggling to keep his players in Team DMDK. On the other is the favourite daughter of former Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi. The Kanimozhi Vs A.R.Elangovan battle for a berth in the House of Elders is much more than a fight between the DMK and the DMDK. The former ruling party is licking its wounds after being replaced by the latter as the principal Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly 2 years ago. It now boils down to who the bigger enemy is for the ruling AIADMK in this scenario. And who the Congress sees as a better ally next year.

PMK ‘Doctor Ayyas’s’ bitter pill – a boycott of the election, has deprived Kanimozhi of 3 votes in her party’s quest to reach the magic figure of 34. The DMK’s need to get the numbers has brought glad tidings for Kanimozhi. More than the fight for the deficit 11 votes, as the DMK has 23 on its own, the situation has brought the DMK first family closer. Their unity in adversity is not new and one has witnessed this even during Karunanidhi’s arrest in 2001. This time around, the affable Kanimozhi’s brother and Karunanidhi’s heir apparent M.K.Stalin has thrown his weight behind her, even accompanying his half sister to file her nomination. That alone is a huge shot in the arm for Kanimozhi.

Post her 2G incarceration, Kanimozhi has maintained a reasonably low profile and to some extent has managed to earn some public sympathy, what with her reluctance to take the political plunge 6 years ago; preferring to remain the literary heir of her father. In the political saddle, Kanimozhi has come across as an unassuming MP, undertaking extensive tours, conducting job fairs and promoting folk art through her brain child – the Chennai Sangamam. But for her imprisonment, she would have had a much better attendance than the 50 per cent clocked in Parliament. I have often wondered why a young, popular, articulate leader like her cannot contest Lok Sabha polls. I hear reports that the party is toying with the idea of fielding her in Thiruchendur – a stronghold of the Nadar community to which she belongs, just in case the Rajya Sabha bid doesn’t come through.

On paper, this election is a fight all the way down to the wire. The DMK’s individual strength of 23 seats is just 1 more than the DMDK’s 22. Smaller outfits like the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi and the Puthiya Thamizhagam have pledged their support to the DMK with 2 seats each. That takes the DMK tally to 27. The Congress has been approached by both contenders. Having been recently deserted by the DMK, if the Congress decides to experiment with Vijaykanth, with an eye on 2014, the two sides would be tied at 27, as the Congress has 5 seats.

Politics is based on expediency, not emotion. The Congress Party is probably now like a shy bride being wooed by a former lover and a prospect it all along had a crush on! If the grapevine is to be believed, Congress Ministers like Narayanaswamy and Jayanthi Natarajan may be in favour of a deal with their former ally, judging by their recent visits to C.I.T Colony. The Chidamabaram camp is rumoured to be in favour of Vijaykanth. The fact that no senior DMK leader attended the funeral of the Finance Minister’s mother was also being interpreted in some quarters as a sign of a rift. My hunch is that the Congress will go with the DMK in return for a 2014 rapprochement. Arithmetically, Karunanidhi’s vote share is bigger than the DMDK’s 10 per cent and the grand old man has been a loyal ally for several years.

Even with Congress backing, the DMDK, having lost 7 of its MLAs to Jayalalithaa, may not be able to romp home unless the AIADMK decides to transfer its surplus votes to Vijaykanth’s nominee to spite Kanimozhi. For the ruling dispensation, the DMK is the bigger foe. Had the DMDK kept its flock together, its 29 MLAs and 5 Congress seats would have helped it scrape through. What if there is a tie and the DMDK rebel MLAs cast their second preference votes in favour of Kanimozhi to spite Captain’s man? Politics, however, is based on realities and shrewd moves, not ifs and buts.

Talking of tactical moves, by pulling out her fifth nominee Thangamuthu (compensated with a post at the helm of the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board) at the eleventh hour to accommodate the CPI’s D.Raja, Jayalalithaa has ensured that the Left doesn’t move towards the DMK next year and has effectively weakened the possible rival camp. In many ways, what was a routine affair has suddenly come alive and could well shape political configurations in the months ahead. Politics is also about excitement! Not merely scandals like the country’s unofficial national game.

(Sanjay Pinto is a lawyer, columnist, author and former Resident Editor of NDTV)


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