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Will Wit’s Warhorse Win ?

It’s not like Vaiko to be defensive. Opportunistic alliance with Jaya? So what? He’s busy catching the DMK napping with his aggressive rhetoric. But will that translate into votes, asks PC Vinoj Kumar

Vaiko’s strategy to attack Karunanidhi rather than defend his alliance with Jayalalithaa has effectively eclipsed all debate. The slew of charges he is hurling at the Karunanidhi family has rattled the DMK
There was an air of curiosity when Vaiko joined hands with his archrival Jayalalithaa, as to how he will justify his decision. But the leader of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) seems to have decided to overcome this by his aggressive campaigning espousing the adage ‘attack is the best form of defence’. Having hit the campaign trail, he has picked on the DMK triumvirate of M. Karunanidhi, MK Stalin, and Dayanidhi Maran, with such ferocity that Jayalalithaa has dropped anchor. In her election speeches, Jayalalithaa is not talking of her opponents, but seeking votes based on the performance of her government. Free textbooks and bicycles for school children, free power to the poor, efficient distribution of relief during tsunami and floods, no hike in bus fare despite the hike in diesel prices, end of Veerappan, promotion of women’s self-help groups, the list goes on and on.

Vaiko’s supporters are pleased with the way he has handled his party’s alliance with the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIAMDMK). Critics had dubbed the alliance as opportunistic. Vaiko’s bitter rivalry with Jayalalithaa was well-known. The AIAMDMK government had detained him under pota in July 2002 for an alleged pro-ltte speech. Jayalalithaa had even said her government would take steps to get the MDMK banned. Vaiko had then vowed to bring down the ‘fascist rule’ of Jayalalithaa with the support of people of the state. The party still proudly proclaims on its website, “This MDMK leader (Vaiko) was the first political leader, to declare that if voted to power, his government would seize the properties and assets of the AIAMDMK Chief Minister (Jayalalithaa) and other ministers.”

Vaiko had to come up with a convincing argument to justify his volte-face. He attacked Karunanidhi, whom he till recently described as thalaivar (leader), and annan (elder brother), accusing him to be the mascot of ‘family politics’ in the state and ‘dynastic politics’, which figures in the party’s election manifesto as well. Vaiko’s strategy to attack Karunanidhi rather than defend his alliance with Jayalalithaa has effectively eclipsed all debate and discussion over his party’s alliance with the AIAMDMK.

The slew of charges he is hurling against the Karunanidhi family has rattled the DMK. At election rallies Vaiko tells people that the choice before them in the forthcoming elections is either dominance of a family or welfare of the state. “Karunanidhi works for the welfare of his family. We are concerned about the progress of the state,” Vaiko states repeatedly.

The Maran family’s Sun TV comes under fire. “The Sun Network has amassed wealth to the tune of over Rs 10,000 crore,” Vaiko tells people that even the DMK’s promise to provide a colour TV to every family if voted to power is linked to expand the viewership-base of Sun Network so that “Karunanidhi’s family can steeply revise their advertisement tariff.” He accuses the DMK of having bagged more representation in the Union Cabinet using the strength of the four mps from MDMK, who have not joined the government. He said in an interview that the DMK had got “so many ministerial berths counting the MDMK seats as well. When I met Sonia Gandhi, she also said that the impression she got from the DMK was that MDMK was within the DMK — that is, an alliance within an alliance.”

Vaiko compares his expulsion from the DMK with that of MGR in 1972. While MGR was expelled for the sake of MK Muthu, the elder son of Karunanidhi, who was promoted as a rival to MGR in films, he was shown the door to make way for Stalin’s political coronation. Vaiko cites the appointment of Dayanidhi Maran, Karunanidhi’s grandnephew, as Union minister, as an example of how the DMK chief promotes his family at the expense of senior party members. Maran, son of Karunanidhi’s nephew the late Murasoli Maran, joined the party ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, and was elected from the Central Chennai constituency.

For Vaiko and MDMK, the party he founded, this will be a crucial election. The party is contesting 35 seats and hopes to win a sizeable number. Vaiko, contrary to expectations, has chosen not to contest
Vaiko’s strategy to raise a debate on the ‘domination’ of Karunanidhi’s family appears to be working. The harried DMK thinktank and Sun TV has been forced to respond to his allegations. A recent Sun TV news bulletin issued a point-to-point counter to Vaiko’s allegations against the monopoly of Sun Network in the media. Karunanidhi at a meeting advised his party’s election spokesmen not to target Vaiko, but to go after Jayalalithaa and urge people to put an end to her ‘autocratic rule’.

Karunanidhi backtracked on that when he reacted to Vaiko’s charge that he was furthering his family interests. “Those who have a family will naturally nurture it,” he responded. Then came Maran’s legal notice to Vaiko for the allegations he had levelled against the Sun Network. Vaiko was asked to apologise within 24 hours for his remarks or face legal action. It only fuelled Vaiko’s rhetoric.

Addressing an election meeting at Usilampatti, Vaiko challenged Maran to file the case against him, stating that he would fight the case himself without a lawyer. Vaiko reportedly said, “This Vaiko will even offer his head to the hangman but will never bow down in apology.” He also said he would examine Maran in the witness box and “at that time a thousand secrets will come out tearing through an iron curtain.”

For Vaiko and the party he founded, this will be a crucial election. The party is contesting 35 seats and hopes to win a sizeable number. Vaiko, contrary to expectations, has chosen not to contest. The MDMK had failed in its previous two attempts to enter the state Assembly in the 1996 and 2001 elections, though its members have been elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998, 1999, and 2004. The MDMK was formed in 1994 after Vaiko was expelled from the DMK in 1993. It fought the 1996 general elections along with CPM and Janata Dal, but lost badly.

In that election, the DMK—Tamil Maanila Congress alliance swept the polls, defeating the AIAMDMK alliance. Vaiko contested from both Vilathikulam assembly seat and Sivakasi parliamentary constituency, but could win neither.

The defeat in the 1996 elections shook the party’s confidence that it could offer itself as an alternative to the DMK and AIAMDMK in the state. In the 1998 parliamentary elections, it aligned with the BJP and the AIAMDMK. After Jayalalithaa pulled down the Vajpayee government, circumstances forced Vaiko to shake hands with Karunanidhi. The DMK had become part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance following the exit of the AIAMDMK. In the 2001 Assembly elections, MDMK left the DMK-led alliance not satisfied with the seats allotted to it and contested alone polling over 13.4 lakh votes — about 4.65 percent votes.

The party was pushed to the point of despondency when it bit the dust in the May 2002 by-elections to the Saidapet and Vaniyambadi Assembly seats. MDMK got a meagre 2,200 votes in Saidapet and about 3,500 votes in Vaniyambadi. Analysts were writing Vaiko’s political epitaph, when pota was invoked against him in July that year. Though Vaiko’s arrest enraged the rank and file of the party, many saw it as a blessing in disguise.

Vaiko, a postgraduate in Economics, studied law at the Madras Law College. As a student, he took part in anti-Hindi agitation, and got the best orator award in 1969 at Law College.

As a Rajya Sabha member between 1978-96, and a two-term Lok Sabha member between 1998-2004, he has served as a member of various parliamentary committees. He encounters the struggles in life deriving inspiration from Shakespeare’s immortal line: ‘Sweet are the uses of adversity.’ “Keeping this saying in mind, I meet the countless struggles of life,” he writes in his book From the portals of a prison.

Vaiko is a voracious reader. His political speeches are spiced with anecdotes from the lives of world leaders. He can speak on any topic, if he is intimated in advance. He is at his fiery best when he talks about the Tamils in Sri Lanka. With all his inconsistencies, he has not wavered on the issue of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

He believes that a solution to the ethnic problem lies in the formation of Tamil Eelam. This is also a part of his party’s manifesto too.

Apr 15 , 2006

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