Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata could individually hold the key to govt formation, if not pitch for the PM’s chair themselves, given the number of seats each is targeting in her state. A look at how they are going about their objective of a larger role in Delhi.
It was December 31, 2012. J Jayalalithaa was just back from the ceremony swearing in Narendra Modi, a self-confessed friend, as Gujarat chief minister. At a meeting of the party general council, an AIADMK minister got up to suggest Jayalalithaa was the ideal prime ministerial candidate. She went on to tell the meeting her party would not align with either the Congress or the BJP. In the year since, Jayalalithaa has largely been silent on Modi, congratulating him on his elevation as BJP campaign committee chief but making no comment when he became the party’s PM candidate.
As farfetched as it may seem outside, “Prime Minister Puratchi Thalaivi Amma Dr J Jayalalithaa” has a resonance inside Tamil Nadu. Posters and advertisements announce this day after day. One has her in front of Parliament, another has the President inviting her, and a third has Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse bowing before her. The most memorable vignette had Finance Minister O Panneerselvam standing reverentially behind her on budget day, clutching a suitcase with her photo, with Parliament in the background.
The AIADMK campaign has taken a shriller pitch around Jayalalithaa’s 66th birthday, celebrated Monday, with loyalists and fans playing on the date, 24, and the number 66. The government-run Music and Fine Arts University is holding a 66-hour festival; the health department is organising 660 medical camps; and Jayalalithaa planted the first of 66 lakh tree saplings February 21. The PR department has placed LCD screens and photo exhibitions across the state to extol her government; the department of Tamil development last week organised a seminar on Tamil e-books; the transport department held a blood donation drive that has reportedly entered the Guinness Book with over 50,000 participants — all linked to her birthday. The AIADMK has organised kabaddi matches, festivals, seminars and personality development classes. Enterprising businessmen have turned social workers feeding the needy.
A well-known fan, Chennai mayor “Saidai” S Duraisamy, has undertaken an expansion of “Brand Amma”. He has launched Amma Canteens for the urban poor, followed by Amma packaged drinking water. In the budget for Chennai a few days ago, he unveiled cinemas, guesthouses, women’s hostels, weekly markets, computer training, all named Amma. It is now difficult for the common man not to be touched by Amma.
Panneerselvam himself announced Amma Pharmacies in this budget.
The sycophancy apart, there is hard-nosed politicking in the exercise. Just as there is no noticeable wave of dissatisfaction against Jayalalithaa’s administration, there is no major unifying thread either. The PM pitch is helping energise the AIADMK cadre.
At present, though, what is helping Jayalalithaa the most is the muddle in the rival camps. The DMK is yet to resolve its sibling rivalry, the DMDK cannot decide between the Congress and the BJP, and the BJP cannot finalise an agreement with the MDMK and the PMK.
Tamil Nadu has 39 seats and Puducherry one, and Jayalalithaa will share at best share two or three with the CPM and the CPI. Other than the BJP and the Congress, only a party from Uttar Pradesh (80 seats) or Bengal (42) can realistically hope to win more seats than Jayalalithaa, with the competition expected to be tighter in the other large states: Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. And even UP is predicted to be split at least three ways.
Her maximum target of 36 may look too small compared to the 272 majority mark, but H D Deve Gowda did become PM in 1996 with 46 in the Janata Dal’s kitty. But all these predictions will depend on variables such as the Congress faring poorly and the BJP underperforming but winning enough in UP to undercut the chances of the SP and the BSP. Things could go wrong also with the federal front of which Jayalalithaa is part.
A more direct threat to her plans is the assets case against her. The DMK claims there is enough evidence to convict her for over three years, which would disqualify her for the immediate future.
That she is not going for broke on prime ministership is clear from her reluctance to take Modi on directly. If he leads his party to a sizeable figure, Jayalalithaa’s could well be the second largest party in the post-poll NDA.
However, as the joke goes, it is easier to fight Jayalalithaa than manage an alliance with her. Her unpredictability is infamous, and the BJP has had a taste of it. In 1998, she helped the NDA government form under A B Vajpayee but delayed sending the letter of support. And within a year, she pulled the government down on grounds less than convincing. They joined hands once more before the 2004 polls, only to part again after the results.
At the same time, a fact to remember is that 36, the number Jayalalithaa is looking at, is twice the best she has ever managed.