The amma of all battles
After sitting out the last bypoll, saying she was boycotting it because EVMs are being manipulated by the DMK, AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha is finally reading the writing on the wall. That voters are writing her off and her party too feels that rather than fight against the DMK’s brand of populism, she is content to relax either in her home in the hills at Kodanadu or Veda Nilayam in Poes Garden here.
Even Azhagiri, the CM’s son and union minister for chemicals and fertilizer, had a crack at her change of heart, “The AIADMK is contesting in this bypolls because someone having sense in the party has advised Jayalalithaa to do so.” With assembly elections rumoured to be advanced to next October instead of April 2011 as scheduled – CM Karunanidhi has already said he would like to set power and politics “aside” and come closer to the people after June – the feeling is that amma has roused herself from catatonia because she wants to make her presence felt. That’s why she is going to address 30-odd meetings while she criss-crosses Vandavasi and Tiruchendur, the two segments going in for bypolls on December 19. She has fielded Amman T. Narayanan in Tiruchendur and P. Munusamy in Vandavasi.
Will it work?
It seems unlikely because traditionally bypolls are won by the ruling party. And with amma jumping into the fray, the DMK campaign is high voltage with virtually the entire cabinet ordered to win the two seats for the party. Besides, there’s Azhagiri who has won most of the eight bypolls for the DMK this year (he’s known as the master manager of elections), there’s star campaigner Stalin and his half-sister and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi among the big guns as opposed to Jayalalitha alone for the AIADMK. With DMDK’s Vijaykanth threatening to partly mop up anti-DMK as well as AIADMK votes, it’s going to be difficult for her. And finally, Tiruchendur candidate Anitha Radhakrishnan – who caused the byelection by defecting from the AIADMK to the DMK – is a formidable candidate because many people vote for him irrespective of his party affiliations. Azhagiri has already bragged that he will win with a 40,000 vote margin. Incidentally Munusamy is going to have trouble standing out among the candidates because there are three other Munuswamys in the fray in Vandavasi.
Apart from amma's other handicaps, her party cadre is demoralized and in-fighting has broken out. There was the unprecedented sight of cadre shouting slogans outside her Poes Garden residence last week and this week over intra-party elections. As a veteran said: “In earlier years no one would have dared to raise a voice because her control over the party meant she could have slapped cadre for making such a spectacle of the AIADMK. Now she is losing her grip over the party.” Will talk of incentives mimicking what the DMK did – Azhagiri had given gold chains to party cadre responsible for the DMK victory during the five bypolls – get the party galvanized? Some say it’s too little too late.
For someone who carries on a war of words with Karunanidhi, she has not said a word on his shock announcement that he would retire after June even if there is speculation that his statement was like a threat to his warring family. She has not even taken potshots at him by recalling that he made such an announcement and then contested the Chepauk assembly constituency in 2006 that returned him as the CM for the fifth time. Interestingly there has not been any reaction from his party too and finally the man of the moment, Stalin, first said Karunanidhi needs “rest from rest” but when put on the spot about whether he would be CM, said, ”Ask my father whether I am ready and fit to take over as the CM. Why are you asking me?” Jayalalitha has not even reacted to this. She seems quite hobbled from the word go.
Allies are no help
MDMK chief Vaiko is already out there considering he’s been her loyal ally. But the left would have liked to align with the DMK after being ill-treated by her imperious Majesty during the Lok Sabha elections, only they were not asked. So with no choice, and not believing in boycotts (that’s why the comrades took part in the August bypoll), they have swallowed their humiliation and aligned with the AIADMK. The CPM claims it will not share a dais with amma, never mind the confused signals they will send to voters.
The CPI is more practical. If they are aligning with the AIADMK, they will campaign with Jayalalitha.
Vandavasi used to be a PMK bastion because it is dominated by the Vanniar community. But PMK’s Ramadoss is in the worst position. He exited the DMK before the Lok Sabha poll thinking amma was the winning horse, recently he exited the AIADMK alliance after bad-mouthing Jayalalitha. When Karunanidhi was cold to his overtures, he was full of bluster, saying the outcome of the two by-polls now “will only be decided by money power.” Now, that ill-advised observation has put paid to his chances of going back to the DMK. So his next step is to campaign that voters go for 49 -O. What is that, you ask? Wikipedia says Rule 49-O is a rule in The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 of India, which describes the procedure when a valid voter decides not to cast his vote, and decides to record this fact. But a web respondent called Guru put it best: Good joke...he is doing this when the people of TN have used 49 - O against the PMK itself. Nothing I say can top that comment!
Money for nothing
But there seems to be an element of truth in the opposition’s protest that DMK has been unleashing money power to win elections. Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta, who’s not a favourite bureaucrat of the DMK government, laments: “Now the problem is that people have started demanding money. In the past they asked for better basic amenities like drinking water, better roads, etc. Now they have started asking for money because they think that it gives them greater satisfaction.” So who is to blame? Politicians for bribing them or people for losing a community affinity and becoming selfish?
What was she thinking?
This was an embarrassment Soundarya Rajnikanth could have done without. Her animated film Sulltan with her father, Superstar Rajnikanth, playing a superhero has been long in the making and questions are coming up over when it will be finished. Meanwhile, she or Ocher Studios, of which she is the CEO, made Goa. But the high court restrained her company on December 1 from releasing it after Varun Manian (rumour has it that he and she were an item sometime ago), Managing Director of NAPC Properties, claimed his company paid Rs 1.10 crore on different dates in 2007 and 2008 and that all he was returned was Rs 20 lakh whereas Rs 1,36,37,589 should be paid factoring in 24 per cent interest. Apart from that he filed another civil suit saying Soundarya had asked him for funds to produce Goa and promised to return it with 24 per cent interest and he had given Rs 50 lakh in December 2007. This was not returned so the high court should not let Soundarya release “Goa” which she planned to do later this month.
Ocher Studios approached the court this week saying it was ready to furnish bank guarantees for the promissory notes of Rs 1.10 crore and Rs 50 lakh by December 21. The company also said that the money from NAPC and Varun were investments in Ocher and not a loan. But social and Kollywood circles are buzzing with this suit and how anyone could have the gall to take on Rajnikanth’s daughter and so publicly. Why did Soundarya need to borrow cash in the first place when her father is loaded? Rajnikanth has the reputation of returning big money to his producers when his films bomb, so one can safely assume that if his daughter needed money, she did not have to look beyond the four walls of her home. So what was the real story?