Early bird Jayalalithaa ahead of others in PM race
By Sam Rajappa
The Third Front or the Federal Front is a myth. At least leaders of five of the 11 regional parties constituting this alternative formation entertain prime ministerial ambition. Each one thinks he or she is better qualified than the others.
The Left Front which has been assiduously working to promote such a front finds itself isolated.
JJayalalithaa has been having an eye on the PM post and preparing the ground in the State to realize her ambition (Photos: Media Ramu)
Amidst the ruins of this mythical front has emerged the leader of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Selvi Jayalalithaa, projecting herself as the main challenger to Narendra Modi of the BJP in the prime ministerial sweepstake.
Her logic is simple. There is a nation-wide revulsion against the Congress and the UPA led by it, reminiscent of the 1977 atmosphere, and Rahul Gandhi is no match.
Barring Karnataka, the BJP is yet to take roots in the south accounting for 130 Lok Sabha seats. The entire north-east having 24 seats has also so far remained out of bounds for the BJP. Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party is not aiming at prime-ministership in this election.
That leaves the field wide open to the regional satraps. Since bringing them together under a common platform has proved elusive, Jayalalithaa has taken the initiative to lead an alternative formation under the aegis of the AIADMK to capture Delhi.
There is an unstated understanding among the regional leaders that unless the BJP and the NDA led by it reach the half-way mark of 272, the one who gets the largest number of Lok Sabha seats will have the first preference to form the next government.
Though UP has 80 seats, none of its leaders is likely to get half that number. There will be quadrangular and pentangular contests for every seat in UP.
With the BJP and the Congress also in the race, neither Mulayam Singh Yadav nor Mayawati is expected to emerge with a large chunk of UP seats.
In Bihar, with 40 seats, Lalu Prasad and the BJP would ensure that Nitish Kumar does not walk away with the trophy notwithstanding his claim to be the most qualified to head the alternative government.
The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar is no longer a major player in Maharashtra having 48 seats.
The other big States are Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal having 42 seats each and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Pondichery accounting for 40 seats.
Andhra Pradesh goes to the polls as one State and will emerge as two: Seemandhra with 25 seats and Telangana with 17 seats and will be out of the big league.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, supported by Anna Hazare of India Against Corruption fame, is already on board the Jayalalithaa wagon for which the AIADMK supremo had to make a small sacrifice: dumping of the Left Front which wanted three seats each for the CPI(M) and the CPI in Tamil Nadu.
So confident of winning all the 40 seats, including the lone Pondichery seat, is Jayalalithaa that she had no qualms of discarding the Left Front from the AIADMK alliance the moment Mamata expressed support.
Although Narendra Modi was able to sway voters during his forays into Tamil Nadu, the BJP has no organisation worth its name in the State.
The grand alliance the party managed to sew up with disparate groups like Vijayakant’s Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazham, Ramdoss’ Pattali Makkal Katchi and Marumalarchi Dravida Kazham of Vaiko lacks cohesion.
With so many men of substance joining the BJP, the party has a wealth of talents at the national level.
If Modi can present a shadow Cabinet at the hustings to enhance the people’s trust in his leadership, the party can break its jinx in States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south and the northeastern States.
Time was when an alliance of the Congress with one of the Dravidian majors was the winning ticket. Today, no party in Tamil Nadu wants to align with the Congress.
Both the AIADMK and the DMK, former allies of the Congress, have refused to have any truck with it.
The Indian Union Muslim League, which began its alliance politics with the Congress way back in 1960 during the prime ministership of Nehru and it continues to hold in Kerala, did not want to touch the Congress in Tamil Nadu even with a barge pole in this election. It opted to go with the DMK.
The Congress may have to conscript candidates to contest on the ‘Hand’ symbol in Tamil Nadu. The DMK, having built up a solid vote bank over the years, suffers from “guilt by association” in the eyes of the electorate for having remained with the Congress for the last 10 years.
Its overtures to the BJP and the Left Front were rebuffed. Party patriarch virtually handing over the baton to his younger son MK Stalin has created dissensions in the party’s first family and it cannot but have its negative impact in the coming election.
Under the given situation, the tall claim of Jayalalithaa winning all the 40 seats cannot be brushed aside as mere wishful thinking. In multi-cornered contests, the party with the largest vote share has a distinct advantage.
The AIADMK has 28 per cent votes and the DMK about 25 per cent. Jayalalithaa has been eying the office of Prime Minister with single-minded devotion for the last three years and it is bound to pay dividends on 24 April, polling day in Tamil Nadu and Pondichery.
Even before the Election Commission could come out with its notification she had announced her party candidates for the 40 seats and launched her vigorous statewide campaign from 3 March, keeping in mind the old saying “it’s the early bird that catches the worm.”
She is not unduly perturbed over the emergence of AAP. Since anti-incumbency is very much in the air, it could lead to a situation like the Delhi Assembly election last year in which it succeeded in spoiling the chances of the BJP forming the government.
Jayalalithaa's efforts to win all 40 seats from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry cannot be brushed aside as mere wishful thinking
The AAP’s main target is preventing Modi becoming the Prime Minister. The AIADMK election manifesto is not that of a regional party trying to woo voters in its region.
It is a carefully crafted document which is national in outlook aimed at making India the super power in the world. She vows to upgrade defence capabilities and make Indian Army a model for other nations to emulate.
Neither foreign policy nor economy has escaped her attention in the manifesto. Promising to end dynastic rule which is anathema in a democracy, she points out that the Congress, which has been in power for most part of the 67 years since independence, has evolved a system of governance of the minority by following the first-past-the-post electoral form which has distorted Indian democracy.
Contesting only 40 Lok Sabha seats and dreaming of forming a majority government might be considered audacious.
Chandrashekhar had only 64 Lok Sabha members when he formed the Union government in1990. With Mamata on her side, Jayalalitha is confident of crossing that figure easily.
Former Prime Minister HD Deva Gowda has already pledged the support of his Janata Dal (Secular) to Jayalalithaa.
Other regional leaders like YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and Sharad Powar are favourably inclined to back Jayalalithaa.
Once Mayawati hitches her wagon to Jayalalithaa’s, the JAMAMA (Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Mayati) combination will be a formidable force which no male-dominated party can challenge.
Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Nitish Kumar of Janata Dal (U) dreaming of taking a piggyback ride to Race Course Road better think again.
Of all the regional party leaders aspiring to become Prime Minister, Jayalalithaa has greater acceptability nationwide.
She is fluent in all the four South Indian languages, besides Hindi and English and a smattering knowledge of French, the language of international diplomacy. And last but not the least, she has star attraction.
The only fly in the ointment is her wealth case hanging like the Sword of Damocles over her head in a special court in Bangalore which, after 18 years of dragging, has reached the concluding stage. The day of judgment is not far off.
Sam Rajappa is Consulting Editor of The Weekend Leader