J Jayalalithaa: Amma everywhere, from food and water to cinemas and PM posters
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 partys 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 Jayalalithaas 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, womens 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 Jayalalithaas 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 Dals 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, Jayalalithaas 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.
- By Gopu Mohan
Mamata Banerjee: Didi pitches voice louder, all the way
across to Delhi
The hints are there, though her camp hasnt spelt out her designs on the prime ministerial post as explicitly as Jayalalithaas has spelt out hers. The Trinamool Congress will have a bigger voice in Delhi this time, is what Mamata Banerjee has been telling voters at rallies. To supporters, she has been saying, We will decide the next government. All this has led to a recurring whisper among Trinamool workers: From CM to PM.
It is an idea that has the endorsement of Anna Hazare and the shahi imam of Delhis Jama Masjid, whom she has impressed respectively with her living style and secular credentials.
Prime minister or not, the tone of her campaign has played to a Bengali sentiment that the state should have a greater role in national politics to end alleged discrimination from Delhi in terms of economic assistance. The message she and her lieutenants have sought to spread is the Trinamool Congress will remote-control the next government. The Trinamool Congress will hold the key for the next government to enter office, says Mukul Roy, the partys national general secretary.
An internal assessment has left the party targeting 30 or more seats of Bengals 42. It is hoping to add a couple more from the Northeast, its hopes particularly high in Manipur, and some from North India where its campaign is stronger than ever. The party will field candidates in about 10 states outside Bengal and is looking at an overall tally of 35-plus, which could make it the third largest after the BJP and the Congress.
Our party will be in a position to drive a hard bargain with the frontrunner for government formation, says Subrata Mukherjee, one of Mamatas most senior ministers. But it is difficult to foresee the exact contours of the formation. All moves and manoeuvrings will get under way after the elections.
The million-dollar question, however, is whether the Trinamool can ally with the BJP. A Trinamool MP who wished not to be named points out Mamata has collaborated with the BJP in the past, as have Jayalalithaa and Mayawati at various points of time. One can never say the BJP is untouchable to any of these three parties. It is true West Bengals Muslim votes are close to 30 per cent, among the highest for any state, and a large section of them are voting for the Trinamool Congress, but with Didi one can always have a rational ground to do the unpredictable and the unexpected, says the MP.
Indeed, the BJP central leadership as well as Mamata have dropped recent hints to suggest nothing is impossible.
In the assembly last week, Mamata expressed hope of a new government in Delhi that would concede her demands of a moratorium on loan repayment (Bengals debt burden is Rs 28,000 crore per year) for three or four years. That is exactly the offer BJP president Rajnath Singh had made at a Kolkata rally February 5.
The Trinamool Congress has 19 MPs, its highest strength ever in the Lok Sabha, while its allies from the 2009 polls, including the Congress, have seven. The 2014 outing will be vastly different with the Trinamool confidently going it alone. The confidence of bettering 2009 stems from Mamatas sweep to power in the assembly in 2011 and the partys experience in three Lok Sabha and nine assembly bypolls, besides elections to panchayats and municipalities. Its vote share has been growing, with the last panchayat polls bringing it between 44 and 45 per cent against the Left Fronts 30 per cent or less. Significantly, though, the BJPs share too has been predicted to rise from its current 3.5 per cent to an estimated 12 per cent.
Mayawati: Third largest is target before Behenji sets terms
Any talk of her being a prime ministerial candidate is restricted to what party leaders have been telling supporters. Mayawati has, nevertheless, been projected as such before. The last time was as recently as in 2009, an election that gave her party its best performance yet, and she is looking at bettering that despite having lost a lot of ground in between.
Routed in the assembly elections, relegated to third place in a byelection last year, the BSP has recovered to become the BJPs declared primary opponent, thanks largely to public disillusionment with the Samajwadi Party for the way it handled the Muzaffarnagar riots, something that has drawn frequent comparisons with law and order during the previous Mayawati government.
The party has 20 of Uttar Pradeshs 80 seats, and a 21st in Madhya Pradesh. The SP has 22 in UP, with the BSP having finished second in 47. With our base vote and the candidates community votes, we will surely win more seats this time, says a party coordinator.
The biggest display of Mayawatis strength has been the one million people who assembled at Lucknows Ramabai Ambedkar Ground for her Rashtriya Savdhan Maha Rally on her 58th birthday. Even if we go by various projections of the BSP getting 20 to 25 seats with a corresponding fall in the SPs numbers, the BSP will be the third largest party in the Lok Sabha, says a party leader.
Mayawati herself has avoided projections but promised, Our party will show surprising results, adding no party can form the government without the BSPs support. She has never concealed her ambitions of becoming the first Dalit prime minister. And, party sources say, that would be the natural course of things should such a situation arise. We want to be part of the government. I cannot say which side we will support, everything depends on Behenji and it will be on her terms, said a Rajya Sabha member.
Mayawati started campaigning as early as May last year with Brahmin sammelans statewide. She has rejected any alliance, suffered in assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi, and since worked on consolidating her core Dalit base. She has finalised the names of most candidates .
She has urged Muslims to unite with Dalits, promised to pursue the Sachar Committee recommendations, decided to field 18 Muslims, and given Muslims a number of key posts in the party. These come after three coalitions with the BJP, all forged by Kanshi Ram and which eventually collapsed. As party president over the last decade, Mayawati has chosen to go it alone but for a brief dalliance with the Left in 2009. She has gone beyond the Dalit, SC/ST and Muslim base, building a coalition with Brahmins in a deviation from the partys early rhetoric.
Her present relations with the BJP are far from cordial; she has been constantly criticising the BJP and Narendra Modi and has pledged not to compromise our movement with communal forces. On issues such as FDI in retail, she has bailed out the UPA, besides siding with the Congress in the presidential election.
None of that is expected to come in the way of any support she offers any side, provide her takeaway is on her terms.
(Reports by Gopu Mohan from Chennai, Subrata Nagchoudhury from Kolkata and Ramendra Singh from Lucknow)