Jayalalithaa was a political ally nobody could trust

She could never be relied on, yet the AIADMK chief was frantically wooed.

 |  5-minute read |   07-12-2016
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On August 28, 2002, at a press conference organised in Delhi, the then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, who was expected to lambast her Karnataka counterpart SM Krishna over the Cauvery water dispute issue, dropped a bombshell.  

She chose to raise the issue of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin.

"It is a crying shame and moral bankruptcy of the Congress party that its leaders, who were at the forefront of the freedom struggle and fought against foreigners, should think of having a foreigner as prime minister," she thundered. A month later, she raised the issue again, in Chennai, this time referring to Sonia Gandhi as Antonia Maino and a "political businesswoman".

In her vitriolic diatribe against the Congress president, Jayalalithaa conveniently forgot that only three years ago, on March 29, 1999, she had famously met Sonia Gandhi at a tea party in Delhi’s Hotel Ashok, organised by current BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, who wanted to topple the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government because he had been denied the portfolio of Union finance minister.

Jayalalithaa herself was miffed with Vajpayee as the prime minister had refused to withdraw all pending corruption cases against her and dismiss the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu.

Consequently, Jayalalithaa not only withdrew her support from Vajapayee government leading to its fall within 13 months of its formation, but also sent a letter to the then President KR Narayanan, offering support to a Sonia Gandhi-led Congress government.

jayasusubd_120716032631.jpg Jayalalithaa with Subramanian Swamy.

That’s what has been Jayalalithaa’s legacy in national politics ever since she entered the Delhi durbar as a Rajya Sabha member in 1984 — unpredictable and mercurial, and a friend one can never trust.

Sent to the Upper House by her mentor MGR for her fluent English, Jayalalithaa impressed even the then prime minister Indira Gandhi with her maiden speech. And since then, every prime minister has taken careful note of Jayalalithaa’s words and actions.

She could never be relied on, yet the AIADMK chief was frantically wooed — thanks to the numbers she commanded in Parliament whenever she retained power in Tamil Nadu.

In 1989, Rajeev Gandhi’s government ensured she could gain control over AIADMK by dismissing the 24-day-old government led by Janaki Ramachandran, MGR’s wife. In 1992, she became chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time and, between 1991 and 1996, AIADMK remained a partner of Narasimha Rao-led minority Congress government.

But when Congress president Sitaram Kesri failed to accord her a special ally status and remained mostly busy protecting his own chair, Jayalalithaa wasted no time in dumping the Congress and joining hands with BJP for the 1998 Lok Sabha elections — after Congress withdrew support to the Inder Kumar Gujral-led government.

Following her massive defeat in 1996, she also needed a stronger ally at the Centre to fight her legal and political battles against Karunanidhi government. In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK-BJP alliance bagged 30 out of 39 seats, which contributed significantly to its national tally of 255.

Despite her betrayal in 1999, again in 2004, the BJP struck an alliance with the AIADMK for the Lok Sabha polls only to break up immediately after the elections. Jayalalithaa reversed some of her controversial decisions such as ban on religious conversion, which had brought her closer to the BJP.

Since then, she has steered clear of forging any alliance with either of the two national parties — Congress and BJP. It has not been a whimsical decision but based on pure arithmetic. In 1991, the Congress-AIADMK coalition won all 39 seats in the state but her party’s share was only 11.

In 2004, coalition with BJP resulted in loss of rural votes and BJP could hardly transfer any votes to AIADMK.

In 2014, speculation was rife that she would join hands with BJP, because of her bonhomie with the then BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi. They both attended each other’s oath-taking ceremony as chief minister, but Jayalalithaa snubbed every move of her "brother" to form a coalition before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Her decision paid rich dividend and the party won 37 out of 39 seats, emerging as third largest party in the Lok Sabha.

But the key to her national clout was AIADMK’s tally of 13 in the Rajya Sabha as the BJP government is in a minority in the House and often depends on regional parties like hers to help it pass crucial legislation. Her party commands fourth position in the Upper House after Congress (60), BJP (55) and SP (19). It, therefore, comes as no surprise that on May 12, 2015, a day after she was acquitted in the disproportionate assets case by a Karnataka High Court order, Modi called on Jayalalithaa to congratulate her on the acquittal.

But as usual, she is not a friend one can bank upon.

When GST (122nd Constitution Amendment) Bill, 2014 was passed in Rajya Sabha, AIADMK was the only party which did not support it. During the meetings of GST Council, Tamil Nadu finance minister continued causing most roadblocks, often even engaging in bitter and nasty arguments.

In her death, both Congress and BJP sense an opportunity to earn AIADMK as an ally. Both national parties will certainly like to piggyride on the popularity of AIADMK, which cornered 41 per cent vote share in the 2016 Assembly polls, to gain and regain their footholds in Tamil Nadu politics.

Despite its success to pass GST in the Upper House without Jayalalithaa’s support, the BJP still needs AIADMK’s support, especially after increasing distance and bitterness with Mamata Banerjee’s TMC, which has 12 members in Rajya Sabha. It is in BJP’s interest that it keeps AIADMK a united house, so that there is no platform for revival of a Congress-DMK alliance.

The Congress, in the past, had several successful alliances with the AIADMK and will be desperate to have its former ally by its side in its attempt to stop the Modi juggernaut in 2019.

Also read: Will Dravidian politics survive after Jayalalithaa?

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Writer

Kaushik Deka Kaushik Deka @kdscribe

Associate Editor, India Today

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