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April 2006
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Poll Watch

Fuzzy Political Scene
By A Staff Writer

TN Assembly Poll

Poll pundits are wary of anticipating a clean sweep.

AIADMK has retrieved some ground, but there are a few imponderables too.

The May 8, Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu pose tough choices for the Muslim minority in the State. The electorate are bracing for a poll in which issues are increasingly getting fuzzy and parties have hardly anything to present by way of ideology.

This is best highlighted by the way MDMK chief, Vaiko Rajagopal, took his fledgling Marumalarchi DMK to the Jayalalithaa and AIADMK-led front within a span of a fortnight having negotiated with Karunanidhi and DMK-led front. Curiously, he insists on remaining a partner in the United Progressive Alliance coalition in the Centre along with the DMK. If DMK is all set to pursue dynastic politics—Karunanidhi’s son, M. K. Stalin is purring to get into the shoes of his father—the allegations of corruption against AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa are losing their relevance on popular level with no court being able to convict her. The fact that a Brahmin woman heads the party that emerged from the self-respect movement too does not gel with the electorate any more. Interestingly, people feel that she having no heir, is better suited to rule as her wealth, no matter how ill-gotten it might be, will ultimately be inherited by the State and thereby people. ‘It is better than having a chief minister who is grooming his son and eyeing the throne for the family for the next 30 years’. This is just a sample of the cynicism that guides the voter’s mood.

Muslim voters in Tamil Nadu have neither ideological clarity nor leaders to lend some expression to their aspirations.

Though the elections are still 45 days away, the amorphous political scene has assumed definite contours with DMK having PMK, Congress, the two Communist parties as its allies. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is a minor partner with three seats being assigned to it under the banner of DMK. The AIADMK has won over Vaiko Rajgopal’s MDMK and also has Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) on its side. INL has also caught on to the coat tails of the front. The BJP which had immensely benefited from alliance with the AIADMK has been left alone. TMMK which has emerged as a group representing the Muslim public opinion has supported the DMK led front. And as it happens with splinters, the Tamil Nadu Tauheed Jamaat led by its orator-alim leader Zainul Abedeen has aligned itself with the AIADMK. He split away from TMMK after much mud-slinging from both sides.

Lack of ideological focus dogs the Muslim voters too. A major chunk of the Muslim electorate are still beholden to Karunanidhi whose secular credentials continue to carry conviction with Muslims. But Jayalalithaa has added to the confusion by distancing herself from the BJP. The AIADMK rank and file has begun to peddle arrest of Kanchi Sankaracharya also as a proof of its secularism. But this does not cut much ice. Muslims refuse to accept this as anything to do with secularism and see this as emanating from personal rivalry between the lady from the Poes Garden and the seer.

The Muslim community is largely leaderless in the state. Passing away of leaders like A. K. A. Abdus Samad and M. A. Latheef has rendered them largely without a strong voice. The new leadership of the TMMK has mostly thrived on emotive issues. The DMK has no Muslim leader of any stature within its ranks after demise of Sadiq Pasha. The AIADMK never encouraged self-respecting individuals as leaders. However, it sprang a surprise by fielding Advocate Badar Sayeed from South Chennai constituency in May 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Amidst the total whitewash of the AIADMK front in that election, she emerged with the largest number of votes among the losers. Sayeed is currently chairperson of the State Wakf Board. She is being tipped for a safe constituency for election this time and no wonder, if she is fielded from Vaniyambadi. Currently, Muslim League leader Prof. Khader Mohiuddin is the only Muslim MP in Lok Sabha from the State. He was elected on the DMK ticket.

Even otherwise, Muslims do not constitute any major vote bank in Tamil Nadu who barely make for 5.5 per cent of its electorate. Christians add another 6 per cent to the Minority votes, but are more fragmented in their choice. Muslim votes are either crucial or considerable in constituencies like Triplicane and Royapettah in Chennai, Vaniyambadi, Papanasam and Rajagiri in Thanjavur district, Tenkasi, Melapalyam in interior south or a seat in cities of Tiruchy and Coimbatore each.

It is generally guessed that Jayalalithaa has largely retrieved her image with several pro-people initiatives. She withdrew cases against intransigent Government employees. Distribution of goodies among Tsunami and flood affected people in the State has won her support of the poor and the Dalits. Muslims are no longer averse to her. She even undid the Anti-conversion bill that had angered powerful Christian clergy in the State. Return of the popular favour registered itself with the AIADMK’s shocking victories in Assembly by-elections held in Gummidipoondi and Kanchipuram in May 2005. Since then, nothing of a sort of clean sweep is being anticipated by the poll pundits. Alliance arithmetic does give the DMK-led front some edge, but AIADMK is fast reclaiming the lost ground.

Emergence of cine actor Vijayakanth and change of alliance by MDMK are introducing imponderables in the poll. Vijayakanth is a greenhorn who is poised to test the political waters on the basis of his celluloid reputation. His Murpukko Jananayak DMK is contesting all seats. Impact of MDMK’s walkout from UPA at the state level is still uncertain. Vaiko’s clean image is a certain plus factor, but his alliance with a Front ridden with corrupt politicians offsets the gain.