Politics drives Jayalalithaa to free Gandhi case convicts

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS,

An intense desire to sweep the Lok Sabha election in Tamil Nadu has led Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa to free the three Indian and four Sri Lankan Tamils involved in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the law be damned.

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It is highly unlikely that Jayalalithaa and her AIADMK will receive tonnes of extra votes because of her decision that has triggered predictable political reactions in Tamil Nadu. The so-called Tamil nationalist sentiments are already aligned with one party or the other, and will more or less remain where they are.

What the actor-turned-politician has achieved in one stroke is to kill a possible alliance involving the DMK, the Congress and the DMDK of actor Vijayakant. The three-party grouping could have given her headaches in the battle for the 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu plus the sole seat in adjoining Pondicherry.

With the DMK backing the decision to free the seven who were serving life imprisonment and with the Congress coming out strongly against any move to let the convicts walk free, Karunanidhi will have to think twice before aligning with the Congress, lest he be accused of “betraying” the Tamils.

In 2009, the DMK won 18 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu with a vote share of 25.1 percent, the Congress (aligned with DMK) won eight seats (15 percent), the AIADMK got nine seats (22.9 percent) and the DMDK secured no seat even as it grabbed a whopping 10.3 percent of votes.

The general view then was that the DMDK ate into AIADMK support base.

The widespread impression now is that the AIADMK could, on its own, win as many 25 Lok Sabha seats. This alone would make Jayalalithaa a powerful figure in a widely anticipated hung parliament. But the AIADMK leader, already being seen by her fans as a possible prime minister, would want to win more seats.

The one sure way to achieve this is by spiking a possible alliance of the DMK, the Congress and the DMDK.

On paper, this is a formidable coalition, with a 2009 combined vote share of 50.4 percent. And although the DMK and the Congress are a pale shadow of their 2009 self, Jayalalithaa has played the best card she could by announcing her decision to free the seven convicts in order to spike the chances of their coming together.

A DMK-DMDK alliance or a Congress-DMDK alliance will be easier to manage. However, if Karunanidhi – with mounting troubles in his own family – still allies with the Congress and the DMDK, his image as a Tamil leader will be dented.

Jayalalithaa already has the larger pan-India picture in view.

This is why she has shaken hands with the CPI and the CPI-M despite their limited base in Tamil Nadu. The aim is to build bridges with those who are part of a larger so-called Third Front that could play a major role if the BJP wins less than 200 Lok Sabha seats despite a widely anticipated Congress decimation.

The Sri Lankan issue is an emotive factor in Tamil Nadu. But when it comes to elections, political party after party have realized to their dismay that it does not really fetch votes.

Indeed, the average person in Tamil Nadu firmly turned his back to the now vanquished LTTE once it took on the Indian Army in Sri Lanka in 1987-90 and, more so, after a Tamil Tiger woman suicide bomber blew up Rajiv Gandhi at an election rally near Chennai in May 1991.

Jayalalithaa knows this. She does know her politics well.

(20.02.2014 M.R. Narayan Swamy is a long-time Sri Lanka watcher. These are his personal views. He can be reached on [email protected])