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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

For the PMK, the battle is on multiple fronts

A new challenge this time is from the filmstar Rajnikant, though the PMK shrugs this off, says R.K. Radhakrishnan.

Despite the electoral arithmetic favouring the candidates of the Democratic Progressive Alliance, the odds against one partner, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, are greater. For the other partners in the front — the DMK, the Congress, the MDMK, the CPI (M), the CPI and the IUML — the main adversary is the AIADMK-BJP combine. But for the PMK, the battle is on more than one front.

Three challenges confront the party — one, from dissidents who have switched loyalties, second, from the party that enjoys the support of Dalits in north Tamil Nadu, the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), and the third, from actor Rajnikant.

The PMK, which is contesting five Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and the lone Pondicherry seat, has again been called upon to prove that it holds sway in north Tamil Nadu and that its vote base is intact. The party's base is among the Vanniyars, who form about a third of the population in north Tamil Nadu. The community is crucial to both the fronts, as it decides the winners in at least nine Lok Sabha constituencies.

The new challenge this time is from Rajnikant, which party seniors dismiss as "unworthy of even a comment." "I have toured all over the northern districts. I have only seen the PMK's support increase this time," says the party president, G.K. Mani. "The PMK will win with even greater margins in the six seats," declares its founder, S. Ramadoss.

Since the Rajnikant Fans Association's first statement against the PMK, there has been trouble in some towns in the Vanniyar-dominated areas.

In Ulundurpet, a Rajni fans association office bearer was attacked; in Periyakrishnapuram near Vazhappadi (Salem), some persons claiming to be Rajni fans association members burned effigies of PMK leaders; skirmishes were reported from Panruti, Villupuram and Pondicherry last week.

Though the AIADMK will not capitalise on the Rajnikant-PMK standoff, the BJP has lost no time in doing so. At Bhuvanagiri, D. Periyasamy, the BJP candidate for the Chidambaram Lok Sabha seat, described himself as the "candidate who had Rajni's support."

So did P.T. Elangovan (the former PMK MP who was denied the party ticket and has since joined the BJP) in Dharmapuri. In the PMK founder's hometown of Tindivanam, the BJP national secretary, L. Ganesan, appealed to Rajnikant to support all the 40 BJP-AIADMK combine candidates.

Similar appeals have been made by BJP leaders and new BJP loyalists elsewhere. In most places in north Tamil Nadu, Rajnikant's statements are interpreted as endorsing the AIADMK-BJP alliance.

In most Assembly-level units, there exists good coordination among representatives of the DPA parties — unlike the AIADMK and the BJP (the two have been unable to agree on the question of cashing in on the Rajni vote) — and they have made it a point to locate Rajni fans association office bearers and talk to them directly. "Rajni fans are there in all parties. How can they follow what Rajni says on this issue," asks C. Angamuthu, the DMK's Nellikuppam town secretary. But that has not made them complacent, he adds. Elsewhere in Dharmapuri, people claiming to be Rajnikant fans went around villages asking people to cast their votes in favour of the local PMK candidate.

The PMK's strategy has been multi-pronged. Only two sitting MPs were re-nominated because they performed exceedingly well. The other four are newcomers.

For long, all former MPs from Dharmapuri, including Elangovan, Thangabalu or Vazhapadi Ramamurthy, were `imported.' People often complained about a lack of access to the MPs. This time the PMK has fielded a local doctor, R. Senthil.

"This goes a long way. He has to come here. We don't need to travel to meet him," says Karthikeyan, a petty shop owner near Dr. Senthil's hospital. At the local level, one strategy has been to persuade people identified as Rajni fans to come out to campaign openly for PMK candidates.

Interestingly, the PMK candidates and party workers have been civil to their counterparts in the DPI. Clashes between activists of the two parties were once a regular feature and a major election issue. Not any more. This is one worry less for the PMK now since the polarisation of votes will be much less this time.

The rebels, the PMK believes, are a discredited lot. The Vanniyar Sangham leader, A.K. Natarajan, has called for defeating Dr. Ramadoss; so have the former PMK president, Dheeran, and Mr.Elangovan. While Mr. Elangovan is a new addition to the rebel ranks, the others had not made any significant difference to the PMK vote bank in the past. Besides, the rebels do not have the reach or the staying power of Dr. Ramadoss to carry out a sustained campaign. They have now decided to work with the Rajni fans associations to defeat the PMK.

The PMK believes the DPA's popularity, the people's disenchantment with the AIADMK Government, its own vote bank and the image of the candidates it has chosen will bring it a handsome victory.

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