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Parties set to cash in on 'office of profit' issue in TN

Written by: Staff

Chennai, Mar 26: The debate on whether AICC President Sonia Gandhi's resignation from Parliament and as National Advisory Council chairperson was a ''sacrifice'' or ''drama'' might continue, but her 'sudden' decision had already taken the centrestage in the run upto the May 8 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.

The resignation has come as a shot in the arm for the DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) which will drive home the point that Ms Gandhi, by making a ''second sacrifice,'' proved she did not care for power but only for the welfare of the people.

This could even turn out to be a slogan for the DPA in which the Congress is a key constituent even as arch rival Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ridicules Ms Gandhi's resignation as ''re-enactment of the 2004 drama.'' However, the flip side is Ms Gandhi's decision also raises questions on the stability of the UPA Government at the Centre with complaints pending against 40 other MPs over the ''office of profit'' issue.

The AIADMK hopes to take the wind out of the DPA's sails as it goes to town with charges the Centre was proposing an Ordinance on the issue only to save Ms Gandhi.

Ms Jayalalithaa had already appealed to the President to go into the issue of government ''shunting'' Parliament.

The unflappable DMK chief, however, came up with a quick repartee. Mr Karunanidhi hailed Ms Gandhi saying by conquering herself, she had conquered the world.

This will no doubt have a postive impact on public opinion not confined to elections alone, say political observers.

In her reaction, Ms Jayalalithaa ridiculed Ms Gandhi saying she ''is trying to make a virtue out of a compelling necessity.'' She also described the resignation as a ''panicky knee-jerk reaction'' to protect her position. Joining issue with the AIADMK Supremo, Congress leader and Union Finance Minsiter P Chidambaram, hit back saying Ms Jayalalithaa's remarks revealed her ''pathological hatred'' for Ms Gandhi.

Accusing Ms Jayalalithaa of having persuaded the Governor to make her Chief Minister when her nominations from four constituencies were rejected by Returning Officers in the 2001 Assembly elections, Mr Chidambaram set the stage for a war of words.

Meanwhile, Congress workers staged protests throughout the state condemning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for ''forcing'' Ms Gandhi to step down. In some places, they burnt BJP Leader L K Advani's effigy.

Also describing Ms Gandhi's action as ''second drama,'' BJP Vice President L Ganesan asserted it will have no impact on the elections.

''People are well aware of the drama and the issue will neither create any sympathy nor impact the elections,'' he said.

Meanwhile, with rival fronts AIADMK-led Democratic People's Alliance (DPA) and DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA), having drawn the battlelines by releasing the list of constituencies, the election scene has hotted up in the state.

The two fronts were busy selecting candidates. Both the parties were expected to release the list of contestants in a couple of days.

The DMK had completed the personal interviews for selection of candidates last evening.

After releasing the candidates' list, probably tomorrow, Ms Jayalalithaa will hit the campaign trail on March 31 and undertake a whirlwind 33-day electioneering. The party had already taken the lead in its campaign through posters and hoardings, listing out its ''achievements'' during its five year tenure.

A week later, the DMK President will launch his party's campaign.

For the next one month, political leaders, both state and national, will criss cross the state to woo the electorate.

With the Election Commission acting tough, political parties are wary of coming out with graffiti and putting up hoardings. This had already taken a toll on artists who appealed to the commission to relax the norms to help them make some money during the elections.

With BJP, Vijayakanth's fledgling Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and Actor Karthik's All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) deciding to go it alone, the state will witness multi-cornered contests. But the main battle will be confined to between the two major fronts.

The DMK which is contesting 129 seats, has to win at least 118 to form government on its own. The party will take on the AIADMK in 106 constituencies, most of which are in the southern and western regions considered to be the strongholds of the AIADMK.

The AIADMK, which has only two major allies -- the Marumalarchi DMK and the Dalit Panthers of India, has chosen to contest from as many as 182 seats, the highest it has ever contested.

In the 2001 Assembly elections, the AIADMK which forged a mega alliance with the Congress, the now defunct Tamil Maanila Congress and the Left, had contested 140 seats and won 132.

The AIADMK alone secured 31.75 per cent of votes.

The DMK in alliance with the BJP and other parties fielded candidates in 167 seats, but could win only 27 seats though it secured 29.19 per cent of votes.

Allies in both the fronts had declared they were not interested in sharing power in the event of their combines failing to secure simple majority on their own, though political pundits refuse to rule out such possibility. ''Under no circumstances, the MDMK will join the government,'' Party General secretary Vaiko had said. Similarly, PMK Founder Leader S Ramadoss also said his party would not join the government.

Much before the elections were announced, Congress firebrand leader and Union Minister E V K S Elangovan demanded share in power in the event of DPA victory, but he was effectively silenced by the DMK.

''With a fierce contest on the cards, the possibility of Tamil Nadu heading for a coalition for the first time since 1957 Assembly elections cannot be ruled out,'' a senior politician said.

In the absence of any wave, both the fronts, having very high stakes, have to sweat it out during the elections.

If the AIADMK projects its ''five year achievements,'' effective handling of the devastating tsunami and unprecedented floods, the DMK is expected to focus on the various ''ommissions and commissions'' of the Jayalalithaa Government.

In the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the DPA made a clean sweep bagging 39 seats in the state and the lone seat in the Unionm territory of Pondicherry. But whether history will repeat itself during the Assembly polls is a moot question.

The DPA had lost one of its main allies, the MDMK, to the AIADMK which stunned the DPA by single handedly winning the byelections in Kancheepuram and Gummidipoondi last year. This victory could not be dismissed as an insignificant achievement, say political experts.


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