Tamilnadu’s pre-election TV war

BY ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 10/03/2006
When Vaiko switched camps Sun TV thoroughly exposed him with its arsenal of file pictures from 2002, of his arrest under POTA.



S R Ramanujan


Even before the battle of ballots could begin on the streets of Idli-Dosa land for the state assembly elections to be held on May 8, war has already broken out on the small screen. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazagam (MDMK) chief Vaiko’s walk-out from the seven-party alliance of the Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA) led by octogenarian leader M Karunanidhi, provided the much needed initial momentum for both Sun TV and Jaya TV to kick-start their screen campaign. While Sun TV termed Vaiko’s exit as a "great betrayal" and an example for "political opportunism", Jaya TV went joyously overboard, showing that "great moment of history" when Jayalalithaa greeted Vaiko, whom she incarcerated for 19 months under POTA, with both holding a copy of the seat-sharing agreement for the benefit of television cameras. Jaya was understandably brimming with joy as she was able to break the formidable alliance of Karunanidhi’s, which made a clean sweep of the 2004 Parliamentary poll, winning all the 39 seats. 


The credit for predicting the possibility of Vaiko deserting the DPA camp goes to the Tamil magazines. Magazines like "Reporter", "Junior Vikatan", "Tamilan Express" "Indian Reporter" and assorted small magazines came out with cover stories even by the end of January suggesting that the break-up was imminent and that the number of seats offered by MK would decide the positioning of Vaiko in the battlefield. Most of these magazines’ staple diet is sensationalism, but their political reading is more or less accurate. They have been writing about the goings-on within the DMK and MDMK for weeks together. The bone of contention between the leaders of these two parties is MK’s son Stalin. Vaiko walked out of the DMK years ago to have his own "shop" only on the issue of MK’s ambition to anoint his son for the top post. Vaiko has been consistent in his opposition to the family politics of Karunanidhi but Jaya’s political style made him stick to DPA. For Karunanidhi, it is now or never for the "empowerment" of his son. That is why the May polls are crucial for this political family.


Even before the election dates were announced by the Election Commission, billboards of MK with his son Stalin behind appeared throughout the state making the line of succession in the party known to everyone. That was the reason MK was sending out messages that even if the alliance wins, it will not be a coalition government, but a DMK government supported by allies from outside. He knows that in a coalition, a greenhorn like Stalin will be pushed out by leaders like Dr Ramadoss of PMK, though the latter had ensured a better place in the Union cabinet for his own son Dr Anbumani Ramadoss. In the absence of MK, there is no reason why his grandsons with all the clout of the Sun media empire should plump for Stalin. Dayanidhi Maran may also be a political novice, but he has the experience of a Union minister for nearly 2 years, while Stalin has not seen anything beyond Chennai Corporation.


But I have digressed from the television war. Vaiko’s desertion came at a wrong time for the DMK alliance, especially when it was holding its mega convention in its stronghold Tiruchi. Sun TV however took up the battle and thoroughly exposed Vaiko with its arsenal of file pictures from 2002, when Vaiko was arrested under POTA as soon as he landed in India from the United States. Vaiko’s byte ran like this: "This repression has been unleashed by the fascist Jayalalithaa government using the POTA. We will mobilize public support to throw out this fascist regime". This was followed by the clippings of his padayatra campaigning against AIADMK government, besides his criticism of the  tsunami and flood relief measures of the Jaya government. There were also bytes of Vaiko asking "How can a murderer be the CM of the state?"


Minutes after his decision to quit the DPA, Vaiko’s huge cut-out that was put up at the Tiruchi convention along with the cut out of Sonia Gandhi, was dismantled and the DMK workers started rubbishing the dismantled cut out. When the cameras zoomed in on this, cameramen were beaten up by the DMK workers for which MK had to apologise. How can Jaya TV let such an opportunity go unexploited?  The channel went to town with these visuals. Jaya was not content with the exit of MDMK alone from DPA. A propaganda campaign began suggesting that unrest from within continues to haunt the DPA and some more parties might leave as well.


As if to help Jaya, the Congress, which is in the wilderness in the state for nearly four decades, has added to the confusion stating that Vaiko, a la Ramvilas Paswan, continues to be part of the UPA, while MK was categorical that Vaiko had to be kept out of the UPA at the Centre. Interestingly, Vaiko is yet to open his party’s account in the T Nadu Assembly though he has been winning some seats to the Lok Sabha whenever his party contested as part of one alliance or the other. His vote bank is estimated to be around 5%, that too in the southern districts of T Nadu. That makes MK breathe easy. But Jaya’s calculation is that Vaiko’s decision will have a demoralizing effect on the other side. So, Jaya TV has gone on an exercise to embarrass Congress by recalling those days when DMK launched a murderous attack on Indira Gandhi in Madurai soon after the latter lifted Emergency. It is also a reply to Sun-TV’s campaign against Vaiko with his old footage attacking Jaya. Vaiko was really pushed into a corner when he tried to defend his decision saying that POTA was a Central Act and Jaya had nothing to do with that. This is not the end of the story.  This television war will continue till May 8 and why, even beyond that!


contact: s_ramanujan9@yahoo.co.in




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