| Vaiko and Jayalalithaa before the joint news conference in Chennai on Saturday. (PTI)
Tiruchirappalli, March 4: The DMK’s seven-party coalition fractured weeks before the Assembly polls with MDMK chief Vaiko today walking over to Jayalalithaa, the chief minister who had once locked him up as a terrorist.
Vaiko, whose seat talks with DMK chief Karunanidhi had got stuck over the past few days, announced Jayalalithaa had given him 35 of the 234 seats. He added he would continue to be part of the United Progressive Alliance at the Centre.
At the DMK’s state conference here, party leaders shrugged and said they had read the signs long ago, but angry workers pulled down Vaiko’s cutouts and made a bonfire of them. Karunanidhi declared he would move for Vaiko’s ouster from the central alliance.
Over 300 miles away in Chennai, sitting beside the woman who had forced him to spend 19 months in Vellore prison as a Prevention of Terrorism Act detainee, Vaiko told reporters this was one of his “finest moments in Tamil Nadu politics”.
“We will forget the past and look to the future,” a beaming Jayalalithaa said at a joint news conference at her residence. Asked how it felt having a terror detainee as an ally, she replied: “We are happy that we are new friends.”
A party with four MPs but no seats in the state legislature, the MDMK can help the ADMK in 25 to 30 constituencies in the south where both are strong. Vaiko also enjoys popularity in some western districts, such as Coimbatore.
Vaiko, who had quit the DMK in 1993 protesting against “family rule” and formed his own party, had in recent months grown more and more uneasy as Karunanidhi openly promoted his son M.K. Stalin as his political heir.
Two weeks ago, Vaiko met the Prime Minister in New Delhi, triggering speculation that he would quit the state coalition but continue in the UPA.
But last week, he and Karunanidhi patched up and declared their alliance would continue. They, however, couldn’t agree on seat sharing.
The turning point apparently came yesterday when the DMK chief told reporters here that his final offer was 22 seats ' three less than what Vaiko wanted.
After one last attempt at a deal with Karunanidhi over the phone last night, Vaiko turned up at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Gardens residence, bouquet in hand, at 11.45 am this morning.
The MDMK chief had first teamed up with Jayalalithaa, as part of an alliance that included the BJP, in 1998. He broke away next year and fought the Lok Sabha polls together with the DMK. But just before the 2001 state polls, he quit the alliance following a seats wrangle, rather like this time, and contested alone.
After being freed from Vellore jail, he again joined hands with the DMK, which had backed him during his detention, and campaigned for the alliance in the 2004 Assembly polls.
“He had made up his mind (to quit the alliance) as early as January 18,” Karunanidhi told reporters. “The decision was merely formalised today.”
The DMK conference asked the Centre not to allow FDI in retail, the print media or defence productions.