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Spent Cartridges?

Changing political formations leave Seshan and Aiyer stranded

Spent Cartridges?

STRIPPED of their bureaucratic carapaces, T.N. Seshan and Mani Shankar Aiyer are having a hard time dealing with the slings and arrows of realpolitik. Seshan, who sought to ride the Shiv Sena tiger to the Lok Sabha, finds himself unceremoniously dumped. Aiyer, cast adrift from his (Nehru-Gandhi) dynastic moorings, is fighting a lone battle as an independent in Tamil Nadu's Mayiladuthurai constituency which he represented from 1991-96.

Seshan could well reiterate his comment on politics in 1994: "The only party to which I belong is my wife's. Together we have a coalition against the world". The master at doublespeak—once asked if he wanted to be president of India, Seshan replied: "I will not like to be president even of Bhubaneshwar Rotary Club"—got a taste of his own medicine from the Shiv Sena. In 1997, when Seshan made a pitch for Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Shiv Sena supported him. Nobody else did and he eventually withdrew (to universal relief), but was encouraged to suppose that the party would one fine day give him a ticket for the Lok Sabha poll.

His excellent personal equation with Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray ought to have guaranteed a Sena ticket for him from Mumbai North-Central, a constituency with a substantial South Indian (particularly Tamilian) electorate. Especially with sitting Dalit MP Narayan Athavale not keen on contesting. But the Tiger was to change his stripes. After much dilly-dallying, Thackeray eventually gave the ticket to Athavale.

However, with Seshan in mind, he kept the Khed (a Congress stronghold in western Maharashtra) and Washim (Vidarbha) seats pending until the last moment. Seshan himself was not interested in contesting outside Mumbai. So the Thane seat, which has a sitting Sena MP, was also kept pending. Finally, Thackeray decided that no seat was "safe" enough for his pal and it was announced that the Sena would not give the feisty ex-bureaucrat a ticket from the state. Thackeray did offer him one of the 36 seats the Sena is contesting outside Maharashtra, but Seshan declined. The rather vague promise of a Rajya Sabha seat was the sole consolation.

The stand of the BJP, which at the very outset categorically stated that it did not want to give Seshan a seat, was vindicated. The Congress, which had hinted it might accommodate Seshan, did not follow up on that. At the end of the day, there were no takers for the man who once titillated Parliament with his one-line advertisement for Safal peas: "I chomp politicians".

Unlike Seshan, Aiyer has decided against craven withdrawal from the fray although reports suggest the results may be scarcely less ignominious. Having burnt his boats with the Congress and the BJP and getting no support from Congress rebel Mamata Banerjee, Aiyer hasn't a raft to stand on.

 The die-hard Rajiv Gandhi loyalist parted ways with the Congress, upset with its failure to tie up with AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu (or rather, with its failure to prevent her tie-up with the BJP). No sooner had Sonia Gandhi announced she would campaign for the Congress than he described her decision as "half-cocked". He threw in his lot with Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, whom he hailed as an "undisputed leader". At a rally kicking off the Trinamul campaign, he was announced as one of its 10 candidates and was hoping for a ticket from South Calcutta. It was not to be. Banerjee decided against experimenting with a non-Bengali.

She then suggested Darjeeling. Aiyer was keen on the seat and knocked on GNLF leader Subhash Ghising's door for support. He spent two days harping on his role in bringing about the GNLF accord (as Rajiv's aide), but was roundly rebuffed. Under pressure from her storm troopers, Banerjee was by then reluctant to give Aiyer even a general seat. Left high and dry, he couldn't—unlike former colleague P.R.Kumaramangalam—approach the BJP whose leaders he has consistently attacked in his writings. His subsequent meeting with Sonia proved fruitless—after all, he had expressed his "deep disappointment" in her.

In a huff, Aiyer declared Mam-ata "did not know the worth of a person" and went off to file his papers as an independent from Mayiladuthurai. He will now face TMC stalwart S. Krishnamurthy and PMK nominee C. Arulmozhi.However, Mayiladuthurai does not seem to be reciprocating Aiyer's interest. While Aiyer had succeeded in convincing some of Delhi's businessmen to invest in his constituency, they had all chosen the seafood industry. A consequent Supreme Court judgement ordering closure of the units has nullified the efforts. Now, regarded as a foreigner (who speaks accented Tamil) and bereft of the Nehru-Gandhi family's patronage—which had catapulted him into politics in the first place—Aiyer appears to have got his comeuppance.

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