MADRAS, India, Jan. 19, Reuter: Femmes Fatales from the Movies, a scriptwriter and a Prime Minister with film star looks have given vital elections to Tamil Nadu’s state assembly an air of melodrama worthy of the prolific Indian cinema.

Scriptwriter Muthuvel Karunanidhi, whose party is the frontrunners in Saturday’s vote in the Southern state, might even consider the scenario too farfetched.

The wife and former companion of the late M.G. Ramachandran the star always known as MGR who turned his Tamil cinema roles depicting Gods into a dominating political career in the State lead factions of his party at bitter odds.

MGR’s wife Janaki leads one faction of his all India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kahzagam (Aiadmk). His former companion and costar Jayalalitha Jayaram leads another.

Both are hoping to take up his role as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, each claiming to be his political heir in campaigns that feature neonlit posters of MGR Jayalalitha always speaks against a movie poster of her and MGR as Gods.

Into the middle of the glitter steps handsome Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, by far the greatest political asset of the nationally ruling Congress (I) party that has not won sole power in the populous Tamil State for 20 years.

The cinema Razammataz has captured even Congress, which has spent vast amounts of money on Indian movie style campaign videos in which young people in Idyllic rural settings sing the party’s praises.

So great has it been that India’s reigning film pinup queen, Sridevi, came and went almost unnoticed as she campaigned for her father, a Congress Candidate.

But the movie dominated campaign masks a deadly serious business, both for Gandhi and his

Opponents on the national stage who are trying to unite to topple him in general elections due by the end of the year.

For Gandhi, whose government has been rocked by bribery scandals and whose party suffered serious reverses in by-elections last June, the Tamil Nadu poll is a crucial test of his vote getting ability.

For the nascent national opposition, the election is a chance to get a grip through regional allies on the state’s 35 million votes,

The Tamil Nadu Campaign has made state elections in Nagaland and Mizoram in the northeast on Saturday look dull by comparison, although the results could influence the fate of dormant tribal insurgencies.

In both states, where Gandhi campaigned on Wednesday, former guerrillas are fighting the elections with threats of resuming separatist campaigns should they be defeated.

But Gandhi knows that Tamil Nadu is the focus of national attention and returned to the southern state on Thursday for a last campaign swing.

He has campaigned with the practiced ease of an old trouper, embracing old women, patting the cheeks of blushing teenagers and cradling crippled children.

But Congress sources say he is probably losing the battle to turn the tide against Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMZ).

Gandhi’s best hope was that no party would win a clear majority and that Congress would then be able to form a coalition with one of the weaker contestants, a senior party source said.

Some Congress officials are pushing Gandhi to call an early national election if Congress does well in Tamil Nadu, political sources said.

But Gandhi has told close as SO societies he considers early elections destabilizing, arguing that in India’s fractious politics one early poll would encourage the opposition to use any excuse to try and bring down the government, the sources said.

Article extracted from this publication >>  January 27, 1989