By T S Sudhir
Parent-teacher meetings during my days in school used to take place on the second Saturday of every month. In the corridors of power in Indraprastha, a working Monday is more convenient specially when the parent is a powerful donor to the school.
So 3rd May it was when Dr Muthuvel Karunanidhi came to meet UPA school prinicipal Sonia Gandhi and class teacher Dr Manmohan Singh, accompanied among others, by son Muthuvel Karunanidhi Azhagiri, who was moved to this elite school in Delhi last year, to take up the subject of chemicals and fertilisers. But whether Sonia and the PM’s grievances about Azhagiri were discussed or not, no one knows.
The complaint is that Azhagiri has not been coming to school. Meira Kumar is also upset with Azhagiri as are several other students, who complain that not only he is absent from class, he even gets other friends to do his `House’ work. Yet no one pulls him up, thanks to him being his Papa’s son.
Jokes apart, I sympathise with Azhagiri. The man is obviously feeling like a fish out of water in Lutyens’ Delhi. The pressure of answering questions in Parliament in Hindi or English, languages he is not comfortable with, puts so much pressure on him that he runs away to all sorts of places, including Australia.
An interesting nugget of statistic on him, dug out courtesy the RTI, reveals Azhagiri was airborne once every three days between May and December 2009. During that period, he made 61 domestic flights to or from Chennai and Madurai. No, his political foes don’t envy him accumulating so many frequent flyer points. They are more keen on cutting short his flight to Fort St. George.
Article 120 of the Constitution recognises only English and Hindi as the official languages in Parliament. But due to language barrier, Azhagiri had sought permission from the Speaker to reply to questions in Tamil in the House.
“En Tamil Kural Paralumanrathil Nitchayam olikkum (My Tamil voice will definitely be heard in Parliament),” said Azhagiri in Madurai in January. But once in Delhi, he asks his junior minister Srikant Jena to answer questions in Parliament.
You cannot complain that Azhagiri is not an accommodating kind. He changed his spelling from Azhagiri to Alagiri, for the benefit of the Dilliwallas, who cannot roll their tongue to say `zha’ the way Tamilians and Malayalees can. But for a politician who cut his teeth (and a lot more, his critics would add) in the heat and dust of Madurai politics, asking him to handle chemicals and fertilizers was like a cruel joke. The only good use of the portfolio, some of his smart supporters made, was with pasting posters of Azhagiri as C.M (Chemicals ministers), implying that it is a matter of time before he became the real CM too.
He has also been sprinkling the right fertilisers to reap fruits in Karunanidhi’s garden. His biography is titled `Appavukku Tappadu Piranda Pillai” (son is just like father). The only problem is Azhagiri’s brother Stalin also feels the same !
The next one year will be an acid test for Azhagiri. The 60-year-old lords over southern Tamil Nadu for the DMK and he need to deliver a majority there to enable dad to have one last Kodak moment with the Governor at the swearing-in ceremony. For Karunanidhi, this will be his last election as chief minister but a victory would only make his headache worse. He will then need to settle the succession issue once and for all. Reported plans to anoint brother Stalin as CM in June were scuttled by Azhagiri who announced he will not accept anyone other than his dad as his leader. Bluntly put, it meant Azhagiri telling Karunanidhi, “Papa, don’t preach.”
All this while Jayalalithaa waits in the wings, watching the family soap opera. An AIADMK triumph would see the DMK’s rising `sons’ hurtling towards a sunset, something Karunanidhi would dread. He would hope the voters of Tamil Nadu settle the issue for him. If he wins, his decision will then largely be governed by how the DMK fares in the regions the two brothers are responsible for. And realising the high stakes, this race for the top job would only make this assembly election in Tamil Nadu, the most bitter, the most combative and worse, will see the worst misuse of money and muscle power. It will be as much about DMK vs AIADMK as about Stalin vs Azhagiri.
My friend and namesake, ace cartoonist Sudhir Tailang, drew a brilliant cartoon on Sunday, depicting Karunanidhi’s kahaani ghar ghar ki as `Karuna’s 2G problem’. The problem for the CM is that like a new mobile in the market, his family politics also has a `dhamaake ka signal’ that shows no signs of low battery as of now.
You can also find T S Sudhir’s blogs at http://www.thesouthreports.com