The disunited colours of Tamilnadu politics

By T S Sudhir

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s health portfolio clearly wasn’t concerned with keeping the DMK-Congress alliance in the pink of health. It is obvious the wily politician from Jammu & Kashmir deliberately kept shifting the line of actual control in the DMK-Congress marriage. He knew it would upset Dr Muthuvel Karunanidhi. It did.

In the past decade and a half that the DMK has been part of alliances at the Centre, both with the NDA and the UPA, melodramatic posturing has been part of Karunanidhi’s political DNA, much like his film scripts. This time Gopalpuram decided to walk the talk, resolving that from now, it will only extend issue-based support to 7, Race Course Road. The likes of Dayanidhi Maran, Napoleon and Azhagiri, (who reportedly attended office this week after a good six months), will no longer remain Manmohan’s ministers.

The breakpoint. for the record, was over the Congress saying okay to 60 seats initially, in Chennai, but demanding 63, once Azad landed in Delhi. More than the three extra seats, it was the Congress insistence to choose its constituencies that upset the DMK. Especially, when Karunanidhi wanted it to contest from the same 48 seats it did in 2006 plus a dozen more.

The DMK leadership was livid. In its assessment, the Congress is a party of a few family-propped leaders in Tamilnadu and a non-existent cadre, that was pushing its luck too far. Anna Arivalayam’s decision to sever the seven-year-old alliance received a huge thumbs up from its cadre. Ever since the 2G noose has been tightening around Andimuthu Raju and the needle of suspicion pointed at  other bigwigs in the DMK, the party cadre has been irked by the smug Tamilnadu Congressman.

The Congress too is playing to a plan. The party knows the 2G scam has weakened DMK’s electoral battery and what better opportunity than this to armtwist the ace scriptwriter to make changes in the script and give the Congress more screen space. The intention is to either continue with the alliance on its terms or not to have an electoral tie-up at all.

It is not that Karunanidhi wouldn’t have seen the writing on the wall. He knew when Raja was made a CBI guest and then a resident of Tihar Jail, the adverse radiation emitting from 2G mobile towers will make matters hot in Chennai. He was shown a trailer of that when the offices of Kalaignar TV (a channel that Karunanidhi blessed and set up during the family feud with the Marans and their Sun TV) were searched. Karunanidhi’s wife and daughter Kanimozhi have stakes in the TV channel and the suspicious manner in which it was funded is already in the public domain.

It is clear that four months is a long time in politics. Till November, DMK’s development agenda coupled with money power, muscle power, media power and of course the free television set thrown in as the dessert, was seen as a winning combo to ensure the party’s rising sun, stays risen. Stalin could have then proudly pointed to the CM’s chair and said `My dad’s gift’.

Not any more. Corruption charges, anti-incumbency and most important, the Karunanidhi parivaar’s monopoly over virtually every sunrise sector in Tamilnadu have become crucial  election issues and they could see the 86-year-old walking into his political sunset on Friday the 13th of May.

For instance, the Tamil entertainment industry, whose umblical chord with state politics never snapped, is today entirely controlled by different shafts of the first family and any star, however big, has to toe the line. Those who don’t, find their days as a star spoken of in flashback. Some of the disgruntled stars are now on Jayalalithaa’s side, visibly and some not so visibly.

The DMK has also been hoping that 2G will be an urban issue that the comparatively less educated rural voter will not understand. It could be in for a surprise there. Raja sent to jail on corruption charges, is good enough information for a voter who doesn’t need to then understand what spectrum and the complicated process of auction is all about, to decide who to vote for.

But while the cadre-based DMK is gambling, is the oversmart Congress overplaying its card? The cocky party will do well to remember Bihar@2010. Egged on by Rahul Gandhi, Mom Sonia ordained the Congress will contest all 243 assembly seats on its own. Yes, Laloo-Paswan were decimated but the Congress too ended up with egg on its face with a score of 4/243. Tamilnadu could be Bihar@2011.

Scenario one is that it blinks and goes back to the Karunanidhi household. But the voter has already seen the cracks in the alliance and any number of MK-SG-MMS joint appearances will not impress him. A sureshot recipe for electoral disaster, particularly when the alliance will not work well on the ground.

Here it is to be noted that the Congress-DMK partnership in Tamilnadu was at best frosty, thanks to Karunanidhi’s reluctance to share power at Fort St George. This time, the DMK patriarch reportedly was willing to give at best an unwritten promise that atleast five Congress MLAs will be made ministers if the alliance returned to power.

Scenario two is the break-up of the alliance and the Congress contesting separately. The strategy could include a knock on Kanimozhi’s door by the CBI to damage the DMK’s prospects, already afflicted by different members of the Karunanidhi clan heading different factions within the party. Don’t rule out the CBI being Congress’s partner in these elections.

Scenario three is to climb on to the Jayalalithaa bandwagon. P Chidambaram hinted at that when he remarked (to retract later) in Kancheepuram a couple of weeks ago “If one leaf withers, two leaves will sprout from the same tree”. The fact that two leaves is the AIADMK’s election symbol was not lost on anyone.

Congress leaders privately admit it is Advantage Jayalalithaa now. The lady from Poes Garden has just cast Vijaykanth in her political production, after months of some very hard bargaining from both sides. JJ had asked the Congress to dump the DMK last year. Publicly, the Congress said it and the DMK were fevicolised but knowing how fickle and unfaithful an electoral partner the Congress has been since the birth of the Dravidian parties, you can never rule out a dalliance taking place over untapped phones.

The DMK’s pitch is that JJ is not unblemished either. Charges of corruption have dogged her at every step and this election is likely to see the voter settling for the lesser of the two corrupt parties.

Irrespective of whether it contests with DMK, AIADMK or alone, the Congress wants to be a player in as many seats as possible, and then be part of the power structure in Chennai. It aspires to play kingmaker with many of its young guns – the Vasans, the Karthis – dreaming of being the mini-Kamarajs of 21st century Tamilnadu. The risk of the dream turning a nightmare, however, is real.

Last week, during a visit to Chennai, I saw the city full of posters of P Chidambaram with his face in the middle of a sunflower, with Congress colours. Now that the Congress has shown its true colours, stepping out of the DMK’s rainbow coalition, it has to try and somehow ensure its colours don’t fade in the summer heat of Tamilnadu.



About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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3 Responses to The disunited colours of Tamilnadu politics

  1. Gautam says:

    I see Rahul Gandhi’s hand in this, quite frankly. He was the one who pushed for going alone in Bihar and UP (for Lok Sabha elections). While the risk is high of a Bihar@2010, I think one needs to remember that Bihar and TN scenarios are slightly different. At one level, people in TN are fed-up of both the Dravidian parties and have a desire for trying something new (and that’s why Vijaykanth has gained much ground in the last few years). Two, people in Bihar wanted Nitish back at any costs due to his superb governance after 15 years of Lalu Raj. But TN has somewhat decent development, so people won’t see much difference between DMK and AIADMK. I think Congress should be commended for taking the risk though and trying to tap into people’s desire for something new.

  2. ijswamy says:

    Ideologically , congress and DMK have only one thing in common . IE to stay in power through populist slogan . Nothing more .

  3. Vijay Singh says:

    UPA is a filure second term govt. How come they have given minister posts to those corrupted DMK MPs.

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