DMK, the Dad, Moms and kin party

By T S Sudhir

If you are a DMK leader of any consequence, you will `land’ in trouble in Tamilnadu. The Jayalalithaa government is going after land grabbers with a vengeance and it is no surprise that a majority of them owe allegiance to the DMK. Karunanidhi is crying foul, accusing Amma of unleashing political vendetta. He has good reason to feel cornered. After `grabbing’ the land of Tamilnadu from him on May 13, now to accuse his partymen of grabbing land is a double whammy, isn’t it?

Wonder if Kalaignar feels inspired to write poetry these days. Because if he does, it will only reflect the agony and the pain he is going through in the sunset years of his political career. He has been giving expression to his outpouring of grief frequently though. Like when his darling daughter Kanimozhi was sent behind bars. Like when son Stalin was taken into preventive custody. Yes, you guessed it right. DMK for the patriarch is just an extension branch of his family tree. It could well stand for `Dad, Moms and Kin’.

In many senses, Karunanidhi brought it upon himself. By turning a blind eye to the power struggle within his different households, by postponing crucial decisions on the succession battle, feeling cocky after the 2009 Lok Sabha results, blatant corruption and muscle power and so on. Which is why when Raja’s 2G expedition brought the army of CBI to the DMK doorstep, Karunanidhi’s game was up. The DMK sunrise was no longer as stirring a cup as Nescafe Sunrise. But like the coffee, the election results delivered instant justice.

Where does the party go from here? By targetting police officers like Jaffer Sait, who was the eyes and ears of the DMK regime and key lieutenants of Azhagiri in south Tamilnadu, Jayalalithaa is tightening the screws smartly. Having learnt that voters do not appreciate highhanded behaviour, she is eschewing the temptation to do a 2001 midnight swoop on Karunanidhi kind of operation this time. The strategy clearly is to go after the key men who provide Azhagiri, Stalin and the Marans with the oxygen. Choke the air supply to make their hearts skip more than a beat, seems to be the gameplan.

JJ is still enjoying her honeymoon with the people of Tamilnadu. And what helps her crusade against land grabbers is that corruption is an issue is agitating the country and the DMK is seen as a party that particularly benefitted by charging itself with all its power.


My sense also is that JJ’s `Discharge Muthuvel Karunanidhi’ campaign may eventually help Stalin in the leadership race within the DMK. His elder brother Azhagiri, thanks to the company he keeps, is more likely to face the heat in Madurai and suburbs. With Kanimozhi and the Marans neutralised by the law of the land, Stalin has the space to make his political moves. His decision to lead the anti-government protests from the front, I believe, was the first of those. In days to come, Tamilnadu may see more of Stalin as he `grabs’ the baton from his indecisive father to pitch himself as JJ’s rival in years to come.

Officially at least, age is on Stalin’s side. Remember, even though he is a grandfather, the 58-year-old is still the DMK youth wing secretary ! He has been in politics long enough to know that impatience does not work. Amma could do to him what the late MGR did to Karunanidhi. The DMK warmed the opposition benches as long as MGR was alive. The challenge now is for Stalin to think out of the box. That will be key since he knows his rival is already in the ring to box him.



By T S Sudhir

“There was no alternative to crackdown at Ramlila grounds.” : Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India 

 By ducking under TINA, Dr Singh let himself down in the eyes of millions of his admirers. And suddenly the epithets like `weak’, `lameduck’, `powerless’ that are thrown at him, are beginning to stick.

For close to 36 hours, the country waited for the top executive in the country to respond to what appeared an unnecessary act of barbarism, captured on national television. He reacted but sadly only after India was shocked by still pictures of Rajbala Malik. The 51-year-old has slipped into coma at a Delhi hospital, after being at the receiving end of Delhi Police’s `With you, for you, always’ treatment.
It was as if those who planned this midnight drill for the Delhi Police thought of how “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan will awake to life and freedom.” Freedom, I suppose, from the `blackmail’ tactics of civil society that by its frequent pangs of hunger, wants the government to become a puppet of the people, by the people and for the people !

But my heart goes out to Dr Manmohan Singh. The learned economist, credited with ushering in the liberalisation era in the 90s, is now presiding over a regime that is going back to the license raj. Where the men in power decide if anyone has the licence to question them.
I don’t envy Dr Singh. He certainly has the toughest job in the country. A job that offers few perks. He presides over a government whose remote control is operated from 10, Janpath. And there are murmurs that lawyer-turned-ministers M/s Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal have become a law unto themselves. Worse, Manmohan has to defend his government’s darkest hour. The financial wizard that he is, he should know this is a rank bad investment and that he should exit and cut his losses.

The Prime minister has only to look in the direction of Tihar Jail to realise that the prison is fast turning into an `India Habitat Centre’ for his political friends. And with 2G showing no signs of showing low battery, corruption as an issue does not look like it will disappear from the political menu card.

The problem is MMS does not even throw tantrums, a la Atal Behari Vajpayee. The former Prime minister, needled more than necessary by the L K Advani – Venkaiah Naidu duo, showed them their place with his “Na tire na retire” googly. Here, Dr Singh is not even making an attempt to show the nation his real face. Is `Singh is King’ as spindoctors sometimes make him out to be? I feel as if the men around him have forced him to wear boxing gloves and thrown him into the ring, when he has not even warmed up for the event. It hardly seems likely that a man of Dr Singh’s demeanour would order 1000 (or was it 5000?) armed policemen to go berserk over a group of 50000 `sleeping masses’ in the dead of night.

What makes Dr Singh’s position even more difficult is that he has friends like Manish Tewari and Digvijay Singh to defend him. Diggy Raja thinks his tu tu main main with Baba `thug’ Ramdev and anti-RSS diatribe will win him the elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Tewari, deciding offence is the best form of defence, conjures up a magnificent tale of how these 50000 sleeping men and women were plotting to destabilise the government. He is perhaps swayed by the high-decibel snoring by a majority of those 50000 to liken the situation to that on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was brought down by kar sevaks. And finally, the icing on the cake, is when he reminds the nation of those who were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. So Mr Tewari, was Saturday night an Abbottabad for 30 January 1948?

Baba Ramdev may not have the cleanest of records. If he is not, raid his ashrams, interrogate him, arrest him if needed. But to hold that information in your briefcase and use that as a blackmailing tool, is not something India expects from leaders of Pranab Mukherjee’s stature. And if picking up Ramdev was the intention, why punish 50000 innocent men, women and children. Wasn’t it to send a message that support these representatives of civil society at your own peril?

I have always dismissed Advani’s snipe at Dr Singh, calling him a weak prime minister, as a case of sour grapes. After Saturday night, I however, think he has a point. It is high time, Manmohan Singh wakes up and smells the coffee. Because a large part of India after Saturday night, is wondering if Iss raat ki subah nahin.

Kalaignar defeats Kalaignar

By T S Sudhir

Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s forte as an ace scriptwriter was social films. The most notable among them, `Parasakthi’, starring the late Sivaji Ganesan, in 1952. That film was seen as the first attempt by the Dravidian movement to use media for propaganda. Karunanidhi’s scripts propagated the socialist and rationalist ideals of the Dravidian movement, with dollops of what was very controversial content for those times. While `Parasakthi’ criticised Brahminism, films like `Panam’ and `Thangarathnam’, written by Karunanidhi, focussed on widow remarriage, untouchability and abolition of the zamindari system.

More recently, ahead of the World Classical Tamil Conference last year, Karunanidhi penned its official theme song `Semmozhiyaana Tamizh Mozhiyaam‘, that was set to tune by A R Rahman at his request.

Today the music has gone out of Karuna’s life, with just about everything out of sync. The former chief minister who does not even qualify to be Leader of Opposition, has become the butt of jokes. Not just in Tamilnadu, but across the country. His party, that bit the dust last week in a humiliating defeat, is parodied for being the embodiment of all that is corrupt in the political system. His ministers and leaders are deemed to be blackmailers in white veshtis. His son Azhagiri is accused of having converted bribing voters into an art form, that unfortunately did not find gallery space with the voters in 2011, unlike in 2009. His two families are seen as being constantly at loggerheads, the kind that would give the family soaps on Sun TV a run for their TRPs. And his darling daughter Kanimozhi’s arrest, has been like the last nail in Karunanidhi’s political coffin.

“If you have a daughter and if she is punished for no mistake, how will you feel? That’s the way I feel,” was Dad Karunanidhi’s reaction to Kani’s journey to Tihar Jail No. 6.
Contrary to what the poll results say, it is not Jayalalitha who defeated Karunanidhi. Kalaignar defeated Kalaignar. Literally so as well, since Kalaignar TV is facing allegations of being the recipient of 214 crore rupees in kickbacks from the 2G spectrum scam.

I am told, when Sharat Kumar was chosen to head Kalaignar TV, Karunanidhi’s confidant Arcot Veeraswamy went to Sharat’s home at 3 am to tell him that Kalaignar wants to see him right away. 4 am is when Sharat was ushered into Karuna’s room where the DMK supremo blessed him and asked him to proceed with work on the channel immediately. Sharat was to confide in a friend that he wasn’t even asked nor given a choice to say yes or no. When the DMK issues a decree, no questions are to be asked.

Karuna was then a man in a hurry, eager to show his ambitious grandnephews, Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi, their place. He named the channel after himself and the logo was also the rising son. As Daya came down the echelons of power, Kani took the escalator to the corridors of influence in Delhi. With his glares on, the patriarch displayed an inability to look beyond a closed circle of family members and their loved ones.

Karunanidhi, the husband and father, defeated Karunanidhi, the DMK chief, the day he shed his socialist ideals and became a family man. When the focus of a man, walking into his sunset, becomes the content of his will, there is little willpower to spend the sunset years generating goodwill through his actions. The DMK, attracting silly jokes like `Delhi Money for Karunanidhi’, was no longer the grand Dravidian outfit that propounded the values of Periyar and Annadurai. It had got reduced to a Karunanidhi family branch.

With two sons at loggerheads over control of the state, a wife with dreams for her daughter, grandnephews who saw politics as a huge business opportunity, family members who control virtually every enterprise in Tamilnadu, Karuna’s parivaar was strangulating the average Tamilian who just wanted relief from the claustrophobia. The Tamizh voter, fed up with Jayalalithaa’s authoritarian ways, was happy to go along with Karuna in 2006 but found the family coming on too strong for anyone’s liking.

Where does Karuna go from here? People like to call him the master of the craft of politics but my guess is that his bag of tricks is now empty. He himself has said the people have given him rest, perhaps meaning, he does not intend to play an active role any longer. His family has reduced a great leader to a caricature. A man surrounded by so many relatives but deep inside, he is lonely. The man who fought all his life against friend-turned-foe M G Ramachandran and later arch rival Jayalalithaa, will unfortunately be remembered by today’s generation only for how 2G drained out his political battery.

(pic courtesy :

A tale of two octogenarians

By T S Sudhir
It was darkness at noon. Muthuvel Karunanidhi must have found the world a much darker place, from behind his glares, on Friday, the 13th. It must have dawned on the veteran politician that in his sunset years he is going to see the rising sun, and the stars among his scions, eclipsed.

“The people of Tamilnadu have given me rest,” was his terse reaction to the verdict of the people of Tamilnadu. Karuna will now have to turn his attention to the problems within his 2G. The radiation from the telecom scandal threatens to adversely affect several members of his families and nothing would make Jayalalithaa more happy than to make Karuna hear `You are in queue, please wait’ whenever he dials P for Power !

But while Karunanidhi put up a pathetic performance, fellow octogenarian V S Achuthanandan batted like Sachin Tendulkar. And just like the Master Blaster who has seen his team lose even when he hits a century, VS saw his team lose by a whisker. And yet he was Kerala’s Man of the Match.

Congress leaders are now in awe of the VS factor and admit how they blundered by underestimating his connect with the people of Kerala. How they just assumed all the voters would repeat their 2009 performance. How they thought they could target the LDF’s Lavalins and Lotterys and expect the electorate to be blind to the CWGs, Adarshs and 2G.

Both these political veterans, manufactured in the 1920s, are masters of the craft of the politics. Both were seen to be fighting their last big political battle. Both were fighting with the back to the wall. The big difference though was that one was seen to personify corruption and the other was seen as a crusader against corruption.

Karuna made a political blunder. His became the politics of blackmail when he refused to buckle and appeared brazen. VS, even when thrown out of the politburo or initially denied the ticket to contest the election, played the martyr. One reason why the CPI(M) won 45 seats, seven more than the Congress and just three of VS’s ministers lost their election.

Not even being eligible to be Leader of Opposition is a huge loss of face for the Tamilian, whereas the Malayalee has walked away with his head held high. The mistake that Karunanidhi made was to put family above the people of Tamilnadu. VS scored by putting the people above his own party.

Karuna and family thought money and muscle power would mean they could repeat 2009. But this time the people of Tamilnadu were smarter. We don’t really know how much money was taken but the votes went to the two leaves. Perhaps even Rajinikanth voted for his neighbour in Poes Garden. Et tu Brutus Rajini. Did he tell Karuna, “I am Chitti, the Robot. I do what the people want.” 

Kerala can look forward to mid-term elections because there is no way a two-seat majority will survive the pulls and pressures of coalition politics till 2016. In Tamilnadu, JJ may not do anything reckless like lifting Karuna at midnight but will ensure the scriptwriter’s family has its tryst with destiny.

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.


Raja faces power cut

By T S Sudhir 

Junior Telecom minister in the UPA government, Sachin Pilot, recently ordered a nationwide testing of radiation emitted by mobile phone towers atop buildings throughout India. He could have as well begun at home. For UPA II continues to be unmindful of how its health and image are suffering as a result of the harmful radiation emitting from a cell tower called Andimuthu Raja.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in its report submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has reportedly nailed Raja for gross mismanagement in the 2G spectrum allocation which resulted in a loss of 170,700 crore rupees to the country. The report says Raja ignored the advice of the finance ministry, law ministry and the Telecom Commission while allocating the spectrum.

Raja for his part, walks and talks brusquely in the corridors of power, claiming he is as white and clean as his veshti.

“I did everything legitimate, everything is on record,” he says. Indeed, that his signature is recorded on every paper, is proof that all is not well.

But despite the Opposition, the Supreme court and CAG raising a stink over the magnitude of the alleged scam, the Congress has taken refuge in the case being “subjudice”. It adds that while allocating portfolios is the PM’s prerogative, the Congress also has to respect the coalition dharma. That makes it clear that while Singh is king in South Block, Raja takes his orders from Shehenshah Karunanidhi.

And it is in the court of Kalaignar in CIT colony and Gopalapuram in Chennai, that the case of Raja will be judged. So far, everytime the Congress has tried an out-of-court settlement on Raja, the DMK has trashed it. The latest disclosures will be its big test, especially as they come just a few months before Tamil Nadu goes to polls.

Sensing blood, rival AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa has already moved in for the kill. She has asked all Indians to send a telegram to President Pratibha Patil, demanding Raja’s ouster from the throne at Sanchar Bhavan.

Drawing an interesting comparision, she points out that in 90 years (1857-1947), the Britishers looted India to the extent of 900 crore rupees, at today’s rupee value. The 2G Spectrum scam, perpetrated by a few signatures by Raja, outclassed the British loot by 200 times, says Amma.

But Raja is not Jayalalithaa’s real target. By putting pressure on the DMK-Congress CUG (closed user group), Amma wants to disconnect Raja and DMK as the Congress’ service provider in Tamil Nadu. JJ has made some subtle and some not-so-subtle overtures to the Congress, and for a change, Sonia Gandhi can indeed afford to choose which Dravidian horse to ride on.

By showing the door to Ashok Chavan in Maharashtra, the Congress hopes Karunanidhi will take the hint and remove the protective hand around his Dalit poster boy. Not that it will be easy for the DMK chief, given that a powerful part of his family, backs Raja.

Raja, otherwise used to the cool climes of the Nilgiris (he is MP from Nilgiris), knows with Parliament in session, the heat will be on him. Raja’s 2G spectrum footprint has got India and Tamilnadu warming and that could cost both the Congress and the DMK very dear electorally.

But then co-opting the larger public into positions of compromise by offering them goodies like never before, is a craft the DMK has been finetuning to high degrees of proficiency over the years. That is of course another story.

The spectrum for today is narrowed down to a minister who in a futuristic ministry wanted to be Raja Hindustani. Going by the number of knives that are out for him, it looks like when the going gets tough, the tough will have to be asked to go.


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