For the love of life in power

Rapprochement was inevitable. It was always difficult to see the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) threat to withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and break its partnership with the Congress as more than bluff and brinkmanship. Political compulsions have forced the parties to stay together — or perhaps hang together. The DMK is worried about a heavy defeat to the AIADMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu.

Some of its key leaders face corruption charges and are enmeshed in the 2G spectrum swindle. Out of power in Chennai, battling the Central Bureau of Investigation and the courts, it will need a sympathetic Union government.
As for the Congress, till even a year ago it was thinking aloud about going it alone in Tamil Nadu, and propelling a sort of third front in the state. The impressive participation in elections to the local Youth Congress sent the party’s hopes soaring. However, enthusiasm has ebbed since then. The Youth Congress, far from becoming a platform for meritocratic young politicians, has been carved up between the children of senior Tamil Nadu Congress leaders, all of them trying to jump onto the Rahul Gandhi bandwagon. As a result, should it have gone to elections without the backing of either of the state’s big parties, the Congress could conceivably have been reduced to a 12-15 seat caricature.
It is noteworthy that Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi waited for his rival, J. Jayalalithaa, to announce a seat-sharing arrangement between the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and movie star “Captain” Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party. This contracted the options for the Congress. It made the AIADMK combine truly formidable and lessened Ms Jayalalithaa’s need for the Congress as well as the number of seats she could possibly offer it. As such, the DMK gambled it could scare the Congress into submission.
At the root of the DMK’s politics as well as its problems is its ruling clan. The Karunanidhi family has converted governance to a family enterprise. Crony capitalism — the link between facilitation of business by the government, benefits to specific individuals who may be related to policymakers, and kickbacks, in the form of cash or equity or contracts, to associates of the ruling establishment — is the defining mantra of the DMK’s rule. It has also symbolised the manner in which its ministers have run Union government departments in New Delhi.
In the past five years, Mr Karunanidhi and his motley crew of children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews have gone further. They have developed an all-encompassing stake in the Tamil film industry, for instance. From production to distribution, no aspect of cinema is untouched by the DMK family. The biggest names in Tamil movies — iconic actors and directors — have been forced to accept terms. They have been “permitted” to make films, free of financial obstacles and engineered controversies, only when they have handed over distribution and similar rights to handpicked individuals and companies.
This has had bizarre consequences. The number of Tamil films that have, at least officially, done roaring business and been declared box-office successes and “super-hits” has exploded in the past three or four years. This is not due to some creative genius or once-in-a-generation burst of excellence. Much of it has been triggered by old-fashioned money-laundering. It is understood films running to empty theatres have been given the status of “sold out”. Earnings have been inflated, taxes paid and black money converted to white. The tax returns of some in the DMK patriarch’s extended familial network would be revealing. Those who were ordinary, middle-class doctors a half-decade ago are today film industry tycoons.
There are two implications to all this. First, while it may be convenient in New Delhi and in the national media to focus on just the 2G scandal, the fact is the DMK’s troubles and fears don’t begin and end at the Department of Telecommunications. Should Ms Jayalalithaa sweep the Tamil Nadu elections, then, given the vendetta tradition in the state’s political culture, she could go after the DMK and its leadership. The previous time she did this was in June 2001, when she arrested Mr Karunanidhi himself, naming him as an accused in cases related to Chennai’s “flyover scandal”. The DMK had to appeal to the then Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government for help.
Given this, with the Left parties in Ms Jayalalithaa’s corner and the BJP not likely to come to the aid of a discredited DMK, could Mr Karunanidhi afford to alienate the Congress and the Centre as well?
Second, in playing hardball with the Congress and being fairly open in asking it to bury, to the degree feasible, the telecom scandal, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is adopting a very 2G-centric approach. How comfortable would other stakeholders in the DMK family firm, those not connected to telecom policy and deal-making, be with this?
The telecom scandal is inching closer to Kanimozhi, the youngest and last of Mr Karunanidhi’s children to enter politics. No doubt the DMK supremo loves his daughter. He has promoted her interests since 2007, when he sent her to the Rajya Sabha, out of a sense of both fatherly love and, insiders say, guilt because he felt he had not done as much for Ms Kanimozhi and her mother as he had for his two other wives and their children.
Getting on in years, his political innings drawing to an end, Mr Karunanidhi realised Ms Kanimozhi had to achieve in only a few short years what her half-siblings and cousins had had decades to do. Perhaps this made her factionalists — including the disgraced former telecom minister A. Raja — a trifle reckless. It has trapped Ms Kanimozhi in the 2G controversy and left her father extremely nervous.
However, not everybody in the DMK family has been comfortable with such a single-agenda mission. There are those — some of them DMK ministers in the Manmohan Singh government — who would rather Mr Karunandhi cut his losses, dump Mr Raja and Ms Kanimozhi and try and make the best of a tough election. Caught between competing wings of his family, trying to balance a parent’s emotions with a survivor’s pragmatism, the DMK chief went for broke. Did it get him anywhere?

Ashok Malik can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

Comments

Ashokji, Indeed, a remarkably

Ashokji, Indeed, a remarkably brilliant and matter of fact perspective of the reality that is Tamil Nadu - sadly.

I only wish and pray this family looting of public resources ends by end of May 2011 when they would hopefully have been ousted and adequate retribution befitting crimes committed imparted with diligence and haste.

Wonderful post and I take the liberty to Tweet it.

Thanks.

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