Thursday, May 17, 2007

TN's first family slips

Tamil Nadu has seen an eventful two weeks. On May 9, alleged supporters of M.K. Azhagiri, the chief minister's son, attacked the office of the Dinakaran, which set in motion a clash of two empires - between the clout of a party and a media conglomerate. I imagine people standing in tea shops all across the state breathlessly debating the fate of the state's first family in politics.
The timing of the attack was bad for the DMK. It came on the eve of the celebrations of chief minister M. Karunanidhi's 50 years in the Assembly. Just two days after the attack, UPA's leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and Laloo Prasad Yadav had to sit a few yards away from the alleged orchestrator of the Madurai violence, M.K. Azhagiri, the chief minister's son.
My friend, who was watching the coverage on Raj TV, which the DMK has said would telecast party programmes in future, remarked: "No wonder Dayanidhi Maran is not on stage today. Azhagiri is sitting with a knife under his belt." He was joking, of course. But that's what most people think of Azhagiri - that he is the black sheep in the MK's family. The actually reason for Maran's absence was that the chief minister had declined to meet him.
It is easy to blow this issue out of proportion, but at the end of the day a few significant things did happen. The DMK has ensured that Maran is thrown out of the prestigious IT and Communication ministry, something that was unimaginable prior to the attack in which two computer engineers and a security guard were killed. It has asked Maran why action should not be taken against him, an allegation that Maran has said hurt him badly.
After holidaying in Ooty for a couple of days, Maran summoned a press conference in Chennai and hit back. He said someone had take advantage of the attack on Dinakaran
to remove him from his post. He clarified that he would never go against the chief minister.
The attack was prompted by a survey jointly done by Dinakaran and AC-Neilson and published in the paper. The survey showed that 70% people favoured M.K.Stalin, the CM's other son and local administration minister, as against only 2% for Azhagiri. There would have been nothing wrong in publishing a survey like that except that Kalanidhi Maran, Dayanidhi's brother, owns both Sun TV and Dinakaran, media organisations that have propped up the DMK in the state.
Even journalists who have condemned the attack would be hard put to see the attack on Dinakaran as an attack on the media. Most have preferred to lay the blame at the door of the Maran brothers, who are also grand nephews of the chief minister.
Was publishing the survey wrong? It's hard to prove that the Marans had political reasons or malicious intent in publishing the survey. It's also hard to ignore the fact that they would not have foreseen that Azhagiri would not be happy in such a survey being published. It is not totally insane to think that the attack was a fallout of party politics and not an attack on the media. I rather prefer to see it that way.
Links between Karunanidhi's family and the Marans have been close and historic. The father Maran, at one point seen as the intellectual face of the organisation, was also its most powerful voice in Delhi's corridors of power. Those comparing the father and the sons often tend to favour the dad, nostalgia weighing in a bit no doubt.
Very few have criticised Azhagiri for the incident. Most people don't want to state the obvious: that this is what is expected of him. That when pushed into a corner he would do what he does best: attack with violent intent.
That there is a successorship issue within the DMK is beyond doubt. There isn't one clear leader emerging from all this glorious mess.
DMK's move to push Kanimozhi's name for the Union commerce ministry would only further mess up the scene. She might enter Parliament through the Rajya Sabha. Radhika Selvi, the wife of Venkatesa Pannayar, has become the minister of state for home. Her elevation in the party is to check actor Sarath Kumar, who hails from the same Nadar caste as the new minister. The action hero, once a rising star in the DMK, in no longer in it. He is likely to launch his own party in August.
The attack has no doubt caused a churning in the DMK. It has drawn into the controversy the names of quite a few primary actors in the party. In the long run, the party might survive all of this as long M. Karunanidhi is at the helm playing his Machiavellian politics. With a twist of this tongue, the chief minister can do away with most nagging problems. Two questions will, however, remain unanswered. Does Dayanidhi Maran have a future in politics? And the question the survey asked - Who after Karunanidhi?