THE ART OF SURVIVAL

Shamed by scams, a discredited DMK is pushing the dynastic threshold even as the autumn of the patriarch enjoys the greedy dynamics of power
PC Vinoj Kumar Chennai

Unperturbed by the 'Delhi Money for Karunanidhi' jokes doing the rounds all over the country taking a dig at the 2G scam tainted DMK, the mood at Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters in Chennai, is upbeat. DMK cadres believe party patriarch Muthuvel Karunanidhi will lead the DMK-Congress alliance to victory in the April 13 assembly polls and become chief minister for the sixth time. Such is the confidence that Karunanidhi commands from his followers despite the snowballing 2G scam crisis that has landed A Raja in Tihar jail, and brought the DMK chief's daughter Kanimozhi and wife Dayalu Ammal under the scanner.

Notwithstanding its bravado, realities seem harsher for DMK, with the party losing its clout with Congress, the CBI breathing down the neck of Karunanidhi's family, and senior DMK leaders, including Karunanidhi, party general secretary K Anbazhagan, and Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin, abandoning their seats to contest from 'safe' constituencies in a clear sign of nervousness over the possible 2G scam backlash. 

Karunanidhi has chosen to contest from his native town of Tiruvarur, which is now a general constituency after years of being a reserved seat. His hometown is elated and waiting to show its loyalty to the son of the soil, who had participated in an anti-Hindi agitation in the area even as a 14-year-old. The shrewd politician that he is, Karunanidhi has ensured that he would become a MLA for the 12th time and maintain the record of not losing an election since 1957, when he had contested for the first time from Kulithalai.

This shrewd move is an example of his survival skills. At 86, he is ready to take a shot at another stint of power, keeping at bay his two ambitious sons, MK Stalin and MK Alagiri, who are now happy that their father is in the chief minister's chair instead of one of them.

It is to Karunanidhi's credit that he has safeguarded his position in spite of the declining strength of the party over the years since he took over its reins after the demise of party founder CN Annadurai in 1967. DMK suffered a major split in 1972 when popular actor MG Ramachandran (MGR) broke away from the party and founded the AIADMK. MGR won three consecutive assembly polls and remained chief minister from 1977 to 1987. In 1993, DMK suffered another split when Vaiko left the party to form the MDMK. Since then, though DMK returned to power twice and completed two full terms (1996-2001 and 2006-11), the once progressive party is well past its prime, and plagued by charges of family domination, dynasty politics, unabashed greed, wealth accumulation and unprecedented corruption.

The 2G scam has hurt DMK politically more than any other crisis it has faced in recent years. The Supreme Court monitored investigation into the scam brought the CBI right onto the doorsteps of the DMK headquarters, where the Karunanidhi family owned Kalaignar TV office is located. The CBI is probing the transfer of Rs 214 crore to Kalaignar TV in 2009 from a company linked to Swan Telecom's Shahid Balwa, one of the accused in the 2G spectrum allocation case. The CBI suspects the money may be part of the kickback for the favour shown to Balwa's Swan Telecom, allegedly one of the biggest beneficiaries in the spectrum allocation. 

Dayalu, Karunanidhi's second wife, holds 60 per cent shares in the family TV channel, while Kanimozhi, born to Karunanidhi's third wife, Rajathi Ammal, owns 20 per cent shares. Managing Director Sharad Kumar, who holds another 20 per cent stake, was also questioned. The channel has claimed that the money in question was taken as an advance for allotment of its shares, but returned to the party with interest after the deal fell apart.

The CBI is investigating the case under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court. Whether DMK admits it or not, the 2G scam hangs like a Damocles' sword over its head. Speculations are rife that the CBI may include the names of Kanimozhi, Dayalu and Sharad in the chargesheet.

For Karunanidhi, A battle-scarred politician, the coming polls will be crucial not just for him but also for many of his family members, whose futures are interlinked with the party's prospects. While three of his children -  Stalin, central minister Alagiri and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi - one grand nephew, Union minister Dayanidhi Maran,  and one granddaughter, DMK women's wing propaganda secretary, Kayalvizhi, are directly in politics, many others are in positions where they benefit from their proximity to power. Many in the family have stakes in the film industry. Karunanidhi's grandsons MK Udayanidhi and Durai Dayanidhi run production houses. 

The Maran family dominates cable network and television with their Sun Network. Both Kalaignar and Sun TV bag the TV rights of many successful films, leaving other rivals high and dry. The Marans are also into film production with their Sun Pictures, which has produced some successful movies, including the recent Rajnikanth blockbuster, Robot.  

While Karunanidhi's family wants to hang on to power at all cost, DMK lost much of its bargaining power with Congress, as the 2G scam took alarming proportions. Raja's arrest and the subsequent revelation of Balwa's links to Kalaignar TV, gave the Congress an opportunity to arm-twist DMK and get more seats than the latter was prepared to give. The seat-sharing talks between the two parties were held under the shadow of CBI investigations that first targeted Raja, then shifted to Kalaignar TV, and by extension, to Karunanidhi's family. 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2011