The Rising Son

Sadiq naqvi Delhi

In a tangential, sinister manner, he is a character straight out of Mario Puzo's classic Godfather. Or a typical 'don' blockbuster. Being elder, he always fancied himself as the natural heir to his father, the Kalaignar, M Karunanidhi. His ambitions have since been curtailed and he was accommodated in the Centre as Union minister of chemicals and fertilisers. His attendance in Parliament and in Cabinet meetings has been abysmally low. His track record as minister has not really been outstanding. Long absences from Delhi and lack of knowledge of English or Hindi has added to his 'Tamil nationalistic enigma' in his bastion, Madurai. There, his loyalists call him 'Anna'.    

Born to Dayaluammal, Karunanidhi's second wife, in January 1951, MK Alagiri did his graduation from the prestigious Presidency College in Chennai. Unlike Stalin, the Tamil patriarch chose to keep Alagiri out of politics. He worked in a bank and lived in a rented house, something unusual for the son of a chief minister. DMK started as a cadre-based, progressive party where elevation was purely based on merit. However, it has now degenerated into a dynasty sitting on an empire of wealth, loaded with corruption charges. With family members of the clan calling the shots, a vicious Mahabharata is being routinely fought in the inner family corridors of power and pelf. 

Since he settled in Madurai on an assignment with the party mouthpiece Murasoli, Alagiri worked hard to strengthen his finances and clout. The TV industry, still in infancy, caught his attention. Now he has a cable TV network to his name, and a silk emporium which his wife runs. His interests are in other businesses too. Madurai, many say, has become his personal, muscular fiefdom where he allegedly presides over a virtual mafia of brokers and criminals. It is his reign of terror, wealth and patronage which controls power dynamics here, including the 'free and fair' electoral process. There have been widespread allegations of Alagiri rigging the 2009 elections in Madurai, with a door-to-door cash-for-vote campaign.

There are terrible stories of harassment, assaults, extortions and killings. The most well-known being the attack on Dinakaran's office in Madurai, which was set on fire and three employees burnt to death after the publication carried a poll saying people want Stalin to be the next chief minister. The newspaper is owned by the Marans.       

"Is Madurai Alagiri's ancestral property? I am not going to be cowed down by these threats," Jayalalithaa said in Madurai after she claimed to have received threats from Alagiri challenging her to enter the temple town.  "A cut-throat politician" -- as corporate lobbyist Niira Radia refers to him in one of the infamous 2G tapes - Alagiri has been able to cast a spell on DMK supporters in southern Tamil Nadu. So much is his fear in Madurai and the adjoining region that Jayalalitha said in a rally in Madurai in October 2010: "There are two governments in Tamil Nadu. One in Chennai headed by M Karunanidhi as chief minister and his son MK Stalin as deputy chief minister. The other is in south Tamil Nadu, with Alagiri as chief minister."  

After his open rift with power structures within the clan, including the Marans, Stalin, step-sister Kanimozhi et al, Alagiri is now busy building bridges. His recent cosiness with nephew Dayanidhi Maran and his lead role in the recent DMK-Congress pact marks a paradigm shift within the party, much to the discomfort of Stalin, the patriarch's heir apparent. The sinister shadow lingers.

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