Karunanidhi’s headache – how to manage factionalism in DMK

By Papri Sri Raman


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Chennai : Wednesday's factional feud, in which three people lost their lives in the southern town of Madurai, erupted just as the DMK was getting ready to celebrate. There was melodrama, malice and media machination.

There was also the heady combination of party, politics and perfect timing – so Machiavellian that it could only happen in the volatile southern districts.

Two pairs of siblings in the family, the Maran brothers and the Karunanidhi sons are involved, providing the right amount of tragedy for the chief minister and his party.

On May 13, the DMK, led by 84-year-old patriarch M. Karunanidhi, will complete one year of its rule in Tamil Nadu.

The party had also earmarked grand plans for Friday (May 11) to mark – in a grand public function – its fifth-time Chief Minister Karunanidhi's 50 years in the assembly.

On Friday evening, Karunanidhi's coalition partners, Prime Minister Mammohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Yadav, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Prakash Karat, Communist Party of India leader A.B. Bardhan, PMK's S. Ramadoss and many others will be on stage at Chennai's Island Grounds to facilitate the "Kalaignar".

At such a time, the DMK's prestige is at stake, plagued by succession battles within Karunanidhi's own family, and for the DMK leader the dilemma is great.

The fait accompli – opinion polls in a newspaper owned by Kalanidhi Maran, elder brother of Union Telecommunication and IT Minister Dayanidhi Maran, which could not have come at a more awkward time for the DMK, one of the country's oldest parties.

Earlier in the week, the Dinakaran had embarrassed the Karunanidhi government by rating Dayanidhi as the best central minister and PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss (health minister) as the worst.

To placate a furious PMK chief S. Ramadoss, Karunanidhi was reportedly forced to say that the Dinakaran poll "was designed to divide allies".

The next day, the paper said, people in Tamil Nadu want Karunanidhi's younger son M.K. Stalin to be the next DMK chief and chief minister.

Supporters of M.K. Azhagiri, Karunanidhi's elder son, went berserk, burning the Dinakaran's Madurai office. They were led by none other than Madurai Mayor Thenmozhi's husband, who has since been arrested.

Little can be said when a city's mayor leads a rampage that results in three innocent deaths.

The galling part was that the poll not only gave Azhagiri just two percent preference, but it also suggested that 20 percent of people preferred someone other than Stalin – implying it could be Dayanidhi Maran.

The Sun Group and the Marans have defended the Dinakaran polls, saying "they were based on a very wide survey conducted by the prestigious A.C. Nielson group", though media baron and editor-in-chief of The Hindu, N. Ram has trashed the survey as one "having no basis".

The Hindu Group and the Sun Group are competitors of the media space in Tamil Nadu.

Amid widespread condemnation from journalists' associations across the state, Ram has gone on record to say the attack on the Dinakaran "was a threat to the freedom of the press" though the media house belonged to a family that "seems to be in control of political power in the state", hinting at the Marans.

In its long editorial today, The Hindu demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into Wednesday's violence. Dinakaran's Chennai edition headline ran "Azhagiri's frenzied dance". Another paper called the south Azhagirinadu (land of Azhagiri).

In his own defence, Azhagiri has said: "When I do not want to come to power, why should I be brought into the picture? I don't have even a party post. How will I wish to come to the chair occupied by my younger brother M.K. Stalin?"

He has alleged that the Marans, through the Dinakaran survey, are trying to divide the Karunanidhi family. He has demanded action against the Sun Group and its owners.

Political analyst Cho S. Ramaswamy says, "The DMK had sown the wind (attacking newspapers like Tughlak in the past) and is reaping the whirlwind."

Dayanidhi Maran is "a new, upstart power broker", and this is what has upset Azhagiri, adds Cho.

Karunanidhi now has to exercise his 50 years of political acumen to ensure Azhagiri's full support for Stalin.

"There is no place for dynastic politics in the DMK" and the guilty will be punished, he has told the people of Tamil Nadu.

And the guilty may not just be the husband of Madurai's Mayor.