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Too Many Rajas Ate Up the Broth

by Tamilaruvi Manian, Deccan Chronicle, May 15, 2011

The vote is essentially against the DMK. It is up to Ms Jayalalithaa to make it a positive vote by providing good governance...

The price rise, the power fiasco and the unfettered family domination in politics and in the administration, have contributed to the fall of the DMK, whose image took its biggest beating in the spectrum scam.

The people of Tamil Nadu have dethroned the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in a decisive mandate, and All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader J. Jayalalithaa is the prime beneficiary. But this is not a vote in her favour. The vote is essentially against the DMK. It is up to Ms Jayalalithaa to make it a positive vote by providing good governance.

Jayalalitha May 2011The 2G spectrum scam was largely responsible for shattering the image of the DMK. But that alone has not brought about the regime change. The people of Tamil Nadu have witnessed large-scale corruption not only from members of the family of chief minister M. Karunanidhi, but also of his ministerial colleagues who conducted themselves as regional satraps. They amassed wealth and were cavalier with public money to an unimaginable degree.

For ordinary people who have been struggling to cope with the rising prices, the self-aggrandisement of ministers and their family — so visible at the district level — became a flashpoint. Industry suffered on account of serious shortages of power. The small-scale entrepreneur, the retail trader, and the common man were all badly affected. The two major sectors of the state’s economy — agriculture and textiles — were not taken care of under DMK rule.

The DMK has tasted humiliating defeats in the past too. But these blows were dealt on sentimental grounds. In the aftermath of the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and 1991 respectively, the party was routed. It could only win two seats in the 234-member state Assembly after Rajiv Gandhi was killed on Tamil Nadu soil. The current debacle cannot be compared to those occasions.

The price rise, the power fiasco and the unfettered family domination in politics and in the administration, have contributed to the fall of the DMK, whose image took its biggest beating in the spectrum scam.

If the reins of the party and the government had been in Mr Karunanidhi’s hands alone, he would not have allowed matters to drift so precipitously. Neither his party nor his family was wholly in control of the administration. There were too many power centres, and the interference of extra-constitutional authorities in day-to-day issues culminated in inviting the people’s wrath.

Disregarding criticism from many quarters over the way the state was being governed and the naked promotion of family members, Mr Karunanidhi continued to ignore the reasoning behind such censure. A party built on grand ideologies of social justice, state autonomy within federalism, and preeminence to the Tamil language in all spheres, had been paying scant regard to those ideals. The thrust of government thinking was on freebies, on how to buy the people’s support. This was no innocent shift, and quickly became a compulsion, even as the DMK’s core ideology was being diluted.

When his blue-eyed boy A. Raja was cornered on all sides after he got embroiled in the spectrum scam, Mr Karunanidhi rushed to his defence, but not on the merits of the case. Instead, he used the dalit card to try and earn sympathy for him. When the DMK faced intense criticism from the media over its dubious role in the scam, the chief minister said Mr Raja was being targeted by the Brahmin media because he was a “shudra”. Mr Karunanidhi had no moral right to invoke anti-Brahminism, anti-Hindi, pro-Tamil slogans since he was not committed to any of them. People knew that he sought to use these cards to suit his convenience, and not with conviction.

Not only the DMK, but all its allies — the Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) — have done poorly. None of them enjoys credibility any more. Mr Karunanidhi’s stoic silence in the last phase of the Eelam war had left an indelible scar on the Tamil psyche. Manmohan Singh’s UPA-I regime survived only with DMK’s support, which was seen in Tamil Nadu as an active collaborator in the brutal killings of innocent Tamils. Mr Karunanidhi did nothing to stop the genocide.

There is a simmering discontent against the Congress, especially among the youth. Many splinter Tamil groups and youth organisations singled out the Congress and campaigned for its defeat. The Congress, which coerced the DMK into granting it 63 seats to contest, has been reduced to a legislature presence smaller than that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India — with a mere five seats, the lowest ever in its history.

The Congress’ votebank has eroded gradually, and the same is the case with PMK and VCK, which used to enjoy clout in select regions.

Ms Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, stitched an alliance with actor Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), which is a growing party with a large youth base. Almost all AIADMK allies, be it the DMDK or the Left, have a support base across the state. The alliance arithmetic too was on her side.

The influence of money, media and the announcement of freebies could not overcome the DMK regime’s eroding popularity brought about by poor governance. About this Mr Karunanidhi could do little in the evening of his life.

There has been no better orator, writer or crowd puller than him in the DMK. Now Mr Karunanidhi will have lots of time to write the last chapter of the story of the grand Dravidian party. I don’t see any future for it.

* Tamilaruvi Manian is a political commentator