Will Karunanidhi pull DMK back from the brink?

N Ramakrishnan Chennai | Updated on March 12, 2018

Heir trouble: DMK chief M Karunanidhi flanked by his son Stalin and daughter Kanimozhi (file photo)

Besieged by problems within and without, the party finds the going tough

In January 1991, a few weeks before his government was dismissed and sensing that Article 356 was going to be used against him, DMK President and then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi put up a brave face at a public meeting by recalling the famous words of Winston Churchill.

When London was being bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II, Churchill, as British Prime Minister, famously and courageously said: “London can take it.”

Karunanidhi’s mentor CN Annadurai is supposed to have tweaked those words to say that the DMK could withstand anything that was thrown at it.

When he realised his third term as Chief Minister was going to be cut short by the Centre, Karunanidhi at a public meeting in the then North Arcot district, recalled those words of Churchill and Annadurai and exclaimed: “The DMK can take it.”

Then, it was more to boost the morale of the cadre, something he was always good at. But, then he was much younger and his fiery oratory could rouse not just the party faithful, but also get others in the crowd to react.

Now, in his 90s, will Karunanidhi be able to use those very same words to get the rank and file in the party to soldier on, especially since the DMK is under siege more from within than from external forces, as in the past?

Fratricidal war

A fratricidal war is killing the party and the leadership recently did the unthinkable — that of suspending a whole lot of senior leaders, many of whom had spent years building the party at the grassroots level. A few of those suspended had been ministers at the Centre and some others in the State.

Before that, the DMK even expelled Karunanidhi’s elder son MK Alagiri, a strongman in the State’s southern districts and who had been a minister in the UPA Government at the Centre. His loyalists too were not spared, as the fight between Alagiri and his younger brother and Karunanidhi’s heir apparent, MK Stalin, intensified.

The mass suspension has since been revoked and only one former minister in Tamil Nadu has been expelled from the party.

The fortunes of the DMK, long known for its discipline and which derives its strength from its loyal cadre, have been nose-diving, even when the party was in power in the State. It saw two of its ministers in the UPA Government — A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran — lose their berths on charges of corruption, with Raja being arrested and jailed. Karunanidhi’s daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi too was arrested and spent quite some time in jail before being released on bail. The case against both Raja and Kanimozhi is on, while recently the Attorney-General felt that Dayanidhi could be proceeded against in another case.

Dayanidhi and his older brother Kalanidhi Maran are Karunanidhi’s grand nephews.

Their late father Murasoli Maran, who was a minister in different governments at the Centre, was long known as Karunanidhi’s conscience keeper.

Murasoli Maran was not just Karunanidhi’s nephew and conscience keeper, he was the DMK patriarch’s eyes and ears in the Capital. If Murasoli Maran were alive, Raja and others would have been kept on a tight leash and they may not have got embroiled in controversies.

Those who have dealt with Karunanidhi in his last stint as Chief Minister from 2006 to 2011 say he was a pale shadow of his old self.

Gone was the decisiveness and control he had over his party and ministers; he was being pulled from different directions and ministers had a free run with different power centres in the party calling the shots.

For a strong cadre-based party that has gone through several trials and tribulations, all this was too much. The workers are a disillusioned lot. They are not sure who will lead the party into the Assembly elections two years hence.

The DMK, which went it alone in the Lok Sabha elections, drew a blank. Its arch rival, the AIADMK, won 37 of the 39 parliamentary seats in the State.

Resurgent Jayalalithaa

A resurgent J Jayalalithaa is not going to let the DMK live in peace. She is friendly with the Modi Government at the Centre, a relationship that can hopefully swing a couple of projects Tamil Nadu’s way. These are tough days ahead for the DMK.

If the internal problems were not enough, the latest bombshell to hit the party has come from former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, who, during his stint as Chief Justice of the Madras High Court, said he had brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of India complaints against an additional judge in the Madras High Court and how an ally of the then UPA Government exerted pressure on the Centre to ensure that no action was taken against this judge.

Though Katju did not name the ally or the judge, it was quite obvious which ally of the UPA he was referring to. The war of words continues.

The beleaguered DMK President must be hoping the title of a recent Tamil short-film released on the net, Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum (This too Shall Pass) will come true for him and his party.

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Published on July 25, 2014
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