Rasheeda Bhagat

DMK goes into poll mode

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on March 25, 2013

Placatory visit: Karunanidhi knows that the Congress needs him much more than vice-versa.   -  PTI

Sri Lanka’s human rights abuse of Tamil civilians is the ostensible trigger for the DMK pulling out of the UPA. But the biggest threat to the party is the war within, which is getting hotter with Alagiri’s increasing defiance.

Last week, the mountain came to Mohammed; it was not exactly Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, but her trusted lieutenants and bigwigs in the UPA Cabinet — Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad — who air-dashed to Chennai to placate DMK chief and “trusted ally” M. Karunanidhi.

The latter was riled with the Congress top brass for not taking a strong enough stance on the US resolution against Sri Lanka over the human rights abuse of Tamil civilians while eliminating the LTTE from the island-nation.

But there was more than met the eye in the DMK’s decision to pull out of the UPA government and refuse outside support over this sensitive issue. Chidambaram says Karunanidhi gave no indication that evening that he would take the drastic step and, that too, so soon.

The buzz in Chennai was that, more than Karunanidhi, younger son and heir apparent M.K. Stalin had taken the decision. From the tantrums that his elder brother and Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M.K. Alagiri threw, and continues to, this rings true. Alagiri refused to fall in line and made public his resentment by separately meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his resignation letter.

But while sibling rivalry is old hat and didn’t raise too many eyebrows in Tamil Nadu, what is difficult to swallow is Karunanidhi’s sudden histrionics. After all, the civil war in Sri Lanka, and the final assault against the LTTE, ended in May 2009. Not much is remembered about his heartburn over Sri Lanka’s Tamils then except his between-breakfast- and-lunch fast! So, obviously, Karunanidhi is only cashing in on the renewed anger in Tamil Nadu against the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime after the recent publication by BBC’s Channel 4 of heart-rending pictures of Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran’s cold-blooded murder.

Inhuman, outrageous

In one frame the boy, seated in an army bunker apparently after his capture, is eating biscuits. The next frames show his bullet-ridden body. Forensic evidence establishes the pictures were taken by the same camera.

As the Indian media published these pictures on February 19, reiterating horror tales of unimaginable atrocities against Tamil civilians, also used by the LTTE as human shields as it receded, outrage erupted in Tamil Nadu. And the US resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR became a rallying point for the protests.

An interesting feature of this protest was that as students, young IT professionals and others formed human chains and shouted slogans, politicians were kept at bay! A clear reflection of how politicians hijack and exploit such issues for political gain.

From the mouth of babes…

One definite moment that remains etched in my memory is about a popular TV anchor sanctimoniously lecturing a young protestor called Meena, who demanded a strong stance by India at the UN. The anchor ticked her off saying, “If we interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, tomorrow won’t people rake up the Kashmir issue?”

Meena, all of 22, shot back: “So let them raise the Kashmir issue; why are we so afraid? Is it because in Kashmir we too are killing our own people and putting them in mass graves, just as Sri Lankans did?” The angry woman went on to say that if India cannot stop human rights violations in Kashmir and elsewhere, “then let us admit that we are a failed state!” The red-faced anchor could barely respond to the logic that as Indians we should not defend Government atrocities against our own people.

This, then, is the mood of young Indians, hailed and wooed by all political parties. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has called the DMK move “drama,” akin to bolting the stable door after the horse has fled, one of her favourite expressions. But she had better beware; tomorrow, if the shoe is on the other foot, she will be judged similarly too.

Poll calculations

Returning to Karunanidhi and the DMK, the astute and crafty politician’s calculations are bang on. Elections may not even be a year away, if Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh’s sudden endorsement of L.K. Advani’s concern on the corruption in UP are any indication.

The image of the UPA government is at its worst, with the DMK too contributing, through the 2G scam, Alagiri’s continuing absence from his Ministry, etc.

The Congress, which is, at best, good for 10 per cent votes in this State, has become a huge liability. The man who had jumped with such astuteness to the Congress side from the NDA camp just before its “India shining” slogan came a cropper in 2004, knows the Congress has outlived its use for him.

Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK rode the anti-establishment wave with a landslide in May 2011, but long power cuts and rising prices, a sluggish economy and general disenchantment of the masses that their lives haven’t changed for the better, point to a definite anti-incumbency feel.

Also, Karunanidhi knows only too well that the Congress needs him much more than vice-versa. If ‘Captain’ Vijayakanth, whose DMDK is the main Opposition party in the TN Assembly and not the DMK, and who parted company with the AIADMK on such a bitter note, can be won over, it would mean 7-8 per cent of votes. The PMK, which blows hot and cold, but was an ally in 2011, is good for another 5 per cent.

Last time the Left parties went with the AIADMK. But in the unlikely event of the AIADMK allying with the BJP, they would be happy to embrace the DMK that has ditched their biggest enemy — the Congress. Jayalalithaa, however, knows only too well that the BJP can be a liability in Tamil Nadu.

It managed only 2 per cent votes in 2011; moreover, a pre-poll alliance with the BJP would undo the political astuteness she showed during Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroopam row with some Muslim groups.

But while poll arithmetic and alliances are important in Tamil Nadu, the biggest threat to the DMK is the war within, which is getting hotter with Alagiri’s increasing defiance.

However, the greatest damage suffered will be by the Congress in Tamil Nadu. Without either Dravidian party, it can win a few, seats only if it manages a moderate coalition of its own… but we’re running out of parties here. In the coming days ‘the Captain’, PMK’s Doctor Ayya and some fringe parties will become sizzling hot properties.

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Published on March 25, 2013
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