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An Earthly Eclipse

Karunanidhi finds himself beleaguered on the political and the familial fronts

An Earthly Eclipse
An Earthly Eclipse

An Old Man’s Cupful...

  • The rivalry between Karunanidhi’s sons Azhagiri and Stalin has reared its head again
  • This comes at a time when the DMK chief’s daughter Kanimozhi is in Tihar jail in the 2G scam
  • The Tamil Nadu police has trained its sights on Sun TV and also other businesses owned by the Marans
  • The Arasu cable network has been taken over by an AIADMK man and a known baiter of the Marans
  • DMK leaders, including former ministers and their kin, have been arrrested for land-grabbing
  • The DMK alleges vendetta by the AIADMK government


There seems to be no end of bad news for former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi. J. Jayalalitha, the current chief minister, hasn’t gone after him and his family as she vengefully did during her last term, but nevertheless, she is overturning most of his government’s decisions. She has also turned up the heat on him by targeting DMK leaders on land-grabbing charges. To add to all that, Karunanidhi has to contend with the rivalry that is coming to a head between his sons M.K. Azhagiri and M.K. Stalin. The old man will have to brace himself for that storm when the DMK’s general council meets in Coimbatore on July 23-24.

His biggest trouble, however, is the weakening of DMK-Congress links, notwithstanding his meeting with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee last week. Two years ago, the DMK virtually held UPA-II to ransom and Karunanidhi’s men and members of his clan commandeered prize cabinet berths for themselves. But the latest reshuffle went ahead without any addition from the DMK—though two seats have been left open and are said to be meant for this ally.

The fight seems to have gone out of the octogenarian, occupied as he is with trying to get daughter Kanimozhi out of Tihar amid all the other pressures. He had fought vigorously in A. Raja’s support when the latter was arrested in the 2G scam and had to resign his Union cabinet post, but Dayanidhi Maran’s ouster does not seem to have affected him much. Asked if the DMK would back Maran, he only gave a tame “Yes.”

Political observers think it’s just a matter of time before Maran—who the CBI said in its statement to the Supreme Court had arm-twisted Aircel promoter C. Sivasankaran to sell the telecom service provider to Maxis, a Malaysian company. Dayanidhi’s brother Kalanidhi, CMD of the Sun Network, may also land behind bars: he has been summoned by Tamil Nadu police and has obtained two weeks’ time to present himself. The COO of the network, Hansraj Saxena, has already been arrested in connection with three cases of cheating, intimidation and extortion of some Rs 2 crore from film distributors.

Although not as heavy-handedly as during her last term, Jaya is nevertheless going after the DMK in a concerted way.

Kalanidhi, 45, with a net worth of $3.5 billion, was literally flying high after having acquired Spicejet last June in addition to his media empire, which includes the Sun TV network, which operates 20 TV channels and 46 FM radio stations, his DTH operation called Sun Direct (that he holds along with Ananda Krishnan of the Astra Group) and Sun Pictures. Sources say the Maran brothers’ predicament has been worsened by grand-uncle Karunanidhi’s laissez faire attitude. The Sun network’s media clout was one reason why the Karunanidhi clan and the Marans patched up in December 2008 after an 18-month no-holds-barred war, but old hostilities seem to have resurfaced.

Jayalalitha has applied more pressure, saying she will ensure a thorough examination of the matter of a fibre-optic cable said to have been laid from Dayanidhi’s residence on Boat Club Road to the Sun Network office. The cable carried some 40 lakh units of data for a few months, allegedly at no cost. Jayalalitha has also revived Arasu Cable TV Corporation (ACTVC), putting in charge K. Radhakrishnan, who has no love lost for the Marans. The government also seems to be in the mood to revive old cases against the Sun network or entities that merged into it.

It’s a bubbling cauldron at Sun Network, with disciples of Swami Nithyananda demanding action against Sun TV for telecasting (in March 2010) sleazy video-footage of the godman in a compromising position with actress Ranjitha. “The spate of cases against the network has emboldened many, including Ranjitha, who met police commissioner J.K. Tripathy this week and alleged that Sun TV had morphed her images. “They placed video cameras inside the ashram and no action was taken,” she says, adding that the change in government had propelled her to come forward. Back when the scandal rocked the state, it was whispered that Sun TV had gone after the swami over a land issue.

In fact, action against land-grabbing is on Jayalalitha’s priority list, for it will allow her to go after DMK ministers and leaders—there have been more than 1,500 complaints statewide since she set up cells in every district in the beginning of July. Karunanidhi, while accusing her of targeting only his partymen, says, “This government is filing a case in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.” But, according to Additional DGP (Law & Order) S. George, who heads the cell, “there are no political overtones to our actions.”

Like Karunanidhi’s daughter, whose bail application has been turned down more than once, the son of former minister Veerapandi Arumugam, Raja, has been sent to a prison in Tamil Nadu for encroaching upon three acres near Salem and hasn’t obtained bail so far.

Arumugam, accused of land-grabbing by 70 evicted families of Angammal colony in Salem, is also anticipating arrest. Former DMK MLA R. Sivanandam and his sons Lokesh and Babu (who are absconding) have been booked for grabbing land from a couple in Tiruvannamalai. “Jayalalitha is also going to go after Azhagiri, against whom there are many land-grabbing complaints in Madurai,” says an analyst. Karunanidhi and Stalin have asked partymen to approach the DMK’s legal wing to fight these “false cases”. Stalin displays some bravado, saying, “The DMK is bold enough to face all false cases.” But Jayalalitha is not discomfited. When asked whether the resignation of Dayanidhi Maran was the “end of the DMK”, she retorted, “The end of the DMK has already been decided by the people.” Making the DMK cringe when she is in power comes easily to her.

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