Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Chennai Corner

How long can Azhagiri be a non-resident minister who spends more time in TN? Last time Kalignar banished him to Madurai because of his errant ways, he bloomed, but what is his father’s solution to his simmering resentment now?  

A Mahabharat in the making 
For years, deputy CM Stalin has been going to London every year, reportedly for a health check-up. Why he has to cross the seven seas, when Chennai is seen as a medical health destination, only lends credence to all the rumours about the state of his health. Just back from a 12-day trip, Stalin (who was accompanied by wife, Durga, and son, Udayanidhi) said his trip was personal: “There is nothing official and I did not go on behalf of the state government.”  

Stalin, who is expected to take over from his father when the time comes, is going to have to fend off another contender, his brother Azhagiri. There was no love lost between the two brothers till last year when the patriarch CM Karunanidhi had a Kodak moment after his two sons appeared to come together and even brought grand nephew, Dayanidhi Maran, into the family fold after the latter spent a year in the wilderness. The whole togetherness took a life of its own after the DMK notched up a huge Lok Sabha victory in May this year. Stalin became Deputy CM and Azhagiri an union minister. 

Only, Azhagiri is feeling like a fish out of water in Delhi. Azhagiri, used to being supreme in Madurai, out of sync with chemicals and fertilizers, Delhi’s culture, not to mention Hindi and English, is getting homesick. How long can he be a non-resident minister who spends more time in TN? Last time Kalignar banished him to Madurai because of his errant ways, Azhagiri bloomed, but what is his father’s solution to Azhagiri’s simmering resentment now?  

Started with a bang, ended with a whimper 
“I am not joining the Congress or the DMK. At present I want to concentrate on films.” That was actor Vijay who has never made a secret of his political plans. No matter how actor Vijay dressed it up, after all the hype over his meeting Rahul Gandhi, there’s no easy way to put it other than saying he backed out because he got cold feet. If you are in a popularity contest, which by definition all actors are, you cannot afford to offend anyone. With his film Vettaikaran set for a Diwali release, Vijay could not overlook the dark suggestions from both the Congress and DMK camps, reminding him that his last three films – ATM, Kuruvi and Villu – had bombed at the box office. So, he decided discretion was the better part of valour. 

Apart from the DMK cadre arm-twisting him on his return from Delhi, after the meeting with Rahul, the actor returned to be confronted by anti-Vijay posters. Now after superstar Rajnikanth, Vijay is believed to be on top when it comes to overseas markets where viewer ship for Tamil cinema is largely taken from the Sri Lankan Tamils settled all over the globe. And it is elementary that Tamils blame the Congress for the annihilation of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran. The Tamil Toronto Association made it clear that Vettaikaran would be boycotted, should Vijay follow through with his plans after meeting Rahul. So he called a press conference after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to this state to air his pro-Tamill credentials. “In the future I will join hands with a government that will work for the welfare of the Tamils,” he said. His movement Makkal Iyakkam stays, though he chose to be evasive now about using it to further his political plans. Actually, Vijay married to a Sri Lankan Tamil, had gone on a fast protesting the witchhunt against Tamils, days before the LTTE was finished by the Sri Lankan army.

Vijay was therefore forced to strike a fine balance, matching his enthusiasm over the Rahul meeting (“He is a leader who brought about changes and ensured a great victory for the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls”) with the right noises about Karunanidhi (“He is functioning with the energy of a young man”). Talk of diplomacy.  

Box Office Politics 
Vijay, 36, who even confessed to clearing his schedule including cancelling his shooting to rush to Delhi when Rahul called him, has much to learn from Rajnikanth who is on the wrong side of 50. For years, the latter has got away with being namby pamby about his political intentions. Or the other way of looking at it is that Rajnikanth has learnt from the blunders of others -- look at megastar, Chiranjeevi, whose Telangana Praja Rajyam is sinking faster than a dud at the box office. He has also learnt from his own mistakes, for example, his solidarity with TN when the state embarked on a confrontationist path with Karnataka last year during the Hoganekkal controversy. Kannada chauvinists threatened to ban his film Kuselan till he delivered an abject apology. It’s another matter that Kuselan was not box office material. Rajni’s earlier forays into politics have also taught him to be circumspect even if his faithful fans have labelled him “confused” in their frustration. So when Rahul said all those who were not terrorists or criminals were welcome in the Congress, and the last time he looked, Rajnikanth was not one, it was a generous invitation by any standards. But since Rajni knows which side his bread is buttered (and is even slathered with jam), all he said was, “I thank Rahul Gandhi for the invite. As of now, I don’t have any plans to step into politics.” Notice that although another actor, Prabhu’s name came up as a potential Congressman, there was no hysteria? When you don’t make the box office register jingle, you don’t make waves in politics either.   
Cops and footballs 
Home minister P Chidambaram addressing Directors General of Police this week took objection to politicians treating them like footballs. But police officers treat their subordinates like footballs and even like menials sometimes. The recent case of the mysterious death of a state armed reserve police constable P Muralinath is an example. Muralinath was deputed by his Hyderabad-based boss, Vivek Dube, chief of Octopus (Andhra Pradesh’s anti-terror wing), to the Noida-based family of Dube to work as a driver. He ended up dead and his family claims Muralinath was harassed. Closer home, in Thiruvanamallai, police engaged for security duties because Deputy CM Stalin was coming for the family wedding of Arni MLA R Sivanandham last month ended up as waiters at the marriage feast of the legislator! Apparently, nearly 200 of them, including 40 women constables, were directed by their seniors to serve food. The irony was that it was a “self-respect marriage” – the weddings preferred by the so-called rationalists in the DMK. The first day the cops were in uniform and had to carry vessels of sambar and rice back and forth while serving, but on the next day they were asked to be waiters but in civilian clothes. “The ultimate humiliation was that the DMK cadre treated us like coolies in the presence of our bosses,” said a constable. Tut, tut!