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A. Raja got a king's welcome in his constituency, it was not that warm a reception in Chennai. But Karunanidhi made up for it by saying that the meeting was “just like two brothers reuniting after a long separation.”

Chennai Corner
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Theatre of the Absurd

Mohandas Pai, former Infosys honcho, put it succinctly (on a TV talk show), when he called politics the “theatre of the absurd” where politicians are more concerned with selecting the next President of India, instead of more serious issues such as dealing with the negatives on every parameter— industrial growth, a monsoon that is floundering, prices that are rising, petrol hikes, rupee falling… While UPA seems preoccupied with the presidential elections and Mamata Banerjee, politicians in TN are no better. In fact, on the cartoon and anti-Hindi controversy they have led the way as a diversionary tactic. It was Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi MP Thol Thirumavalavan who began the controversy over Shankar’s cartoon on BR Ambedkar in a CBSE textbook brought out by NCERT; he later filed a PIL in the Madras high court on May 31on the issue. That controversy led union HRD minister Kapil Sibal instituting a committee to review textbooks on social science and political science. How cynical politicians are can be gauged from the fact that a noise is now being made over a cartoon on the anti-Hindi agitation in 1965 in a Class 12 textbook despite the review underway.

Dravidian Parties and Hindi

If Thirumalavan got so much mileage how can another pro-Tamil votary be behind? So Vaiko of the MDMK triggered a fresh brouhaha last week saying the cartoon, this time by R K Laxman, printed in the political science textbook for Class XII, presented a distorted picture of the 1965 anti-Hindi movement in the state. It is true that the anti-Hindi agitation was a watershed in TN’s history and brought the DMK to power in the 1967 assembly elections, by unseating the Congress. It is also true that either the DMK or its breakaway founded by actor turned politician MGR, the AIADMK, has ruled TN since then and the Congress has never had a chance to rule again even in an alliance.

While MDMK, the PMK, VCK and DMK raged last week about the “hurt to Tamil sentiments”, CM Jayalalitha was busy with the by-election in Pudukottai on June 12. The by-election over and with no chance of upsetting anyone if she spoke out against Hindi and risk jeopardizing her goal to see the AIADMK winning with a record margin, she added her voice (demanding that the cartoon be removed) a day after the bypoll. You can never say politicians don’t get their timing right. When it comes to alleged injured state-pride you can’t beat her vehemence. “It (publication of the cartoon) not only amounts to disgracing the anti-Hindi movement but also seems to insult CN Annadurai (DMK founder) and Periyar, who led the protests. The cartoon, originally published to explain the intensity and importance of the movement, has assumed contradictory proportions (in the textbook),” she said.

There was politics and inaccuracy (or rather omission) even in her statement because you cannot take away the role played by DMK chief M. Karunanidhi in the anti-Hindi movement. Besides, if she is such a champion of Tamils how come she did not throw her weight behind former President APJ Abdul Kalam (who is a Tamilian) for another term as President and instead picked former Speaker PA Sangma?

But, Actually...

It seems like anti-Hindi fever is hitting TN several decades after the Dravidian movement kept Hindi out of TN. But on the ground, irrespective of the games politicians play, the situation is different. Industrialisation of the state has brought Hindi into Chennai —you can hear it in the mall, in restaurants and most often when you pass a construction site because workers are by and large Hindi-speaking. Even someone like Karunanidhi, who made a career as an anti-Hindi votary, threw a “bada khana” in March 2010 as a thank you gesture to the 4,500 “North Indian” workers who had fulfilled his dream of building the secretariat. Even the music played there was mostly Hindi. “There is nothing wrong if a language is used as a medium of communication between the people of one state and another,” said Karunanidhi. He has of course forgotten his own words while thundering against the cartoon. That “tolerance” has now given rise to politics.

A Raja Goes to his Constituency...

Former telecom minister A Raja got a real King’s welcome in his constituency (Perambalur in the Nilgiris) when he returned for the first time after getting bail that saw his release from Tihar Jail where he spent 15 months after being named as an accused in the 2G scam.

But in Chennai it was a different story. Raja may have suffered more for the DMK, but the homecoming he got was not a patch on what Rajya Sabha MP, Kanimozhi got when she returned last December after being incarcerated in Tihar for six months. The difference was that while the DMK cadre was more enthusiastic in their welcome for Raja, Kanimozhi’s was a power welcome with DMK chief, M Karunanidhi, among other leaders heading to Chennai airport to welcome her.

Even DMK leader MK Stalin who had gone to Delhi to meet Raja stayed away from the airport. Raja was only welcomed by DMK’s second and third rung leaders. When Raja was asked if he felt neglected because of this, Karunanidhi butted in to say, “Do not cause problems, behave responsibly.” Raja was generous, “After Kalaignar spoke to me, after thalapathi (Stalin) came all the way to Delhi to see me, and after Kalaignar garlanded me, I feel I need nothing more.” The octogenarian and Raja continued this mutual admiration society even when the latter went to Tiruvarur (Karunanidhi’s constituency) to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday this week.

Karunanidhi made up for his “neglect” of Raja by hugging and garlanding him when the latter headed to the DMK office and labelled their meeting as being “just like two brothers reuniting after a long separation.” Raja’s comment later was the kind that had reporters rolling their eyes, “Even in prison, I felt safe in the hands of Kalaignar and the party, just like a baby in the womb. I continue to feel safe.” Raja even flattered Karunanidhi saying his book “Nenjukku Neethi” had served as an inspiration while he was in Tihar.

Really? Readers will remember that last March, Sadiq Basha, an aide of Raja, allegedly committed suicide in his house in posh Eldams Road. Sadiq Batcha was managing director of real estate firm Green House Promoters in which Raja’s relatives have stakes, and was questioned thrice by the CBI. He was to be grilled again before fate intervened.

Values are dipping

Even at Chennai airport it was Perambalur constituents who gave Raja an ego boost, wearing T-shirts with his picture, carrying his posters (there were not many DMK flags) hailing him as the conqueror of Tihar (Tiharey vendra theeran) and true Tamil (Thamizh maravan). It was poetic justice and a measure of how popular Raja is in his constituency that the posters left out any reference to DMK chief Karunanidhi, although some had pictures of Raja and Stalin, a reflection of the latter reaching out to him because of his clout as a Dalit leader. A constituent at the airport summed up the gush factor for Raja: “Show me one politician who is not facing corruption charges. People like me have only good memories about him.”

Those who felt disgusted “that a prisoner would get such a hero’s welcome after being accused of swindling the country” were in a minority. Justice Santosh Hegde, a member of Team Anna, commented, “It (the welcome) shows the degradation in societal thinking.” Hegde added, “Today people are sent to jail in a procession as if they are going on a foreign trip. And when they get bail and come out, we receive them in a way that shows the downtrend in societal values.”

'I am Innocent'

But the welcome is also proof that the DMK is coming out of the 2G shadow and there is a new-found confidence that the case is getting nowhere. When quizzed about this, Karunanidhi said cryptically, “Your statement deserves serious thought.”

Raja overtly reserves no apparent rancour for his “neglect” by the DMK, but it’s the media he blames. Even though the case is subjudice— and Raja should know this because he is arguing his own case—he rounded on the media for shocking the nation’s conscience by publicising that that country had been scammed of Rs 1.76 lakh crore (which is actually put out by the CAG). “CBI said the loss was Rs 35,000 crore, but even this was not accepted by the court at the time of framing charges. Only the media has been mentioning the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. No court has accused me of this.” He went on to say, “They have examined 45 witnesses, what have they got against me so far?”

Politicians Exposed

It’s only the courts which expose political parties and the callisthenics they do to get mileage. The rest, particularly the media unfortunately, indulges politicians to publicise their agenda. Even as all political parties have extolled Periyar and what he did for TN, not one spoke out when the BJP opposed the installation of his statue at a school in Krishnagiri district.

A GO was passed on December 11,2009 (the government accorded permission for erection of the statue only after the executive committee of the PTA gave its consent on September 4, 2008) in a corner of a government boys’ higher secondary school at Kaveripattinam. However, the President of the PTA filed a petition in the Madras High Court, egged on by the Hindutva brigade, that installing Periyar’s statue would influence schoolchildren to follow atheism! The real agenda was that local BJP leaders wanted a statue of Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, RSS founder.

Dismissing the petition last week Justice K. Chandru pointed out, “On the other hand, it is necessary that schoolchildren must know the life and mission of Periyar. Ultimately the understanding of the philosophy of such a personality will only help them perform the fundamental duty of developing scientific temper, humanism, spirit of inquiry and reform as enshrined under Article 51-A(h) of the Constitution.”

The judge said that the petition was motivated and provoked by a political party which does not want “to come on record” and instead egged on the petitioner for furthering its own hidden agenda. “The grounds are not only legally untenable, but can never be accepted by this court,” the judge said adding that the government had rendered great service to a man who had fought all his life against social oppression. “The portrayal by the petitioner in his affidavit regarding Periyar’s teachings only betrays his ignorance about the role played by the great leader in the transformation of Tamil society in many respects. He cannot be merely labelled as a propagandist for atheism.”

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