October 21, 2020
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With Mulayam Singh Yadav making blatant moves to position himself as an alternative to the Congress and BJP in recent weeks, CM Jayalalitha is also sharpening her PR skills for the political road ahead

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Chennai Corner

Sulks and Smiles
With Mulayam Singh Yadav making blatant moves to position himself as an alternative to the Congress and BJP in recent weeks, CM Jayalalitha is also sharpening her PR skills for the political road ahead. Last week, on successive days (Saturday and Sunday), she met and made nice with President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The fact that her party did not vote for Pranabda in the July Presidential poll or that she has blitzed the PM with strong letters since she became CM did not come in the way. 

On the other hand, DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who played a crucial role in Pranabda being chosen, was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Pranabda had started his Presidential campaign at a lunch thrown by Karunanidhi on June 30, but the patriarch did not meet him when he came here last week on his first visit outside Delhi as President. Even if protocol dictated that the patriarch should meet the President— and not the other way around as has been the case all these years— there was no such meeting. Karunanidhi reportedly called off the meeting with Pranabda at Raj Bhavan at the last minute. He did not go nor did he send any representative to the Chennai airport on Sunday when the PM passed through on his way to Sriharikota although Jayalalitha prominently received Dr Singh with a shimmering “ponnadai” (shawl).

It must have annoyed him when his son, M. K. Stalin, and DMK MP T. R. Baalu went to Raj Bhavan to meet the President but had to cool their heels for 30 minutes because Jayalalitha was already there. No wonder a DMK leader grumbled, “We had extended whole-hearted support for Mukherjee. But after the Presidential poll, the Congress has not been treating us well.”

Far from Smooth
The Congress-DMK equation has not been exactly rocky but has seen several bumps on the road in the last few years. It’s going through yet another rocky patch now. 

It’s not only the trips here by the two heads of state that has exposed the cracks in the Congress-DMK alliance, the Kudankulam issue too has widened the seeming rift between the two parties. The state Congress president, B. S. Gnanadesikan, in keeping with the official party line on nuclear energy, has been critical “of the false propaganda of anti-nuclear activists.” But Karunanidhi has hit back saying, “No one should try and divide the people and the protestors.” Saying that people whisking off People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE)’s S. P. Udaykumar (to a secret location just as he was about to surrender to the police) is a manifestation that the agitation has widespread support from the people, Karunanidhi says: “He (Gnanadesikan) should impress upon the centre to hold talks with the protestors.” 

The octogenarian is also piqued that Gnanadesikan praised Jayalalitha saying she had used the right phrase “Maya valai” (web of deceit) to describe villagers being in thrall of PMANE leaders who have kept the agitation against the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant simmering for over a year. Karunanidhi showed his pique, saying Gnanadesikan should “comment and act” responsibly befitting the leader of a state Congress unit! 

One more Round 
Pique seems to be in abundant supply under Karunanidhi's own roof with the latest outbreak of hostilities between his sons, Stalin and Azhagiri. The former is surely and steadily cementing his bid to take over from his father while the latter is just as surely and steadily losing his grip within the party but is not about to concede. Azhagiri is reportedly upset that no one in the family has given him moral support although his son, Dayanidhi, is facing arrest after the granite firm is which he was a partner was found to have flouted several rules. According to a former Madurai collector, U. Sagayam, a Rs 16000 crore granite scam has been played out in the state.

Stalin is leaving no stone unturned to show he is the boss and the Muperum Vizha on September 15— where the DMK celebrates the birth anniversary of its founder C N Annadurai and Dravida Kazhagam founder Periyar— is being fashioned as his show. To the extent that organizers of the event (Stalin’s supporters) have not even provided seats for Azhagiri and step-sister Kanimozhi on the dais. In 2010, when the DMK was in power, Azhagiri had stayed away from the Nagercoil event leading to tongues wagging. Now Stalin’s supporters want to see that his possible no-show will not take away from any credit from their “thalapathy”.

Azhagiri’s simmering resentment manifested in a clash this week between his and Stalin’s supporters at a meeting to condemn AIADMK rule and the alleged corruption at Madurai corporation. The clash was triggered when K. Esakkumuthu— who was suspended some months ago when he boycotted Stalin’s meeting in Madurai as part of the “thalapathy’s” statewide efforts to select members for the DMK’s youth wing— was called to the stage by Azhagiri’s supporters. Stalin’s supporters objected, leading to the clash in which Esakkumuthu injured his leg. The anti-corruption meet against the Jayalalitha government was wound up in 10 minutes.

In the absence of the missing Udayakumar, Arvind Kejriwal has come in and earlier conclusions that the agitation would peter out in the former’s absence has been proved wrong by thousands of people holding “jal satyagraha”. Udaykumar who had met CM Jayalalitha last year with an appeal to scrap the project and counted her as being on his side is a disappointed man today. “I feel let down,” he told the media before going AWOL. At a time when the people believed that a political leader who was really concerned about Tamils had come to power, she suddenly changed her stance and let the people down on this serious issue, he said. But Jayalalitha has her own compulsions. The state is going through one of its worst ever power crises, producing only 7000 mw as against a normal demand of 10,000 mw and a peak hour demand of 12,000 mw. Jayalalitha who brought down load shedding from two hours to one hour in Chennai city on June 2 this year (and halved it in the rest of the state), might re-impose longer power cuts next month with wind energy which had added substantially to the power kitty all but disappearing. Her hope that Kudankulam will mop up some of the deficit is looking more and more nebulous although the Apex Court refused to stay the loading of nuclear fuel (the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board had given the green signal for loading fuel on August 10 and upheld by the Madras High Court after it was challenged) at the Kudankulam Power Plant this week. Her hope that the centre would agree to her demand that 925 mw from the two units at KKNP be given to the state has also been nixed.

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