October 26, 2020
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Karunanidhi is back to his favourite pastime of blackmailing the Congress, now that his 18 MPs are once again crucial for the UPA...

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Chennai Corner

The Artful Strategist
The changed equations after the exit of the Trinamool Congress that has made the UPA dependent on DMK’s 18 MPs has made M. Karunanidhi resort to his favourite pastime of blackmailing the Congress. Of course, politics is the art of brinkmanship and now it is his turn even if it means going back on his opposition to FDI and making his party, which was recently part of the nationwide protest against economic reforms, look foolish. 

What changed was that left parties gave a notice for an adjournment issue and the beleaguered BJP, desperate to detract attention from a president who has become an albatross around its neck, said that it would support any party opposed to the issue. Not to be left behind, Karunanidhi now says, “We will convene a meeting of all our MPs, and discuss retail in the FDI sector, and arrive at a decision.”

Why the suspense? Karunanidhi succumbed to filmi dialogue to explain it: “I’ve written story and dialogues for over 100 films. Only if there is suspense, the movie will run.” While that is true in reel life, Karunanidhi, the realist and opportunist, is believed to be keeping his options open if he has to go with the BJP, even though the current political scenario makes an alliance with the Congress or the BJP a very unattractive proposition, because both parties are wounded and bleeding.

But, with CM Jayalalitha already making it clear that she will not allow FDI, on this emotive issue, Karunanidhi does not have room for manoeuvre lest she goes to town that he’s anti-poor. Also, with the Congress dispatching finance minister P Chidambaram to meet him and co-opt him, apparently his need to play hard to get, was a given. Then again with TMC’s Mamata Banerjee saying she would move a no-confidence motion against the government on the issue, it gives Karunanidhi leverage, not to mention 15 minutes of fame, to keep the UPA guessing.

The Good Son
Union minister M.K. Azhagiri might see red over this, but it does seem that Karunanidhi has moved one more step closer to anoint his “good” son Stalin as his successor. At a function last Sunday to felicitate Stalin, on his return to Chennai after submitting a memorandum to the United Nations and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) seeking a referendum on the future of Sri Lankan Tamils, Karunanidhi gave him a certificate, “He is living up to my expectations totally.” Karunanidhi, quoted two couplets from the Tirukural which refer to the roles expected of a father and son and said while he was instrumental in positioning Stalin in a pivotal role, the latter had in turn held up his father’s good name through his actions. 

But as always, Karunanidhi gave himself an exit clause—although he blamed the media for speculating on succession, he had Azhagiri and his tantrums in mind surely—when he said: “But, I am not bothered about the poisonous seeds likely to be sown by them(the media). I have a responsibility to protect the party, and when there is a need to select a person for that responsibility, you already know who will be my choice and that of K Anbazhagan, the party’s general secretary.” 

With Azhagiri on self-destruct mode, the only challenger to Stalin could be his step-sister, Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, particularly because the party clamoured for her to get a “big post” as a reward for her “sacrifice” in spending six months in Tihar jail after being arrested for involvement in the 2G scam. But unlike his prickly relationship with Azhagiri, Stalin was expansive about Kanimozhi, who was present at the felicitation. She made the meeting with Navanethem Pillai, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, happen, he said amidst cheers.

All for a Memo
But the show, organized earlier that day at the Chennai airport, did not go down well with the public who had to jostle with thousands of party cadre gathered to welcome their “thalapathi” (commander, as Stalin is called). There were comparisons to the celebrations witnessed at the airport a year ago when Kanimozhi returned after getting bail in the 2G case. A youth wing member, injected the subtle reason for such over the top celebrations, saying “He (Stalin) just finished putting in place a new youth wing team. We wanted to make sure that he got a welcome not less than what others in the party received.” But a member of the public was unimpressed, “So he gave a memorandum to the UN. What’s the big deal? Besides, thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils were killed. Should the DMK not show more sensitivity?” But then in politics, empty vessels do make the loudest noise.

Father and Son
Recently Karti Chidambaram, offended by a tweet, got a businessman in Puducherry arrested. This week his father, finance minister P. Chidambaram was instrumental (although he claimed no knowledge of it) in getting a man arrested because he took his picture. Of course, the difference is that Chidambaram, having been a home minister, is a target for terrorists and any action, seen as out of the ordinary, does get a person into trouble. And that’s what happened to Amir Thaha who works for a travel agency in Ernakulam. Amir had arrived from Kochi and had confirmed first-class tickets to Delhi and from there to Dubai. He was enquiring about booking a hotel room when he spotted Chidambaram and reportedly got past the CISF and the policemen ringing the finance minister. He took pictures of Chidambaram and that’s when the long arm of the law reached him. Only last month, Amir had been detained by the CISF for taking pictures of the plush interiors of the Dreamliner. He had created a ruckus wanting to disembark when the plane was about to take off.  But is he a terrorist? His actions run contrary to the low-profile that those out on a deadly mission cultivate. Apparently Amir is a celeb junkie and loves to post pics of himself with prominent people on his Facebook page. Considering he has been arrested twice, clearly his need for publicity makes him indulge his rash impulses.

Tweety Bird
Incidentally, Chidambaram, is not able to shake off the petition filed by AIADMK’s Raja Kannappan on May 16, 2009 that the latter's 3,000-odd votes were transferred to the former resulting in his victory in Sivaganga. With the Madras high court framing issues to be adjudicated in the case including whether Chidambaram visited the Rajagambeeram police station in Manamadurai where his son, Karti Chidambaram, was detained, the FM is still haunted by the case. Chidambaram has denied that he visited the police station.

With elections possibly earlier than mid-2014, it is likely that whatever the outcome of the case it will be merely academic. Like last time, Karti most likely will play campaign manager to Chdiambaram. At the moment, Karti is not too popular with those on Twitter after Ravi Srinivasan, a plastic packaging factory owner in Puducherry, was arrested for posting “offensive” tweets. Ravi was arrested under section 66-A of the information act recently. “Using his father’s influence, Karti has misused government machinery to arrest and torture an innocent man,” said BJP state secretary R.V. Saminathan.

Ravi, also a volunteer for India Against Corruption, is defiant saying, “We are going to pursue the case.” His tweet, “Got reports that Karti Chidambaram has amassed more wealth than Robert Vadra,” Ravi says, was read only by 16 people, of which five are members of his family. It appears now that arresting Ravi led to more people reading the tweet! So like Robert Vadra, who hit back about his alleged dubious land deals , but hastily withdrew from Facebook after speaking out about “mango people in a banana republic” perhaps Karti should not have used strong arm tactics.

What the former speaker could not do, the new speaker, P. Dhanapalan, is trying to do. Hereafter (that means the next session in the New Year) MLAs carrying their mobile phones into the house will find it being confiscated. On the last day of the session that just concluded, the speaker was annoyed. “I heard cellphones ringing. It appears that some members are using their phones inside the House and they are not permitted to do so.” Members have been provided with cubicles in the lobby of the House to deposit their mobile phones. 

Cell phones had been banned in the assembly last April after a DMK legislator T.R.B. Rajaa (the son of DMK Parliamentary Party chief, T R Baalu) was suspended in February for videographing the Assembly proceedings on his fancy iphone..  Rajaa, a first time MLA, was caught on September 5, 2011 (the first budget session of the Jayalalitha government) by the current speaker who was then deputy speaker and was officiating over the house. Rajaa was videographing (there were 41 seconds of the proceedings on his cellphone) the speech being made by AIADMK member Vetrivel, complaining about misuse of Open Space Reserve (OSR) at DMK headquarters, Anna Arivalayam. 

Rajaa had denied the accusation saying it was a “misconception” but admitted he was using his phone to check his Twitter and Facebook accounts “to keep in touch with my people in Mannargudi constituency.” The speaker obviously did not buy his explanation and referred a complaint to the Privileges Committee which suspended Rajaa for 10 days. He also pointed out that there was already an order to members to switch off their cellphones and Rajaa had flouted it.

It seems Rajaa was using it to further his party’s agenda unlike the three ministers of the Karnataka legislative assembly who were busily watching a blue film on a mobile phone last February.

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