Jayalalitha: Queen of all she surveys
Narendra Modi may or may not be projected as the next PM by the BJP, but Jayalalitha is the unanimous choice of the AIADMK. The man who warmed her seat as CM back in September 2001 after the Supreme Court quashed Jayalalitha’s appointment—finance minister O. Panneerselvam—and other leaders in the party have been touring the districts to ram home the point to party cadre that India will be blessed to have her as the PM and they should make it happen. “A clean sweep by the AIADMK in the elections will make our leader the next Prime Minister. Keep it in mind and work tirelessly from today,” Panneerselvam said, when he along with five ministers, was in Salem recently.
At a consultative committee meeting in Madurai, he said, “Time has come for Amma to lead the country as the national parties do not have a strong leadership and firm and long-lasting policies (on various fronts). Even BJP senior leader L.K. Advani, has said that a non-Congress, non-BJP leader could form the next government in the centre,” he said. One of the resolutions of the meeting said only Jayalalithaa could protect the country, “which is afflicted by violence, terrorism, bomb threats and steep price rise.” “We have to work hard to get a victory in the parliamentary election to take her to the Red Fort (in New Delhi) from St. George Fort (in Chennai),” the resolution said.
The indication about her national ambition came from amma herself on her birthday on Februrary 24 this year. “Emerging victorious in all the 40 seats in the Lok Sabha polls alone would be the matchless gift you could give me. Start work in right earnest to reap the fruits of victory,” said Jayalalitha. And if the BJP has its way, her special friendship with Modi will remain intact because he will not be allowed to angle for the top job. Once more their bond was clear when she telephoned him to convey her “hearty greetings” after he won from Gujarat, the third time in a row. Although she despatched two of her MPs to Modi’s Sadbhavana mission earlier this year, chances are she’ll be there when Modi gets sworn in as CM. After all, she needs to return the favour he did when he flew here in May 2011 to be present when she was sworn in as the CM.
Another ball game
This year, Jayalalitha continued to be touchy about criticism particularly by former CM and DMK chief, M. Karunanidhi, and leader of the Opposition and DMDK chief, Vijayakanth. She foisted defamation cases against Vijayakanth and Karunanidhi and newspapers who published their charges against her. But the one case that may not be able to stand judicial scrutiny is the charge made by Vijayakanth and repeated by Karunanidhi about her trying to run her government through statements from her abode in the hills at Kodanadu for six weeks from June 21. When the case came up before Justice Paul Vasanthakumar in mid-December, he stayed till January 4 all further proceedings pursuant to a November 16 government order (GO) granting sanction to the Public Prosecutor, Krishnagiri district, to prosecute Vijayakant for allegedly defaming the CM. This was after Vijayakanth’s lawyers argued that the GO was mechanical having no analysis or description as to how his speech was defamatory. Other defamation cases on this count will probably meet the same fate.
Many would agree that not much else about her has changed—she is still inaccessible to most including journalists, she is not available to most bureaucrats. As someone told me, “All she likes to hear is ‘sari’ (okay) or ‘sorry’, sycophancy is key to being noticed although most stick to singing her praises even in the assembly but refrain from tattooing her name or writing to her in blood or conducting their last rites as their prayer for her long life and prosperity."
The hallmark as CM this third round is her turning her back on extravagance. She rarely goes to inaugurations, preferring to push a button in the confines of her office to set off a project by videoconference.
But the power situation in Tamil Nadu is serious cause for worry and so far all her promises (the latest is that load shedding which is currently for two hours even in a metropolis like Chennai will end in June 2013) that she will wave her magic wand and say “let there be light” have not worked. To be fair, she inherited the mess that has caused the crisis. According to her, former CM and DMK chief Karunanidhi is to be blamed because all he added was about 400 mw between 2006-2011. The gap between demand and supply is about 3500 mw and growing. Last month, she signed 12 MOUs simultaneously to bring in an investment of Rs 20,925 crores, but the question is from where will this state, whose electricity board is in debt of over Rs 40,000 crore, supply power? She has made a career out of writing strong letters to PM Manmohan Singh —once she even accused the centre of treating states like a glorified municipal corporation) seeking more power. But all her attempts to bulldoze the centre have not been successful and the controversy-ridden Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant is still weeks away from commissioning.
There was a brief buzz earlier this year when Sasikala Natarajan returned to Poes Garden on April 2, three months after being plucked out along with her cronies in the government and the party by her “sister” (Jayalalitha). Sasikala first wrote a letter of abject apology saying she was disowning her family and friends and wanted to be taken back. Jayalalitha made it clear that the rest of the Mannargudi Mafia would continue to remain expelled. At year-end, Jayalalitha was sitting pretty with no worries to her reign except those of statecraft.
Karunanidhi: A troubled party
Last year brought grief for Karunanidhi because his favourite daughter Kanimozhi ended up in Tihar jail for six months after being cited as an accused in the 2G scam. It was only towards the end of last year that he could breathe easy after she was released. Towards the end of this year, Kanimozhi is back to giving anxious moments to her father because she is coming out into the open about her opposition to his son and former deputy CM, M.K. Stalin, as a potential successor to Karunanidhi who turned 88 in June.
Not that Karunanidhi—who was seen celebrating the 91st birthday of party general secretary K Anbazhagan,( “my leading pillar in the Dravidian Movement”) on December 19th—has come upfront about who will succeed him. In fact, in August last year, it was Anbazhagan, who shushed Stalin’s supporters keeping up a refrain that their “thalapathi” should be the successor by saying “Stalin will get his turn at the right time. I am senior to him (Stalin is No. 3 in the party hierarchy) but I will not compete with him after Kalaignar. I am glad he enjoys greater popularity than me. But we cannot imagine a DMK without Kalaignar. Kalaignar is the DMK.”
But unlike the DMK’s general council meeting in August 2011 when a miffed Karunanidhi had abruptly walked out of a hall reverberating with the chants of Stalin’s supporters, this year, the father is indicating that he favours his younger son. “You should support him and help him in all his future endeavours,” Karunanidhi said last month, ahead of the DMK youth wing conference. Two days before that, he backed Stalin over the selection of office-bearers for organisational posts, virtually dismissing his elder son and union minister M K Azhagiri’s protests that all his men had been kept out under the guise of his younger brother’s rule that selection would be democratic and not because someone was the son/nephew of some DMK bigwig.
And that’s where Kanimozhi—who has joined Azhagiri’s earlier vocal protests objecting to Stalin taking over the party—is coming from. There are reports that she boycotted the DMK’s protests on December 18 against the power shortage and law and order situation. Saying it was a slipped disc that made her stay away and rest and that both Karunanidhi and Stalin were in the loop about her health situation, she added, “It is wrong to say I have separate supporters.”
But Azhagiri’s supporters also stayed away from the protest although even they denied it. But what is true is that DMK’s urban district secretary, G. Thalapathi, is now a Stalin supporter, proof that the younger brother has made inroads into Azhagiri’s turf. Thalapathi apparently ensured that Azhagiri’s supporters were present at the protest. But the truce cannot last as evidenced some weeks ago when supporters went head to head publicly at a party meeting in Madurai. So Karunanidhi’s dilemma over finding a successor has only got more acute now with Kanimozhi too indicating that she is standing up to be counted.
The ally act
Karunanidhi’s relations with the centre see-sawed—every time he sulked some emissary would be dispatched from Delhi to pacify him—but he remained steadfast about keeping DMK’s MPs away from induction into the cabinet during Manmohan Singh’s reshuffle. It could be because he was signalling his anger that the Congress could not help Kanimozhi during his hour of need when she was arrested, it could also be because he wants to keep a distance from the Congress before the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2014.
In mid-December, the DMK cadre reiterated its wish to go it alone at the party’s first parliamentary poll preparations meeting, commencing from Tiruchy which Stalin addressed. Interestingly, rumours are doing the rounds that union finance minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram and shipping minister G K Vasan are vying to contest from Tiruchy. But the DMK cadre said that it was time for a DMK man to stand from there after three decades during which the Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress had been allocated the seat. But Stalin was non-committal saying, “The party will decide the seats when the time is ripe.”
But after the recent assembly results, is Karunanidhi open to a rethink? Hear it in his own words: “The poll results of the two states (Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh) show the Congress is growing and BJP weakening.”
The shadow boxing between Azhagiri and Stalin continued during the year with the latest being a poster in Madurai calling the former “Boss of Mass”. Put up by Azhagiri loyalist and Madurai corporation councillor S.M.R. Arun Kumar, the poster read, “You are the DMK’s rifle that identifies and defeats traitors; we await your hunt.” Apparently the loyalist took his cue from Azhagiri who had asked his loyalists to discard the betrayers. “Many partymen met me and got posts and positions. But, after the change of guard, they have distanced themselves from me: but I am not worried about their betrayal. Discard them. None can do anything against us in Madurai. We decide party affairs here,” he said. An undercurrent between his and Stalin’s supporters remained through the year. It came out in the open and showed up as fisticuffs at a party meeting recently. Azhagiri appears to be clawing back his loosening grip on Madurai where he was the BOSS when his father was CM.
For most of the year, Azhagiri was down and out and since his son, ‘Durai’ Dhayanidhi went absconding after an FIR was filed against him in August in the Rs 16,000 crore granite scam. He was more than in a spot of bother—and apparently resentful that neither his father nor brother helped him—after the police posted a lookout notice against him. Dhayanidhi’s plea that he resigned as a director of Olympus Granites in April 2010— before it began scamming the government—had no takers. Everyone close to him including his wife, Anusha, were interrogated, but Dhayandhi continued to remain missing for four months. But on December 14, he appeared out of thin air virtually—surrounded by 100 DMK functionaries—and was given bail by the Melur Judicial Magistrate Court. Later, Azhagiri welcomed Durai at his MP office. Talking to reporters, he said, the case on his son was foisted. “If he really committed a crime, I myself would have made him surrender,” he said. Asked whether Dhayanidhi was hiding abroad, Azhagiri said, “We have surrendered his passport in the court and whoever has any doubts can see it.” But now with that worry lifted off his head, he has bounced back and is vocal about criticizing amma and being tart and sarcastic about Stalin.
Vijayakant: Politics is not a potboiler
A little over a year after his five-year-old party recorded its biggest electoral success, winning 29 seats in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader and actor “Captain” Vijayakant seems to be in trouble with the AIADMK out to poach his MLAs. Four of his MLAs met the AIADMK supremo at the end of October signalling that his family-run party—his wife Premalatha and brother-in-law Sudesh apart from himself call the shots—was on the verge of splitting. The good news is that for the moment he seems to have stemmed the dissidence with two more of his MLAs who were rumoured as being all set to meet amma, backing off thereby saving him further blushes.
“We went and met the chief minister to discuss the problems of the people. If they (DMDK leaders) feel it is a mistake, let them dismiss us,” Radhapuram MLA C Michael Rayappan had said. The other DMDK legislator, S Sundararajan, also had echoed a similar stand. Two other MLAs—Arun Pandian and K Tamil Azhagan—followed suit shortly and all of them were defiant. Vijayakant’s counter-strategy was to seek an appointment for himself and four other party MLAs with the CM which was turned down. First, his letter seeking the appointment was turned down prompting him to approach the Speaker, who washed his hands off the whole affair and instead said they had committed a breach of privilege.
Vijayakant has been in Jayalalitha crosshairs for a long time and in February he was involved in a slanging match with her on the floor of the assembly (on whether the DMDK contributed to the AIADMK’s win or vice versa) that led to him being suspended. “She is scared of me. That is why these things are happening. Our party has grown to a stature where other political parties are trying to poach our MLAs,” he told his party cadres soon after four of his MLAs met her.
But while his initial reaction of pushing a journalist who questioned him on his dwindling flock, was characteristic of the DMDK leader’s aggressive stance, the latter strategy to meet her, appears to have led to Jayalalitha backing off from reducing him and his party to a cipher.
Vijaykant is aware that if three more of his MLAs swing their allegiance to the AIADMK, the DMDK (which won an impressive 8.33 per cent votes in the 2006 assembly elections and an equally impressive 10 per cent votes in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections) will lose its status of the opposition party to the DMK which has 23 seats in the assembly. However, the switching off allegiance by four of his MLAs has thrown a spanner into the works—Vijayakant was hoping to put his brother-in-law into the Rajya Sabha and that looks iffy. But barring a few MLAs, it is Vijayakant’s popularity (and its alliance with the AIADMK in the 2011 assembly election) that got most of them elected. And they also know that Jayalalitha’s track record vis a vis defecting MLAs has been poor—they’ve been forgotten once they have served their usefulness. Vijayakant had nailed it when he had said that “after using me like curry leaves, she has cast me aside”. And that could very well be their fate.
The eyeball to eyeball confrontation between Vanniyars and Dalits that led to a full-blown clash in Dharmapuri district last month and the possibility of another clash in Cuddalore district was the news of the year. The latest case of an inter-caste marriage in Cuddalore district led to the boy going missing on December 12. The boy’s father, who filed a habeas corpus petition in the Madras high court on December 19, alleged that his son was killed because he was in a relationship with a non-dalit girl. Police confirmed that the boy had been killed.
It seems PMK’s S Ramamdoss—who has lost badly switching alliances between the DMK and AIADMK - is trying to break into the club of misogynists who masquerade as being champions of the honour of women (like Khap Panchayat in Haryana and more recently the BSP MLA Rajpal Singh Saini who said giving mobile phones to girls “only invites trouble”). Ramadoss, was involved in a running spat with Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s Thirumalavan after the marriage of a Vanniyar girl to a Dalit boy led to the former’s father committing suicide. Consequently his advice to partymen in November, soon after the clashes, was, “First boys give love letters to girls. Then they gift them mobile phones. This is how girls fall into the love trap.”
Member of Parliament, Thirumavalavan, himself single at 50, is certainly no expert at matters of the heart. But having made a career in Dalit politics, he was offended: “Love is beyond caste and creed. Caste leaders instigate violence and no action is taken against them.” Ramadoss, by mid-December, was not done attacking Thirumavalavan, portraying him as an “insignificant” leader who represented only a section of the Scheduled Castes.
The PMK, he said, was compiling information on anti-social activities in the Dalit outfit. According to him, while the Dravidian parties were highly skeptical in drafting the VCK into alliances in the late 1990s, it was the PMK that persuaded them to take them in the fold. “We hoped to reform them but we now understand it was not possible. By and by, the parties that are sharing platform with Thirumavalavan will also understand this,” he remarked
Ramadoss has been preachy in the past too—he’s against alcohol and his son, former health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, is best known for going after Superstar Rajnikanth for smoking on screen! In fact, Ramadoss was arrested on December 17 for his attempt to lock down TASMAC shops as part of a series of demonstrations aimed at total prohibition in the state. His son, Anbumani, addressing partymen in Villupuram, said, “The average minimum age of liquor consumption has come down in Tamil Nadu as even school-going students have started to consume alcohol now,” Incidentally, Tamil Nadu earned Rs 18,000 crores as liquor revenue during the financial year ending March 31.
The river of discord
The last year was a repeat of the last several decades when politicians in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka milk the river of discord—Cauvery—for political leverage while farmers continue to suffer. This year farmers in Tamil Nadu have an added worry. Apart from not getting enough water from the Cauvery, this year’s north-east monsoon, which set in on October 19, is on the verge of being the worst since 2003. Chennai got more wind than rain from Cyclone Nilam which came calling on October 31, and since then has got very little rain. “By the end of October, the city got 60 per cent more rain than usual. However, by November, we were 50 per cent deficient. Since December, the state as a whole received hardly any rain,” said Y E A Raj, deputy director general of India Meteorological Department.
With a bad monsoon, the delta regions of Nagapattinam has got 15 per cent less rain, Tanjore faces a shortfall of 16 per cent and Thiruvarur about 1 per cent. No Cauvery, no rain. Expect fire and brimstone from politicians next year, particularly with Karnataka going to the polls.
Clouded by tragedy
This year the much-looked forward to Margazhi music season that brings music and dance aficionados from all over the was clouded by tragedy, after Carnatic singer Nityashree Mahadevan’s husband committed suicide hours before she was all set to give a performance. The music world continues to be in shock over the suicide that police claim was an offshoot of Mahadevan’s depression for which he was being treated. It began well enough with Jayalalitha, herself a Bharata Natyam dancer, inaugurating it. “You can count on me for my help and support”, she said at the inauguration of the 86th Annual Conference and Concerts of the famous Music Academy here on December 15. “The December season of Chennai has all the features that qualifies it to become a season of World Music and Dance festival. I suggest that you may please sit together and plan for a December Global Arts Festival at Chennai,” she said.
Million dollar question
Again this year, the million-dollar question came up. Why can’t Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan act in a film together. Decades ago, Rajnikanth—whose hoardings came up all over Chennai to wish him on his birthday which fell on a special day (12-12-12)—had debuted in Apoorva Raagangal in which Kamal Hassan was the hero. Kamal gave his stock answer for the nth time: “Working with Rajinikanth is a costly question. If both of us starred together, there would be no money to make the film! If we have a lot of money, maybe then we can star in a film together.”
Rajni has kept his counsel on this question always. He answered with silence this time too. In fact, silence was his companion this year apart from a bit of shooting for his daughter Soundarya’s long-in-the-making film. Her father’s illness last year is only one of the reasons it has got delayed.