Watching the ongoing prolonged political soap opera that has been leading to consecutive midnight vigils before the television in Tamil Nadu, what the people have been missing is the presence, aura and voice of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, who had been dominating the state’s political discourse for over half a century. Karunanidhi may not be part of the ruling AIADMK, around which the plot now revolves, but he would have helped the bewildered people make some sense of the absurdities unfolding at various venues, what with his inimitable wit, canny wordplay and sharp comments, all fashioned by his political acumen.
As the 92-year-old veteran has been confined to his home and remains incommunicado due to medical reasons ever since the latest farce began, soon after the passing away of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in December, he has been unable to put in perspective the plethora of connected and unconnected developments that together make up the present imbroglio. Besides, when the ruling party faces a crisis that has the potential to paralyse routine governance itself, as it has happened now, the people look up to the principal Opposition to rise to the occasion.
Put otherwise, the popular perception now in Tamil Nadu is that Karunanidhi would have done something about it had he been hale and hearty and politically active.
Would he have tried to form a government by roping in disgruntled MLAs of the ruling party soon after the crisis erupted with O Panneerselvam firing the first salvo from Jayalalithaa’s memorial at Marina? No one can say, for sure. But then, there is a section of leaders within the DMK that resents that no such attempt was even made. After all, the DMK could have pulled it off easily by weaning away 46 MLAs – one-third of the total strength of the AIADMK.
But the DMK’s inaction was more glaring in the subsequent developments that kept Tamil Nadu in the national focus. If the AIADMK was seen floundering due to the lack of efficient leadership, there was also the suggestion that even the Opposition had the same deficiency. Or, both the principal parties seem to be on the same course, reveling in some past glory and invoking the names of bygone leaders.
Of course, no one is surprised that such a tribulation has befallen the AIADMK. After all, Jayalalithaa did not groom any second-rung leader during her long tenure. Panneerselvam and Edappadi K Palaniswami were just part of the scenery, bowing before Jayalalithaa in subservience like every other functionary. After all, in an open display of servitude, it was Panneerselvam who touched the wheels of Jayalalithaa SUV, besides looking up at her helicopter with folded hands in reverence. So, if they had become CMs by circumstances of fate, they cannot be expected to turn leaders overnight and inspire confidence in others.
But why should the DMK be seen as rudderless in the present scenario? After all, it is an organisation grounded in ideology, history and tradition unlike its rival that necessarily glowed in the reflected glory and charisma of larger- than-life personalities like MGR and Jayalalithaa. Why has the DMK failed to capture the popular imagination as a party just waiting to capture power and capable of bringing back order to the muddled political scene?
Of course, some swift developments have confused the people. Like a Delhi police team travelling all the way to Chennai to just deliver a summons, that too close to midnight amid the whirring of television cameras. Or, the faction of a political party having sufficient numbers to form the government and is firmly in the saddle going for negotiations with a weak breakaway group. Or over the temerity of the leader of the breakaway group in putting forward incredible conditions to begin talks.
Bogged down by such intrigue, the people miss someone who could explain how the wheels crank within wheels and throw light on the invisible forces behind the unfolding drama. And they miss the nonagenarian Kalaignar.
G Babu Jayakumar is a senior journalist based in Chennai
The views expressed are personal