“They are coming to us?!” were supposed to be the first words of a shocked Kanimozhi, MP-daughter of Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi when she got the news of CBI raids in Chennai, particularly on Father Jegath Gaspar, her close associate and head of an NGO called Tamil Maiyam, of which she was a trustee.
As the sleuths spread the dragnet to track the money trail of the 2G spectrum scam, Karunanidhi and his family had never appeared more vulnerable.
The sleuths had closed in on V Rathnam, the auditor of Karunanidhi’s third wife and Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi, and A Kamaraj, associate editor of Nakkeeran magazine and very close to both former telecom minister A Raja and Karunanidhi. The writing on the wall was clearer. It was not just Raja who was in the dock.
Also, the DMK strategy, approved by Karunanidhi, to drop Raja to save the party’s image has yielded nothing.
The big question now is whether he can drop Kanimozhi too. Her half-brothers may want just that to save their power but can he hang up on a daughter whose existence he had not acknowledged for many years and was constantly guilt-prodded to do “something” for her?
As murkier deals involving the close family members began to tumble out of the files and diaries, Karunanidhi realised he could save neither his family nor the DMK from the sleaze tag ahead of the assembly polls in April-May 2011.
A fortnight ago, when Karunanidhi was provoked by his political rival, AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa, to re-state his assets, he hadn’t thought that the scam scar would be come so close.
Dismissing her accusations, he had got down to detailing “every penny” he had earned in his life as a film writer - how he had bought a car and his present Gopalapuram house for Rs 45,000 even before he became a minister.
But, by Wednesday evening, his rags-to-life tale paled into insignificance and the needle of suspicion was on himself, his daughter and wife.
Karunanidhi (86) had faced corruption charges earlier too. During 1967-69, his tenure as PWD minister in the first DMK ministry had seen scams. In 1976, Karunanidhi’s ministry was dismissed by the Indira Gandhi government on corruption charges.
But what distinguished his record then and today was the involvement of family members, admit DMK leaders.
“Karunanidhi systematically reduced the DMK to a family business by excluding everyone in the party, and then they indulged in corruption. What face can we show to the people?” says a distressed middle-level DMK leader.
“No corrupt act can get done in the state without Karunanidhi’s approval. That is clear now,” said Cho Ramaswamy, political analyst and the chief minister’s long-standing critic, in his first byte to TV reporters after the raids.
What’s next? With his trust in the Congress belied, Karunanidhi is in no position to take the first step to snap ties with the Congress to show his ire over the CBI raids. If he did so, it would appear he is doing it to stall CBI investigation.
At the same time, with the Congress high command playing a waiting game, he’s not sure that the alliance with his party stays till the elections. Since 2006, Karunanidhi has been depending on a rainbow coalition and the 30-odd Congress MLAs to prop up his minority government without sharing power with them.
Congress MLAs haven’t forgiven Karunanidhi for his deal with Sonia Gandhi to not allow any Congress leader to become a minister.
With a taint image, the Dravidian party is a loser for the Tamil Nadu Congress leaders. They would like their party high command to mull other options. While a section wants to join hands with Jayalalithaa, another wants to follow Rahul Gandhi’s line for other states: walk it alone. The Congress could tie up with parties like actor Vijaykanth’s DMDK, they say.
On the other hand, Jayalalithaa sees a win-win situation either way. Says AIADMK parliamentary party leader V Maitreyan, “Whether the Congress-DMK alliance stays or splits, we are emerging as the people’s choice in the next polls.” She hopes that the AIADMK will replace the DMK in the UPA government, perhaps after the TN polls.
AIADMK leaders reason that a split in anti-DMK votes, a possibility if the Congress goes it alone, suits their party. Jayalalithaa is trying to put up a front and may try to rope in Vijaykanth.
As for the UPA’s stability, the Congress managers are speaking of a “contingency plan” of taking the help of those who would not like a mid-term poll now and dissuade others from toppling the Manmohan Singh government.
Their calculation is that while some of their allies may think that the Congress is targeting them in the name of battling corruption to enable a Rahul Gandhi-led Congress to re-emerge in their states, the fight against sleaze is bound to earn brownies for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in the longer run.