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Divided they Rule

A number of Karunanidhi’s family members play key roles in the DMK, but the ties have often been strained. MR Venkatesh reports.See graphics

india Updated: Apr 05, 2009 01:05 IST
MR Venkatesh

Kazhagam oru kudumbam (The party is one family)

It was meant figuratively when it was first coined by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) publicity wing, to emphasise the paternalistic nature of the party. But in recent years, the slogan’s literal meaning has turned out to be more accurate. The DMK is indeed a family — the Karunanidhi family.

There is the grand old patriarch himself: Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, at 85 as sharp, feisty and wily as ever.
There is M.K. Stalin, 55, the favourite son, named after Josef Stalin whom Karunanidhi admires, currently rural development minister and head of the DMK’s youth wing.

There is M.K. Azhagiri, 60, the strongman of Madurai, who controls the party in the southern districts.

There is daughter Kanimozhi, 40, poet and journalist, Rajya Sabha MP since 2007, and now the face of the DMK in New Delhi.

Next to the sons and daughter, stand the grandnephews — Kalindhi and Dayanidhi Maran, sons of the late Murasoli Maran, former union commerce minister, whose mother was Karunanidhi’s elder sister.

Kalindhi is a media baron, owner of the Sun Network of TV channels and the Dinakaran group of magazines, which contributed significantly to boosting the DMK’s image. Dayanidhi, till a year ago was union communications minister.

Friction is endemic in large families, and Karunanidhi’s is no different. The volatile Azhagiri has been the most difficult. At the turn of the last century, he broke away and worked to defeat DMK candidates in a number of seats in the 2001 state elections — which Karunanidhi’s arch rival Jayalalithaa predictably won.

Azhagiri erupted again in May 2007, attacking the offices of Kalindhi’s Dinakaran, forcing a rift between Karunandhi and his grandnephews. What had irked Azhagiri was a survey Dinakaran carried that appeared to conclude the obvious: Stalin was a far more popular candidate to succeed Karunanidhi than Azhagiri.

Strangely Karunanidhi chose to support Azhagiri on the occasion, stripping Dayanidhi of his ministership and encouraging the setting up of a TV channel to rival Sun. Since then Karunanidhi and the Marans have ostensibly kissed and made up, but it is not the same — Dayanidhi has not been given back his ministership, while Sun TV can no longer be accused of pro-DMK bias.

“The DMK is not a mutt (religious order). Nor am I a Sankaracharya to anoint my son as my successor,” Karunanidhi once said in the 1990s in response to allegations that he intended to vacate his chair for Stalin. “We are a democratic organisation where everyone has to fight for and earn his place.”

But many are convinced that it is the fear of creating further tensions in his family that has restrained Karunanidhi from anointing Stalin as successor.