Chennai superkings
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Chennai superkings

Recent years of DMK rule have proved that members of M Karunanidhi's sprawling family are united in their desire to wield control over their business interests, writes Sudha G Tilak.

india Updated: May 21, 2011 19:29 IST
Sudha G Tilak
Sudha G Tilak
Hindustan Times

Singles battle alone; families wage wars. Since politics is all about numbers, even fractured families that control governments can wield enormous power. It's sometimes revolting to see 'single' female politicians unleash violence, indulge in corruption and keep dubious company (read: All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalithaa or Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati). But it is way more disgusting when a family thinks a state to be its fiefdom and exploits it for its own.

When it comes to dynastic politics, north Indians know only about a particular party. But now after the 2G scam, they know about the members of the first family of Tamil Nadu led by pater familias M Karunanidhi; and how this family moulds opinion, controls the media and communication in a land where heroes and cine-warriors make for matinee idols, and exerts control over populist ideas.

The Central Bureau of Investigation's raids on senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leaders and their associates may cause ripples in political circles right now. But even as you read this, women in Tamil Nadu are lapping up a serial published in Kumudam Snehidhi, a DMK-leaning popular weekly. The serial is about a large happy family that is going through tough times. The men of the family are valourous, hold public offices, generous and affectionate householders; the children are cute and the women, despite the rationalist ideals of their husbands, are devoted to their men and are pious believers. Taciturn and comely Durga Stalin, wife of MK Stalin (heir apparent and future CM of Tamil Nadu), has penned the saga. Is it a surprise that the assembly elections are just a few months away?

Unlike the AIADMK's MG Ramachandran, who fashioned himself as a romantic saviour of the masses and protector of women, the DMK's commitment towards women never caught the popular imagination. In fact, Karunanidhi has always evoked a masculine appeal of ideals and social revolt. Hence this fuzzy, warm epic that tells the readers that Stalin wooed his wife with dinners, followed by ice-creams and late-night movie shows.

Durga Stalin recalls that despite their commitment to rational ideals, Stalin was concerned that his young bride would be seen as unlucky after he was jailed and tortured during the Emergency. She shares photos of her grandson, Inba, at the same spot where his grandfather Stalin was imprisoned during the Emergency.

The serial has vignettes of her mother-in-law Dayalu Ammal, Maran's wife, Azhagiri's wife, nieces and young women of the family sharing pleasant moments. Welcome to the many homes of the first family of Tamil Nadu, where powerful and ambitious cousins, nephews, warring siblings, stepsisters, love children and great-grandchildren continue to control power and exert influence in the state and Centre. University of Berkeley scholar Arun Swamy in The Nation, the People and the Poor wrote "undifferentiated populism charges the elite with both preventing just avenues for advancement and forgetting their moral obligation to protect the poor". The DMK has always been a canny manipulator of this and made a tradition of using communication, old and the new media, to actively campaign and control popular media since Independence.

The recent years of DMK rule have amply proved that the family with its estranged grand-nephews, the Maran brothers, Karunanidhi's own sons, Stalin, and the irrepressible Azhagiri who will rule the southern districts and aspire for central berths along with their half-sister Kanimozhi, are all united in their desire for power and control over their business ventures and to propel their self- interests. Karunanidhi's grandson Udayanidhi Stalin is the latest darling of the Tamil film industry. Upcoming filmmakers, actors and nubile 'Bombay' starlets of Tamil cinema vie to star in his production company, Red Sun. It is not surprising that when Rajnikanth's monster production Endhiran faced a cash crunch, he was bailed out by members of the same clan.

It is, indeed, in poor taste that an octogenarian politician who started out as a political rebel of high ideals and promise is now lording over a family that has perilous control of a state's governance and personal business ventures and self-interests. Duty, dignity and discipline are the bywords that pop up on the DMK's official homepage. Making it family, feuds and funding now seems more appropriate.

Sudha G Tilak is a Delhi-based writer and commentator on south Indian politics and culture.The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Dec 20, 2010 23:10 IST