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Dad’s the word

Personally an obedient son, Palanimanickam differed with his father’s political leanings. He opted for DMK, not Congress as father. Kumkum Chadha writes.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2009 22:19 IST
Kumkum Chadha

You know why Union Minister SS Palanimanickam always keeps his hair well oiled? Or has a sheet of paper camouflaging the currency notes in the pocket of his transparent shirt? Because his father told him to do so — lessons from childhood, as Palanimanickam sees them.

The first: If hair is not well oiled, it will suffer the way crops would if they are not watered.

The second: Currency notes peeping out of pockets is a vulgar display of wealth.

When Palanimanickam questioned this as a child his father said — if you have a hundred rupee note peeping out of your pocket in the morning, people will see you as a rich man. By the afternoon, if you spend the money and are left only with five rupees, you would be seen as a pauper. The trick: never show your money.

He has followed the diktat: He drenches his hair in oil and conceals his five hundreds amid folds of white paper to circumvent the rich-in-the-morning and poor-by-the-afternoon syndrome. His father also taught him to wear the same shade of white. “If your dhoti and kurta are different shades of white it means your dhobi is not doing his job properly,” he would say.

Personally an obedient son, Palanimanickam, however, differed with his father’s political leanings. S Subbiah Vanniyar was a staunch Congressman and a friend of R Venkataraman, India’s former President, and GK Moopanar, then a senior Congress leader.

Young Palanimanickam was enamoured with the DMK’s agitating stance. Active during the anti-Hindi agitation, Palanimanickam was raising anti-Congress slogans when his father spotted him. “Our Pillai (son),” Subbiah Vanniyar later told his wife, “is working against us. I dread his fate.”

But things did not turn out the way his father had feared. His association with the DMK paid dividends and he contested his first election for the legislative assembly in 1983. When party chief M Karunanidhi said “Delhi” to Palanimanickam, he headed for Parliament. That it took three elections before he finally made it, is another matter. Palanimanickam was first elected in 1996.

His misfortune: he is counted as a second rung leader. Given that the DMK is a family holding, blood is thicker than water here. Consequently, with Karunanidhi’s children occupying centre-stage there is not much space left for others. “A middle ranker,” said G. Nanmaran, MDMK’s spokesperson, about Palanimanickam.

Till Karunanidhi’s son MK Azhagiri reached Delhi as MP and first-time minister in Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet, Palanimanickam was among those counted as DMK’s Delhi connect. But with the son in the saddle, the focus has shifted. Consequently, like other DMK leaders in Delhi, Palanimanickam also plays second fiddle.