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Tamil Nadu Parallels And Lessons For Sri Lanka

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 22 May 2011 10:08 No Comment]

There are many tempting parallels that could be drawn between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Tamil Nadu colossus Muthuvel Karunanidhi who dominated the politics of the South Indian State for over 40 years but bit the Tamil Nadu dust in the end.

Karunanidhi had a yearning for his national hero – the greatest of all Chola kings, Raja Raja who subjugated all South Indian kingdoms around the Chola kingdom and Lanka as well.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is well known as a devout admirer of the legendary Sinhala king Dutugemunu who defeated the Tamil king Elara.

Raja Raja 1 of the Chola Kingdom

Karunanidhi sees his historic role in the image of King Raja Raja 1 as exemplified in his speeches and wants the king to be an inspiration to Tamil youth. King Raja Raja’s 1000 year old majestic temple, Brihadeeswarar, is a monument of inspiration for him and Karunanidhi had declared that the occasion of the millennium of the temple should be fittingly celebrated. The occasion was sometime in September last year and  the Tamil Nadu leader being a politician, wanted to be the cynosure of all eyes on the occasion, particularly because the Tamil Nadu state assembly elections were only a few months away. But there was a hitch – a jinx attached to leaders of the country who entered the Brihadeeswarar temple.

Indira Gandhi known as the Empress of India in the 80s had attended a ceremony at the temple through the main entrance, accompanied by the then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran. A few months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards.

Perhaps taking this event into cognizance, Karunanidhi requested the Archaeological Survey of India, the institution responsible for protection of such monuments, to build a new entrance from the eastern side of the temple.

Karunanidhi is well known as a rationalist who has debunked Indian gods and deities. For example when proposals were made to build a channel through the Palk Straits which would have destroyed the Sethusamudram ‘bridge’ believed to have been built for God Rama to cross over to Lanka; Karunanidhi had queried: ‘Who is this Rama? In which engineering college had he studied?”

King Mahinda driven out

A post script to the story is that when King Raja Raja invaded Lanka, the ruling Sinhala King was Mahinda V who had to seek refuge in the  South of the country. Raja Raja and his successors ruled Lanka for over a century until King Vijaya Bahu drove out the invader.

Now with the Tamil Nadu strong man and rationalist having had his nose rubbed in the dust of Tamil Nadu, Indian rationalists are having the last laugh.

We conclude our comparison of the two leaders with the above observations and instead provide some of the comments made on the South Indian politician’s career from which examples may be drawn for future Lanka.

Karunanidhi’s penchant for money

Indian political commentators have noted that Karunanidhi chose to see his historic role more in the image of the Chola king.

‘The family became the defining term of the discourse and the rest as they say is history’, one commentator notes.

Kumar Chellappan in a web site, DNA states: The Karunandidhi family did not leave untouched a single area with money making potential….. [It] led to resentment of even hard-core loyalists. M.R. Venkatesh an economist who had predicted a landslide victory for Jayalalitha Jeyaram in the same blog has said: ‘Jayalalitha has been voicing concern over failure of law and order in Tamil Nadu. Land grabbing has been the order of the day. When members of the first family grab land, what will other leaders do? There has been a cascading effect all over the state’.

Corruption, it has been said had spread to all levels from micro to macro levels—panchayats to 2G Scam levels. Another comment was that the people were fed up with overwhelming domination of Karunanidhi’s party in various spheres – politics, film distribution, TV Channels, print media, FM radio channels, textiles, furniture business, and fertilizers and a whole host of others.

Family role in the 2G Scam

The 2G Spectrum scam which is estimated to have cost the state a loss of USD 40 billion (approx) is alleged to have been spearheaded by Andimuttu Raja of the DMK who was Telecommunications Minister in the Central government. Raja’s system of distribution of licences was  on a ‘first come first served’ basis instead of adopting a system of ‘sale by auction’ had resulted in the loss of this amount to the state, the Auditor General has estimated. Raja is now charged with corruption and is behind bars.

Karunanidhi and his family are embroiled in the issue because the sale of the licences had benefited certain companies. The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) had traced this flow of money from these companies to Karunanidhi’s family company Kalainagar TV of which his daughter Kanimozhi, Member of the Rajya Sabha, holds 20 per cent, one of his three wives 60 percent and the Chairman 20 percent.

Arrogance of power

One of the charges leveled against the DMK patriarch and his family is the arrogant brazen manner in which they had flouted the law with impunity. The powers of the Chief Minister and the vast majority his party held in Parliament seems to have conferred immunity over all crimes committed and permitted them to ride roughshod over the rights of the people. For example, it is said that a situation came to pass where it was difficult to buy prime land in Madurai, Trichy Salem and Erode without clearance  by  a union minister or a state minister belonging to towns.  Registry officials telephoned state or union ministers to seek clearance for registering property!

Karunanidhi’s overwhelming power stemmed from his monstrous family tree he built with three wives. Scores of siblings exercising power and influence proliferated. The patriarch had not tolerated members who could challenge his siblings for leadership. Vaiko, now vehemently opposed to him was one such DMK fledgling.

The scion with the biggest power clout was M.K. Stalin who has been long in politics and so was M.K. Alahagiri (accused in a murder case), M.K.Mutthu, M.K. Arasu and daughter Kanimozhi. But like all dynasties, the end of the beginning comes when power struggles emerge among descendants and this was evident at the tail end of the dynasty. The family tree also included descendants of the patriarch’s brothers such as Murasoli  Maran whose descendents too had become financial moguls in Tamil Nadu. Squabbling and rampant corruption resulted in the rejection of the family as a whole by the public.

Buying up votes with millions of rupees

Tamil Nadu is noted for the ‘buying up of voters’. At the last state elections the DMK pledged TV receivers for every household and this at Rs 4000 crore. Jayalalitha to outdo this exercise in bribery pledged: food grinders, mixers, fans, free rice (to those living below the poverty line) and a free gold chain when daughters get married! Whether  Jayalalitha’s promises materialised or not has not yet been reported.

Nonetheless, for the DMK, money has been of no consideration to win elections. An alert and genuine Elections Commissioner (a rarity on this side of the Palk Strait) seized before the elections Rs 70 crore intended as blandishment to voters of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. On April 5 he seized Rs 5.11 crore hidden in 5 bags under a tarpaulin spread over the roof of a bus.

The unfortunate patriarch’s swan song was his achievement list which he proclaimed before elections. He had distributed: rice at Rs 1 per kg, free TV sets, liquid petroleum stoves, waivers of co-op and agricultural loans,  free water pumps to small  farmers, flood relief amounting to Rs 496 crore; regularized the appointment of 46,000 teachers on contract, appointed 55,000 teachers, constructed 12 new engineering schools, a Medical college for every district; granted employment for 400,000 in government between the period 2006 to 2011; implemented an insurance scheme under his name, inaugurated a ‘101 ambulance scheme’, converted  21 lakhs of huts into concrete houses in six years.

‘We have listed our achievements. Looking forward to your expression of gratitude’, his appeal said.

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