M.Karunanidhi is regarded as one of the best scriptwriters of Tamil cinema. These days, he is preparing his most important script ever—a political script—to install his son Stalin as the next chief minister, son Azhagiri in a crucial party position and daughter Kanimozhi as a Union minister and the party’s voice in Delhi.
Karunanidhi has three wives, four sons and two daughters and can make an entire cabinet out of his own family. Given his advancing age and failing health, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch is in a hurry to clear the way for installing his sons and daughter in key positions.
In the process, Karunanidhi has sacrificed Dayanidhi Maran, communications and information technology minister in the Manmohan Singh government, at the altar of family politics, as Maran was getting too ambitious. No doubt, Maran himself owes his position to familial connections with Karunanidhi, his granduncle. Yet, he proved to be one of the few techno and media savvy, suave and relatively successful ministers of the current government at the Centre.
People of Tamil Nadu are also appreciative of Dayanidhi Maran’s performance as a minister as a lot of telecom investments have ended up in that state. The sudden turn of events leading to Maran’s ouster has led to considerable sympathy for him.
Karunanidhi’s government is already past its honeymoon phase although it has been in office for just over a year. Poor control over administration, corruption and ineffective implementation of its election promises such as cheap rice are causing heart burn and people have already begun to talk fondly of former chief minister Jayalalithaa, who is credited for her strong administration.
Karunanidhi’s obsession to promote his family is costing him dear politically. Only two months ago, Karunanidhi used public money and position to promote a Tamil cultural festival, “Chennai Sangamam”, hosted by Kanimozhi whom he declared his literary heir. This has evoked sharp criticism from the public. Now, the ongoing family feud is fuelling public anger and this may lead to an inexorable decline in the party’s political fortunes.
The DMK state government is a minority government dependent on the Congress, the PMK and the Left parties for its survival. In other words, if these parties decide to withdraw their support—which may happen in case of reworking of alliances at the national level—it will be curtains for the Karunanidhi government. However, as long as Karunanidhi is at the helm, it is unlikely to happen especially since his MPs also prop up the central government.
Recent events show that the DMK is clearly in the ‘self-destruction’ mode and may lose its pre-eminent position in Dravidian politics, as many rivals—cine idol Vijaykant, ‘Vaiko’ Gopalaswamy and now Maran—are waiting to emerge as an alternative to the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK.
The current developments in Tamil Nadu also have major national implications. The support of the state’s parties has been crucial in running coalition governments at the Centre since 1996.
As a result, they have enjoyed considerable influence over the governments led by Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and now Singh. There is a possibility that Maran—who is considered to be close to the Congress leadership—may forge a non-DMK, non-AIADMK third alternative with the help of the Congress in Tamil Nadu in the next Lok Sabha polls.
The ongoing political developments in Tamil Nadu and Maran’s summary dismissal also give rise to larger questions. Why is dynastic succession so rampant in our politics? And, is dynastic politics bad per se?
The Congress party at the national level and a plethora of regional parties treat political parties as their private property and run them as family-owned private companies. There is no internal democracy and transparency in their functioning. The leader and his (or her) family are considered supreme. All crucial positions in the parties are appointed by the leader and rarely, if ever, elections are held to key, decision-making positions in the parties.
The Congress has the dubious distinction of being the original party in promoting dynastic politics. But, today all political parties seem to follow this trend. Parties which have been seriously afflicted by ‘son stroke’, apart from the DMK, are the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Shiv Sena in Maharastra and the Congress at the national level. Prakash Singh Badal-led Akali Dal in Punjab and Omprakash Chautala-led INLD in Haryana are also grooming their sons to take over their political mantles.
Dynastic politics per se is not bad. Naveen Patnaik’s is a case in point. Naveen owes his position entirely to his father Biju Patnaik’s legacy. However, once in the saddle, the younger Patnaik—only known as a socialite in Delhi circles—has proved to be a mature, responsible and popular politician. Today, it may not be an exaggeration to say that Naveen is more popular than his illustrious father.
Still, thank your stars that every politician does not have three wives and many children like Karunanidhi.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.