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V Krishna Ananth
V Krishna Ananth
Lawyer And Commentator

The Congress is jailing and raiding the DMK. But Karunanidhi has not protested the humiliation once. What are the patriarch’s calculations in Tamil Nadu?

Coalition drama Karunanidhi needs Sonia’s support for winning the state Assembly election
Coalition drama Karunanidhi needs Sonia’s support for winning the state Assembly election
Photo: AP

WHEN THE CBI arrested A Raja and raided the premises of a television channel for which Chief Minister M Karunanidhi is an icon (and one of his wives and the daughter by another wife together own as much as 80 percent equity), the DMK chief did not call it vendetta. This could be because he is convinced about the CBI’s autonomy.

Or it could be because the DMK needs the Congress on its side in Tamil Nadu. Without the Congress, the party cannot even think of a decent number of seats. In 1996 Assembly election, the Tamil Maanila Congress, which was the Congress in the real sense, was with the DMK and the combine won. In 2001, the Congress was with AIADMK and the AIADMK won. That explains the DMK’s desperation to have the Congress with it.

The Congress party, meanwhile, seems certain that the CBI is on a wild-goose chase and will draw a blank in the end — just as it did in the case of Ottavio Quattrocchi and many others. Hence the party sees nothing wrong and everything right about talking with the DMK to settle the number of seats it would contest in alliance with the DMK in the ensuing Assembly election. The endgame in the 2G spectrum story will not unravel before the election. And the Congress party cannot be forced to wait until the process is over and then decide on its alliance.

All this notwithstanding, Congress negotiators could not have glossed over the fact that Raja’s arrest and detention in Tihar jail (only a couple of days before they began discussing seat sharing) was on the basis of a substantive legal provision. Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC) lays down that detention beyond 24 hours cannot be on mere suspicion. In other words, Raja was remanded for 15 days (in stages) to CBI custody and to judicial custody until 3 March only after the CBI could convince the CBI Special Court on the existence of a prima facie case against the former telecom minister.

P Chidambaram, who is heading the Union Home Ministry and working overtime to ‘save’ the country from such well-meaning persons as Binayak Sen, could not have glossed over this aspect of the law under which Raja is now in jail. Chidambaram, incidentally, is also a legal luminary!

Raja, some may argue — and the DMK is doing that — is yet to be pronounced guilty. But then, he is not merely a suspect. The CBI, after raiding his premises and those of his close aides, has found evidence of wrong-doing. But the fact that the Congress decided to overlook this suggests either of two things: the party heading the Union government is either privy to information that nothing substantive will emerge in the couple of months from now; or else, it is convinced that corruption does not repulse the electorate and that the outcome of the ensuing election will depend on simple arithmetic.

In any case, the timing of Raja’s arrest is significant. It happened just a couple of days after Karunanidhi met with Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi; and if Section 167 of the CRPC is read, once again, it is most likely that Raja will walk out of the Tihar jail sometime in early April when the poll campaign will be at its peak. Section 167 permits his custody only for 60 days unless the chargesheet is filed before that. It is possible that the CBI would take longer to do that. The DMK will then hold it as a vindication of its stand that Raja’s guilt is that he made mobile telephony cheaper by parcelling out 2G spectrum to a select band of people! Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in any case, has called it a subsidy, in effect equating it with subsidy to the poor in the Public Distribution System and the farmer by ensuring cheap fertiliser.

The Congress seems to be convinced that corruption does not repulse the electorate

This sequence, however, explains the tragedy that marks the political discourse. Lest it be held against the people of Tamil Nadu, this indeed is an adverse aspect of discourse across the country.

AR Antulay survived for long and even remained a Union minister despite the court finding him guilty in the Indira Pratishtan case. The Kuo oil deal, a scandal that rocked the nation in the early 1980s, did not seal Kamal Nath’s political fortunes. The Jain hawala scandal, which seemed to upset the fortunes of a cross-section of our leaders, did not affect anyone. Even a Chimanbhai Patel, against whom students rose in revolt in Gujarat and forced his exit in 1974, survived to become chief minister for a full five-year term (1990-95).

Even a TT Krishnamachari, whose resignation as finance minister in the wake of the Mundhra scandal is held as a sign of the high moral values that marked the political scene in those days (he resigned in 1957), was soon back in the Cabinet before being pushed out by Lal Bahadur Shastri on 31 December 1965. Indira Gandhi herself survived the Nagarwala scandal without even sustaining a temporary loss of job.

Congress leaders seem to have learnt their “lessons” and look confident that all the corruption charges, even if the trail has led to Karunanidhi’s doors, will not affect their prospects. In any case, they had reasons to be wary of an alliance with Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK. She had proved a difficult partner in the recent past. That was a time when the Congress had no other option because the DMK had turned communal and aligned with the BJP in 1999-2003. The party knows that the DMK, with its cadre, will help win a certain number of seats in the Assembly and may even agree to share power (read the spoils) after April-May 2011.

Karunanidhi can anoint Stalin as heir only if the party emerges as coalition leader

The tragic fact is that accountability and probity, the heart and soul of a democratic system, are values that must exist within the party. The cadre is happy as long as the leaders dispense favours. They do not see that as corruption and hence condone corruption by the leaders as well. Neither the DMK nor the AIADMK, around whom the political discourse revolves in Tamil Nadu, are different in this regard.

THERE DOES not seem to be much internal tumult in the DMK, perhaps because Karunanidhi is the patriarch and has the last word. For Karunanidhi, a win in this Assembly election is crucial — his son MK Stalin can be anointed as heir only if the party emerges as the leader of a winning coalition. An adverse outcome is bound to complicate things. The prospect of Stalin and MK Azhagiri fighting a succession war in a scenario in which Jayalalithaa is chief minister is not a happy proposition. Control over state machinery is critical to settle such battles, as Karunanidhi knows only too well. And his words bind everyone, from the sons to the ordinary cadre.

If, however, the 2G spectrum scam becomes a decisive factor at the polls, it is bad news for the ruling combine in this election as well as for the DMK in the long term. Corruption plays a dominant role in democracies, but only in mature democracies. Accountability and probity must be at the heart of a party. These coming elections will be a test of how much the issue of corruption resonates in Tamil Nadu today.

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