DMK MLA J. Anbazhagan dies of COVID-19 infection

Published : June 10, 2020 13:02 IST

J. Anbazhagan, DMK MLA. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Sixty-two-year-old J. Anbazhagan, MLA and senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, became the first law maker in India to die of COVID-19. He was admitted to a private hospital on June 2 and breathed his last just past 8 a.m. on June 10, the hospital announced. Incidentally, it was his birthday. Anbazhagan had had a liver transplant in 1995.

"My loving brother, when will I see you again," DMK president, M.K. Stalin despaired in a statement. Anbazhagan deftly combined the desirable qualities in a politician, of loyalty without servility and of being outspoken without being considered a dissenter. Stalin and Anbazhagan were friends from the time of the Emergency in 1975. Stalin, former Union Minister Murasoli Maran and Anbazhagan’s father, ‘Pazhakkadai’ (fruit shop, because that was his business) Jayaraman, were lodged in the same jail on charges under the MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act), and Anbazhagan was a weekly visitor to the prison.

Stalin announced a three-day mourning and said that all official party functions will be cancelled for the three days. His sister and DMK women’s wing secretary Kanimozhi described the death as an "irreparable tragedy".

Anbazhagan, a three-time MLA (2001, 2011, 2016), was born in 1958, did his B.A in economics and served the party as district secretary for about 15 years. The joke in the party was that whenever he won the party did not. Anbazhagan once told his correspondent that all this would end with the "thumping win of thalaivar [Stalin] in the next elections."

"We have never been scared of anything…. Success or failure does not deter us," Anbazhagan said in 2017, when the DMK was out of power for six years at a stretch, in one of the many agitations that the DMK had launched. In a recent press interaction, he named three Ministers, including the Chief Minister, as being corrupt, and added that anyone who spoke against these Ministers were being targeted.

Anbazhagan was outspoken not merely in public but also in the Legislative Assembly. He fearlessly voiced his opinions in the DMK, unlike most other district secretaries and party seniors. The last of his opinions related to DMK’s decision of handing over requests and applications gathered from people via ‘Ondrinaivom Vaa’ (DMK’s COVID-19 outreach programme to help those whose livelihood was affected) to the District Collector.

Anbhazagan differed and told the leadership that he would cater to the needs as much as he could but would not handover the requests for help to the district administration. He also had a dim view of hiring political analysts to fight elections. Such candor is a rarity in the DMK today. Anbazhagan would always speak up fearlessly but his loyalty to the party or the leadership was never in question.

In fact, even DMK’s former president M. Karunanidhi valued him immensely. In 2001, soon after Anbazhagan was arrested for an agitation, he sat on dharna in front of the Police Commissioner’s Office for his release. About a quarter century before 2001, Karunanidhi had sat on a similar fast outside the Commissioner’s office to allow him and senior party leaders to meet those arrested under MISA — among those held under MISA at that time included Anbazhagan’s father.

After Jayaraman’s demise in 1985 Anbazhagan was formally inducted into lower-level leadership responsibilities in the party — in the same position that his father held. Almost 20 years later, when Anbazhagan was appointed district secretary, Karunanidhi, in a public meeting, justified the appointment saying that the DMK was like a family and when the head of the family passed away it was but natural for the next generation in the same family to take over.

Until that speech, Karunanidhi had never put it this bluntly of how a son could take over from his father in a party hierarchy. It appeared to be his way of justifying the rise of Stalin in the party. In any case, Anbazhagan proved the right man for the job and kept the party flag flying high.

Despite what seemed like a perpetual frown on his face and his seemingly intimidating mannerisms, Anbazhagan was among the most approachable of district secretaries in the party. He was active doing relief work after the 2015 floods and could not reconcile himself to the fact that he had lost the constituency.

Anbazhagan once told this correspondent that he had formed his ideals not from books but from listening to Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) and reading Murasoli. He was of the firm belief that the targeting of any community was uncalled for in the modern age and sought to replace confrontation with dialogue at least in his constituency.

Anbazhagan dabbled in film-making, was a keen cricket and football enthusiast, and kept abreast of latest technologies. He was active on both Facebook and Twitter and had over 1.57 lakh followers on Twitter and 2.9 lakh likes on Facebook. His last message was on June 2, a day before Karunanidhi’s birthday: He shared an image of Kalaignar, and called him ‘Tamilagathin sirpi’ (The architect of Tamil Nadu). On Twitter, Anbazhagan followed many politicians and journalists, including Barack Obama, Donald Trump and H. Raja.

As many as four DMK MLAs, including Anbazhagan, have died this year, and this reduces to 97 the number of DMK MLAs in the State Legislative Assembly. Tamil Nadu goes to the polls in April-May 2021 and it is unlikely that the existing vacancies will be filled before that.

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