A man of many parts

Print edition : December 19, 2003

`Murasoli' Maran, 1934-2003.

`MURASOLI' MARAN played an important role in the dynamics of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu and national politics. He commanded respect in New Delhi as a Member of Parliament and built up a formidable reputation as the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry. He was a Union Minister without portfolio when he died at the age of 69 after protracted illness, in Chennai on November 23.


Maran was the conscience-keeper of his maternal uncle and mentor, DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi. He was handpicked by Karunanidhi to be the party's face in New Delhi. He was continuously elected to the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha for 36 years from 1967 on the DMK ticket. Three top political leaders of the day, Rajaji, DMK founder C.N. Annadurai and Quaid-e-Milleth of the Indian Union Muslim League, proposed Maran's name for the byelection in 1967 to the South Madras Lok Sabha constituency, which fell vacant when Annadurai resigned the seat to become Chief Minister.

Maran was the architect of the DMK's political alliances in New Delhi. He foresaw quite early the shift towards multi-party coalitions from confrontational politics. Maran was instrumental in the revival of the DMK's ties with the Congress under Indira Gandhi in 1980; he was behind the DMK's strategic role in the formation of the National Front in Chennai on September 18, 1988; and he played an important part in the DMK joining the United Front governments headed by H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral at the Centre. At the party general council meeting that took place a few weeks before the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by A.B. Vajpayee lost the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha (consequent to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam withdrawing support to it) in April 1999, Maran suggested that the DMK would perforce have to ally with the BJP. Senior DMK Ministers - the party was in power in Tamil Nadu at that time - were aghast at this suggestion, for the DMK was steadfastly opposed to many basic policies of the BJP, including its stand on the Ayodhya issue and its pro-Hindu tenets. The unthinkable, however, happened, and the DMK went on to partner the NDA in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. The NDA came to power, and Maran became Union Minister for Commerce and Industry in the Vajpayee Ministry.

That Maran pitched for the BJP was not a surprise because at a personal level, he was not allergic to it. He had even declared that "no party is untouchable". He once told this correspondent, "The BJP is the most cadre-based party after the DMK".

In his autobiography Nenjukku Needhi (Justice to the Heart), which was serialised in the Tamil daily Murasoli, the DMK organ, , Karunanidhi delineates Maran's role in the DMK-Congress partnership in the 1980 Lok Sabha elections. Karunanidhi recalls how C.M. Stephen, a trusted lieutenant of Indira Gandhi, got in touch with Maran and told him that the Congress (I) wanted the DMK to forget the bitter past and form an the alliance. The Indira Gandhi government had dismissed the DMK government headed by Karunanidhi in 1976 for its opposition to the Emergency and imprisoned DMK leaders (including Maran) under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Karunanidhi refers to "the great efforts taken by Indira Gandhi to revive the alliance" and explains how this became "a turning point" in Tamil Nadu politics.

A party ideologue, Maran did not fight shy of accepting the fact that the DMK was essentially committed to the welfare of the backward classes. Within the DMK, senior leaders feared him because of his proximity to his uncle. But the cadre liked him because he had the courage to call a spade a spade. At party general council meetings, he was known to berate DMK Ministers and MLAs for inefficiency, for neglecting people's welfare, or for being unhelpful to party cadre. At one such meeting, he is said to have reproached some Ministers and told them: "Instead of hovering around the leader (Karunanidhi) always, serve the people".

He was himself highly work-conscious and without the frills of office. Maran's official car never had a swivelling red light on top, a blaring siren or any other emblem to indicate that it was a Union Minister's vehicle. When suggested that the red flashes or the siren would enable him to reach Cabinet meetings quickly without getting caught in the traffic, Maran would only say, "I don't want to be a hindrance to the traffic. Let us flow with the people's traffic."

Whatever portfolio he held, whether Urban Development in the V.P. Singh government, Industry in the Deve Gowda and Gujral governments or Commerce and Industry in the Vajpayee government, he studied the subject in depth. He shone as the Minister for Commerce and Industry. He was in his mettle at the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at Doha in 2001. He reminded the affluent West that developing countries had not received justice in the implementation of the decisions reached during the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations. He told the developed nations that they could not hope to have non-tariff barriers in agriculture with high subsidies to their farmers while Third World countries were asked to dismantle their subsidy regime. Farmers in the Third World, he said, would not be able to survive in a non-subsidy regime.

Arun Jaitley, Union Law Minister holding additional charge of Commerce, acknowledged that Maran's contributions in the sphere of multilateral trade negotiations were "immense". "He left an indelible imprint with his brilliant performance" at the Doha Ministerial conference. He articulated India's concerns forcefully and he was a constant source of inspiration and guidance for me at multilateral trade forums, including the recent Cancun Ministerial conference," Jaitley said.

Maran introduced several initiatives in the commerce and industry sectors. Although the suggestion that the States should be rewarded for encouraging exports was bandied about for two decades, it was only after Maran assumed charge of the portfolios that a scheme in this regard was introduced - the Assistance to States for Infrastructure Development for Exports (ASIDE). Maran is also responsible for the modernisation of the tannery industry, which provides substantial employment opportunities, especially in Tamil Nadu, to Dalits and minorities. He got leather products that could be manufactured only by small industries dereserved. Maran was instrumental in establishing the Chennai Trade Centre and was the driving force behind the plan to set up a Special Export Zone at Nangunery in southern Tamil Nadu. But the project has remained a non-starter since the AIADMK returned to power in May 2001.He played an important role in the setting up of the TIDEL Park for software technology in Chennai.

A multi-faceted person, Maran excelled in films and journalism as well. He scripted 20 Tamil films, directed two and produced five. Born Thyagaraja Sundaram at Tirukkuvalai village in the unified Thanjavur district, he changed his Sanskritised name to Maran, which is pure Tamil. When he was writing the script for the AVM production Kulavilakku, there were three other persons with the name Maran in the field. In order to distinguish himself from the others, he prefixed "Murasoli" to his name as he was at that time the Editor of Murasoli.

Maran is a writer of repute in Tamil. His book Manila Suyatchi (State Autonomy), published in 1974, is a seminal work on the demand for State autonomy, federalism and various aspects of Centre-State relations. In his foreword to the book, Dravida Iyakka Varalaru, which was first published in September 1991, Maran attempts to project the history of the Dravidian movement in an accessible format to the DMK cadre and provide them an ideological bearing. Maran had completed about three-fourths of the second volume of the book before he fell ill. Another book on the Dravidian movement written by him is En Vendum Inbath Dravidam? (Why Do We Need This Pleasurable Dravidam?) He authored most of the election manifestoes of the DMK right from 1977. He had a hand in the drafting of the Common Minimum Programme of the United Front government and the National Agenda for Governance of the NDA government.

He firmly opposed the DMK aligning itself with caste outfits in the 2001 Assembly elections. He asked, "Is it an NDA-front or a communal front?" and to the consternation of Karunanidhi, he announced his retirement from active politics. But he was brought around and he took part in the election campaign too.

He remonstrated with Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani during a Union Cabinet meeting in July 2002 after the Tamil Nadu Police arrested Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for speaking in support of the banned Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Maran demanded to know what steps they proposed to take to get Vaiko out of prison, reminding them that the MDMK was an NDA constituent. Vaiko, who is still in the Central Prison at Vellore, received permission from the court to visit Chennai to pay his last respects to Maran.

Maran is survived by his mother Shanmugasundarathamal, wife Mallika, sons Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi and daughter Dr. Anbukkarasi. Maran's death has shattered Karunanidhi, who doted on his nephew with avuncular affection. The death has left a big void in the DMK.

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