DMK and sons

Print edition : April 18, 2014

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi with his sons, M.K. Azhagiri and M.K. Stalin, at an event in Chennai on January 13, 2009. Dayanidhi Maran, former Union Minister, is standing behind him.

“THE problem is over. It does not exist anymore,” exulted a senior leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) at Anna Arivalayam, the party’s headquarters located in Chennai, on March 26, reacting to the “dismissal” of M.K. Azhagiri, the elder politician son of party president M. Karunanidhi, from the party. “Our leader made adjustments to the maximum. But Azhagiri kept overreaching himself. The people with him are no good,” the leader said, explaining why the former Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister and DMK south zone organising secretary was expelled the previous day.

It is a moot point whether “the problem is over”. That is, whether the long-suppurating sibling feud between Azhagiri and his younger brother, M.K. Stalin, on who should take control of the DMK from Karunanidhi, has come to an end or will continue to smoulder. But the day after the high command took the swift and decisive action against Azhagiri, a relaxed atmosphere prevailed on the Anna Arivalayam premises, giving the impression that Azhagiri’s expulsion was a non-issue. Azhagiri was suspended from the party on January 24 after he questioned the leadership’s attempt to rope in the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) headed by Vijayakant into the DMK-led alliance for the coming elections. The die was cast when Azhagiri met Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), on March 23. The meeting took place at Azhagiri’s residence in Madurai. Soon after the meeting, Vaiko claimed that Azhagiri had agreed to support the National Democratic Alliance candidates in Tamil Nadu in the April 24 elections.

In the eyes of the DMK’s top leadership, Azhagiri meeting Vaiko was a cardinal sin. For the DMK high command had suspicions about Vaiko’s ambitions in the 1990s before he quit the DMK in 1993 to found the MDMK. Besides, Azhagiri’s reported promise to support Vaiko and other MDMK candidates was a grave provocation. It would affect the prospects of DMK candidates. The DMK leadership has not forgotten how Azhagiri fielded rebel candidates in the 2001 Assembly elections and ensured the defeat of several party candidates in the southern districts.

As if on cue, candidates belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress made a beeline for Azhagiri’s residence and requested his support for their candidates. Those who met him included H. Raja (BJP), who is contesting from Sivaganga, and J.M. Haroon Rashid and Bharat Natchiappan (Congress), who are contesting from Theni and Madurai respectively. Hence, the DMK high command decided to take the bull by the horns.

Karunanidhi, party general secretary K. Anbazhagan and Stalin held talks on March 25, after which Anbazhagan put out a terse statement that Azhagiri had been dismissed from the DMK for ridiculing the leadership and for damaging the party’s interests. Azhagiri had done all this when he was under suspension for contravening party discipline and bringing disrepute to the party, the statement said. Karunanidhi told reporters that Azhagiri had not only failed to provide a proper explanation for his actions but continued to slander top leaders. “Hence, the general secretary [Anbazhagan] and I consulted each other today and announced that Azhagiri is being permanently removed from the party,” said Karunanidhi.

In Madurai, Azhagiri told reporters that he would challenge his expulsion in the court as no show-cause notice had been served on him. No notice had been served when he was suspended in January either. Azhagiri was punished for pointing out “certain shortcomings” in the selection of district secretaries and party candidates for the Lok Sabha elections. “Is there any rule that one should not highlight such shortcomings?” he asked.

Azhagiri made light of his meeting with Vaiko. “How can I say no when Vaiko wanted to meet me?” he asked. He pointed out that Karunanidhi had met Vaiko in the Special Court at Poonamallee, near Chennai, when he was jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He said he and his supporters would always remain with the DMK as they had contributed to the party’s growth. “Anna Arivalayam was built with my hard work, too,” Azhagiri said.

In the sibling rivalry over who should succeed Karunanidhi, the father favoured Stalin and systematically groomed him for the job. The on-off feud burst into the open on January 6, 2013, when Karunanidhi declared that “if I, as an individual, were to get an opportunity, I would propose only Stalin’s name” for leadership. Azhagiri’s reaction was sarcastic. “The DMK is not a [religious] mutt,” he said ( Frontline, February 8, 2013).

The rivalry erupted again in January this year when Azhagiri’s supporters put up posters in Madurai announcing their intention to hold a rival DMK general council meeting, leading to the suspension of 10 of his supporters and his own suspension on January 24. He was also suspended from the post of the DMK’s south zone organising secretary ( Frontline, February 21).

The issue came to the fore yet again when posters reappeared in Madurai in March announcing the formation of “Kalaignar DMK”. The posters virtually called Azhagiri the new party’s “general secretary” and announced that “the party and its flag are ready and we will meet the parliamentary elections”. The posters had the pictures of Azhagiri, his son Durai Dayanidhi, and the DMK flag in black and red with a picture of Karunanidhi in the middle.

T.S. Subramanian