The Candid Eye

March 2, 2010

In Kalaignar honour, DMK takes sycophancy to new heights

Filed under: Indian Politics,Tamil Nadu — thecandideye @ 6:00 AM
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A cartoon on the latest cover of the anti-DMK weekly magazine, Tughlak, pokes fun at Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi’s craze for felicitation functions in his own honour.

The witty DMK chief may not appreciate the humour when the joke is on him. But his backing for such functions has unleashed a culture of competitive parattu vizhas or felicitation programmes in Tamil Nadu that has seen sycophancy climb new heights.

Karunanidhi & his family

The joke goes that the meteoric rise of S Jagathrakshakan, the Union minister of state for information and broadcasting, a small-time Vanniar community leader who joined the DMK on the eve of the 2009 Parliamentary elections is thanks to his zealous organisation of one parattu vizha a month for the CM.

Community groups and professional bodies now vie with one another to hold these vizhas structured around the theme of heaping praise on Mr Karunanidhi. The content is tailored for TV and broadcast exclusively on the Kalaignar or Sun networks owned by Mr Karunanidhi and his family members.

A typical example would be the thanksgiving function organised by the film industry to express gratitude to the CM for giving plots of land to film artists. Pasa Thalaivannuku Parattu Vizha(felicitation for our loving leader) was telecast on Kalaignar TV in three hour slots this weekend.

The mix of live film music and dance, along with the unabashed serenading of the chief minister by film personalities including superstars Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan, earns the networks anything between two to three crore for a six hour package, according to an industry insider. The functions are also often accompanied by ‘pattimandrams’ or debating competitions that discuss Mr Karunanidhi’s merits as a politician and as a literary figure.

The Opposition AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa, already in election mode apprehending the advancement of the May 2011 state elections, has mocked Mr Karunanidhi as someone who enjoys everyone showering praises on him.

Mr Karunanidhi in his characteristic style quipped back at a recent vizha held by the Sanga Tamil Peravai that he saw these functions “as a call to remind me to put in more effort and strive vigorously for the development of the people”.

He added for good measure that “of course there are some people who cannot not digest anyone praising me”. But the real question is whether the voters will digest this ‘cultural phenomenon’?

According to AR Venkatachalapathy, professor of social and cultural history at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, DMK rode back to power in the 1996 state elections on the anti-Jayalalithaa wave generated, among other things, by an all-pervasive culture of sycophancy during her regime.

“But DMK lost power in 2001 to Ms Jayalalithaa. The real tragedy for Tamil Nadu was that 1996-2001 was a period of unparalleled development work in the state. When DMK was voted out, the conclusion was that development does not sell,” he says.

He characterises Mr Karunanidhi as a political ruler who sees himself as coming in the tradition of pre-modern monarchs, hailing as he does from the Chola lands in Thanjavur. “He has no family pedigree in politics or formation education – though he is the most educated among the chief ministers in the country – therefore he wants to draw his legitimacy from all kinds of artistes,” Mr Venkatachalapathy says.

Tughlak editor and political commentator Cho Ramaswamy is less kind. “What kinds of rationalists are they (DMK)? They have brought down idols of gods and supplanted themselves in their place,” he says.

The AIADMK’s literary wing secretary Pazha Karuppiah berates Mr Karunanidhi for casting Rajnikanth, arguably the most popular actor in Tamil cinema after MG Ramachandran, in the likeness of All India Radio’s staff violinist, a fixture at the Station, catering to its specific needs. “There has been all-round cultural degeneration in the 40-years or so that Karunanidhi has been in politics.

Even the Madras University vice chancellor’s post is being contracted out for money like the chappal safekeeping contract at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. It is no wonder that the vice chancellor has introduced a new MA course in Karunanidhi Thoughts in order to please the CM,” he says.

The stakes have become very high for DMK after being in power at the Centre almost continuously since 1996, except for a short break in 1998-1999. “The fragmentation of the Indian polity has meant that power is now accessible to a regional player like DMK…It has had the resources of the Central government within its reach,” Mr Venkatachalapathy says. He adds that the scope for expression of dissent has shrunk considerably in Tamil Nadu.

“There is no platform for expressing dissent in Tamil Nadu — least of all at these functions. This can be traced back to MG Ramachandran’s time. In 1977, he completely muscled student organisations,” he says.

The vizha culture has spawned a group of me-toos within DMK and percolated to other fields too. For over a month, Salem, a city in western Tamil Nadu, wore a festive look with festoons, posters and flexiboards celebrating 50 years of state agriculture minister Veerapandi Arumugam’s contribution to public life.

Large photographs of him sitting in the front row and enjoying a felicitation function organised for him came up after the event. If imitation is the best form of flattery, then Mr Karunanidhi could not have been more pleased.


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