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Berth burden borne by a doting dad DMK clan in 2004 drama replay

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By G.C. SHEKHAR Karunanidhi exhibiting the letter signed by him and Janardhan Reddy in May 2004 that shows names of DMK ministers, their ranks and rtfolios agreed upon by the Congress in Chennai
  • Published 21.05.09

Chennai, May 21: For the house of Karunanidhis, family scores over government.

In a repeat of 2004, the Tamil Nadu chief minister has threatened not to join the Manmohan Singh government, which takes oath tomorrow, after talks over ministerial berths collapsed in Delhi this evening.

Five years ago, the DMK chief had announced outside support, that too after his ministers had been sworn in, because the portfolios offered didn’t match what had been promised.

The Congress — also dynasty-run but whose current first family has so far shunned government posts — had then relented, but with 206 MPs of its own this time and others like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav ready to join, the scenario is different.

The dutiful family man that he is, the 86-year-old, wheel-chair-bound Karunanidhi has bargained hard for his brood. He demanded at least eight ministries, of which three would have gone to his clan members — son M.K. Azhagiri, daughter Kanimozhi and great-nephew Dayanidhi Maran. Had they joined the government, it would have probably been the first time that three members from the same family were part of any council of ministers at the Centre.

It is this compulsion to meet demands from within his family that forced Karunanidhi to seek more berths so he could accommodate other MPs like T.R. Baalu and A. Raja without being accused of nepotism.

Both Baalu (shipping, road transport and highways) and Raja (communications and information technology) held plum infrastructure portfolios in the previous government.

If Karunanidhi fails to accommodate even one of his clan members, he could face a revolt within the family.

Kanimozhi, for example, has been expecting a ministry ever since she became a Rajya Sabha MP in May 2007 after the resignation of Maran (who quit as central minister as well) because of a family feud between the Maran brothers and Azhagiri.

The poet-daughter of Karunanidhi’s third wife Rajathi, Kanimozhi became an MP ten days after Karunanidhi declared in the Assembly that she was not involved in politics. It was believed that Karunanidhi yielded to pressure from Rajathi to find a political slot for their daughter.

Azhagiri was meanwhile becoming more assertive after piloting the party to three byelection victories. His decision to contest for the Lok Sabha was aimed at calling the shots in Delhi on behalf of the family while younger brother Stalin, as local administration minister and number four in the state government, was well positioned to succeed Appa.

Maran, though a political novice, performed well after becoming a cabinet minister (communications and IT) in his first term as MP. He was hoping to get back his ministry after his family patched up with the Karunanidhis early this year.

According to insiders, Maran, 42, was promised an MP’s ticket and a ministry if the UPA returned to power as part of the peace deal.

The compulsions of pleasing his family could cost Karunanidhi not only the government in Delhi but in Chennai as well.

With 97 members in the Assembly of 234, the DMK is dependent on outside support extended by the Congress for the survival of its minority government.

The Congress, with 35 MLAs, could rock the boat by threatening to reconsider outside support in Chennai if its nominees are not included in the Tamil Nadu government.

During the DMK’s conferences, Karunanidhi would often boast that his party was the only organisation where cadres attended such jamborees with their wives and children. “The DMK is a family,” he would declare with glee.

Like the Congress, the DMK has become synonymous with one family, the house of Karunanidhi.