Mother(s) of all berth battles

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By G.C. SHEKHAR in Chennai
  • Published 22.05.09

Chennai, May 22: It’s not the politics stupid, just a tale of three families that’s behind the berth pangs that caused a few flurries of the heart for the government.

In the twilight of a sumptuous career, M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu’s grand old political patriarch, has to do a deft balancing act between his two families and also a third one — that of deceased nephew Murasoli Maran — even if that means upsetting plans for a full-fledged swearing-in ceremony today.

It is not just Karunanidhi’s own parental instinct that is egging him on to induct his eldest son M.K. Azhagiri and daughter Kanimozhi into the Union ministry, but the desires of his children’s mothers.

It is pressure from his second wife Dayalu, 75, batting for her eldest son Azhagiri, and Rajathi, 64, pushing the case of only daughter Kanimozhi, that has compelled the 86-year-old DMK veteran to haggle for more seats in Delhi.

For wife Dayalu, Azhagiri is not just her first child but also her favourite.

When Karunanidhi was furious at Azhagiri for spoiling the DMK’s chances in the 2001 Assembly elections by fielding rebel candidates, it was Dayalu who had argued her son’s case with her husband and demanded an equal play for him in DMK politics.

Again, when Azhagiri’s supporters set fire to the office of Dinakaran, the daily owned by the Maran family, last year after it carried an opinion poll on Karunanidhi’s likely successors, it was Dayalu who got her second son M.K. Stalin to shed his soft corner for his cousins and rally behind his elder brother.

“If I need anything I always convey it to my mother who will reach it to my dad’s ears at the right time,” Azhagiri had said in an interview.

After his first wife Padmavathi died in 1948, Karunanidhi married Dayalu, chosen by his parents. He then married Rajathi, a member of the drama troupe run by poet Kannadasan, in the mid-sixties. Strangely, Rajathi’s name once figured in Assembly records when Karunanidhi as chief minister was asked who was living with him in the house on Oliver Road, for which he was collecting the official rent.

Without batting an eyelid, Karunanidhi shot back, “My daughter Kanimozhi’s mother,” since he could not officially call Rajathi his wife.

Even now, Karunanidhi spends half the day at his official Gopalapuram residence and the rest at Rajathi’s more palatial house in CIT Colony, less than a kilometre away.

Newspapers and invitations have even found a novel way of describing the two women. While Dayalu is Karunanidhi’s wife (manaiviyar in Tamil), Rajathi is called companion (thunaiviyar in Tamil).

The cold war between the two families has thawed over the years. Recently, when Karunanidhi went on a half-day fast over the war in Lanka, his two wives were seated next to him — Rajathi at his head and Dayalu at his feet.

When the Marans fell out with the patriarch, it was Karunanidhi’s other daughter Selvi who was traumatised most as she is married to Selvam, younger brother of Murasoli Maran.

Selvi tried her best to broker a truce between the two sides. It was only when she and Azhagiri’s daughter met at Apollo Hospital where Dayalu was admitted did the differences get ironed out.

Two years ago, Kanimozhi had wormed herself into the good books of Azhagiri, but stepped back when he started promoting his own daughter, Kayalvizhi.

Although the Marans have patched up with the Karunanidhi family, Kanimozhi’s relations with the Maran brothers remain testy. She suspects that during the “spectrum scam” — the controversial bidding for telecom 2G licences by the communications ministry headed by the DMK’s A. Raja — they were indirectly targeting her as one of the probable beneficiaries.

It has been Rajathi’s ambition to see a political role for Kanimozhi who has been waiting to be a central minister since May 2007. Karunanidhi was to anoint Stalin as deputy chief minister after the Lok Sabha victory, but he first wanted to cement the places of Azhagiri, Kanimozhi and Dayanidhi in Delhi before carrying out the exercise.

The victim of the family shenanigans has been Stalin, who has shouldered much of his father’s burden in the past two years. “While Azhagiri and Kanimozhi view Karunanidhi as their father, Stalin, due to his long political stint in the DMK, has slowly come to view his own father more as a leader and himself as a loyal cadre,” said a senior minister.