It isn’t without a reason that Muthuvel Karunanidhi is called an ace scriptwriter. On show is the latest DMK-Congress co-production, with lead actor Karunanidhi threatening to walk out of the UPA government over the Lanka issue. A couple of thundering letters written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi showcase Karunanidhi at his melodramatic best, complaining about how he feels “let down” by the “lukewarm” response of the government.
Cut to next scene in Delhi where Manmohan Singh decides to do a 2013 version of Manmohan Desai, by sending an ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ like triumvirate of P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad and A K Antony to mollify Karunanidhi. The climax scene, I guess, will be in Geneva on 22 March , where India will most likely vote against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Now anyone who follows Tamil Nadu and Karunanidhi’s politics will know the DMK chief is just indulging in posturing. Quitting the UPA will rob the party of its clout in Delhi and for a party whose leaders and cadre are already facing trouble in the AIADMK regime, not having men who matter in Delhi on speed dial would hurt. But at the same time, if he decides to go half the distance and just quit the cabinet, the bets are that he would choose the Lankan issue to pull his ministers out.
But by raising the pitch on the emotive Lankan issue, Karunanidhi’s political protest is in sync with what is happening on the streets of Tamil Nadu. Hunger strikes and street protests by a few colleges in Chennai have metamorphosed into a frenzy that is sucking in more students from different cities of the state. This is a new development because hitherto pro-Lankan Tamil protests have been the preserve of Tamil Nadu politicians and the likes of Vaiko have virtually built their political career over such agitations.
Which is why Karunanidhi wants to be up in the batting order in the test against Sri Lanka. The Lankan Tamil issue is just right for the 88-year-old to improve his credibility quotient, one year ahead of elections. The wily politician has been waiting for a big issue to piggyback on and this one fits the glove perfectly.
The letters and the airdash by three senior ministers seem more an orchestrated plot to make Karunanidhi the hero of India’s pro-Sri Lankan Tamil campaign. The AIADMK has ridiculed it calling it a “deal between UPA Delhi and UPA Chennai”. Karunanidhi knows very well that he cannot afford to yield even an inch on the issue because Jayalalithaa will go all out to occupy it. Already the Tamilnadu chief minister has asked the PM to take “historic and courageous” steps to move amendments to the US-backed resolution at Geneva. Jaya has even pressed for slapping economic sanctions on Sri Lanka till Tamils were fully settled. Which is why Karunanidhi wants terms like ‘genocide’ and ‘Eelam’ added to the resolution.
In the past, the Lankan issue has never played a significant part in the elections, where local issues held sway. But this time, political consensus is that Tamilians in Tamil Nadu are feeling more strongly for their brethren across the Gulf of Mannar. The photographs showing Prabhakaran’s son minutes before he was killed in cold blood have unleashed a sense of outrage against Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Lankan army. There is intense competition among the political tribe now to emerge as the voice of this anger and anguish.
The Congress knows there is no way its alliance with the DMK will fetch it the kind of dividends it did in 2009, when the two won 26 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats (18 seats DMK and 8 seats Congress). But then wooing Jayalalithaa is not an option given the unpredictability quotient that defines her.
Which is why when Sonia goes around political shopping in Tamil Nadu, she sees only TINA. She is aware that Karunanidhi comes with the baggage of a huge family tree and the overambitious and allegedly corrupt nature of its branches led to the electorate cutting them to size in the 2011 assembly polls. Things haven’t looked up since and Karunanidhi needs to do all it takes to put up a good performance in 2014. The DMK-Congress tie-up is not a win-win combo, but fighting separately is not an option either. A joint electoral account, both parties hope, will get more punches on the EVM than going it alone.
The Lankan issue is Karunanidhi’s gambit to get back into political form. 2014 will reveal if the master storyteller got this Act and Scene right.