Aging Don Karunanidhi makes peace for sake of family

Indian politicians have taken quite a beating these past few months, what with the judiciary, civil society and media hounding them almost relentlessly. One of the most unlikely addresses in the country—Tihar Jail—is now not just serving as a temporary abode for some of their ilk, but the premises are constantly at the centre of jokes about how the place needs a facelift because of the changing profile of its inmates!

As their fortunes take a downswing, much of their swagger has also gone. The political class is no longer seen by many as the all powerful, almost invincible and omnipotent force it was in the eyes of many till some time ago in terms of its clout, and the ability to get things done.

But some things just don’t change. Old habits die hard.

In Delhi recently, the style and modus operandi of film scriptwriter-turned-politico and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi was reminiscent of one of modern fiction’s most popular and powerful characters: Mario Puzo’s Don Corleone.

Like the Don himself, Karunanidhi comes across as a man devoted to family values who was once a very reasonable, remarkable and powerful man.

Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi. AFP

The arrest of his daughter Kanimozhi and A Raja, coupled with the perception that the Congress did not lean enough on the central agencies to help them, the humiliating defeat of the DMK in the last assembly elections, attempts by some Congress leaders to cozy up to Jayalalithaa and the prime minister’s reluctance to reserve telecom or any other lucrative ministry against the DMK's quota, all combined to put a severe strain on the DMK-Congress relationship.

During the last few times Karunanidhi visited Delhi—nearly always to meet his daughter in jail—the strongman from Tamil Nadu refused to call on either the prime minister or the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. He also refused to nominate anybody from the DMK for the cabinet despite the party’s entitlement to two berths after the sacking of Raja and Dayanidhi Maran.

Clearly the old man was angry and sulking. He also felt no obligation to hide his feelings.

That is, until last week, when it was made known that the CBI will no longer be opposing the bail plea of Kanimozhi.

Like Mario Puzo’s Don, Karunanidhi sensed and seized the opportunity and extended his hand of friendship by calling on both Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister.

Remember Godfather?

Soon after Sonny – the dangerously wild, tactically brilliant and fatally short-tempered eldest son of Don Corleone - was treacherously killed, the Godfather convened a meeting of the heads of all other mafia groups (families) and offered them his hand of friendship.

The Don said that he will not seek revenge and will even go out of his way to protect and help the illegal businesses of some of his rivals. In return, he sought the safe return of his youngest son, Michael Corleone, from Sicily.

Michael was forced to flee to Sicily after murdering the New York police commissioner and a drug dealer who had masterminded an attack on the life of the Don.

The Don’s mind was fixated on his goal and he was willing to sacrifice anything— revenge as well as his pride— to achieve that.

Like a loving father –but more like a shrewd tactician—he wanted his son to return safely from hiding and take over the reigns of the Corleone family empire. That was impossible to achieve without buying peace from his rivals.

So in his legendary ability to mix ruthlessness with reason, Don stitched a deal with his enemies to ensure the safe return of his son and successor.

Concessions were made but not without accompanying threats. Remember the famous lines of Godfather when before the peace meeting concluded, the Don stood up to address the other Dons.

"But let me say this , I am a superstitious man. So if some unlucky incident should befall my youngest son, if some police officer accidentally shoots him, if he should hang himself in his cell, if a new witness appears to testify to his guilt, my superstition will make me feel that it was the result of the ill-will still borne by some people here. Let me go further. If my son is struck by a bolt of lightening I will blame some of the people here. If his plane should fall in the sea or his ship sink beneath the waves of the ocean, if he should catch a mortal fever, if his automobile should be struck by a train, such is my superstition that I would blame the ill will felt by people here. Gentlemen, that ill will, that bad luck, I could never forgive.”

So was Karunanidhi in Delhi to make a similar appeal and a similar gesture? Is he willing to forget and forgive in return for bail (and maybe more going forward!) for his daughter? There can be little doubt that by meeting the Congress president and the prime minister, the Tamil Nadu strongman was sending a clear message signalling truce from his side.

Maybe once the bail is granted, the vacancies from the DMK quota are also filled in the cabinet.

Imagery, theatrical moves and symbolism …they go hand-in-hand in Tamil politics.

And for someone like Karunanidhi –who has practiced the same whether in real or reel life for close to six decades now—some things just don’t change. It does really matter whether it's a a moment of adversity or triumph.

Our own , homegrown Godfather deserves a bow for always living up to his image as well as imagery!

Updated Date: Oct 25, 2011 18:12 PM

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