Kanimozhi & and seven dwarfs
(The Editor-in-Chief of The New Indian Express and is based at Chennai)
22 Nov 2008 01:00:00 AM IST
Take communications minister A Raja, who is akin to Dopey among Snow White's dwarfs. He and Kanimozhi took over from Dayanidhi Maran when Mr Kalaignar banished the latter from his kingdom in April 2007. Dayanidhi and brother Kalanidhi had become too ambitious, holding popularity contests in their newspaper; so it was burnt down. Prior to his downfall, Dayanidhi served dual roles in distant Delhi: as minister in a financially-busy ministry, he was also Mr Kalaignar's pointsman in the Capital. After Dayanidhi's departure, Raja assumed the first role, Kanimozhi the second.
Raja was focused on his task from the start; this July, the Express reported his underselling of 2G spectrum (a designated part of the airwaves for use by mobile phone operators) which caused a loss of Rs 22,466 crore. Turns out we were wrong by around Rs 37,500 crore. Now the Left and the BJP want Raja's head; the central vigilance commission is deep into its investigation; and the Delhi High Court has admitted a public interest litigation against the allotment.
The scam, briefly: Raja did not auction the spectrum, but sold it on a first-come-firstserve basis. And not at 2007 prices; he charged the 2001 price of Rs 1,650 crore. That would have been okay, except he did not give any genuine operator time to react; in effect, the sale announcement came at the start of a weekend, and it closed after the weekend was over. Foreign players did not get time to mobilize their Rs 1,650 crore – which again would be okay, if it weren't for the fact that two operators who did get the Spectrum, Unitech and Swan (realty players who do not even own a simple telecom asset like a network tower), effectively and profitably resold their spectrum to foreign players.
Raja not only undersold, but blocked genuine foreign players, who came in anyway, after enriching someone other than the Government of India. Was it just the Delhi responsibilities that Kanimozhi shared with Raja? Or should she share culpability as well? Then there is T R Baalu, who's like the dwarf Sleepy, considering his accomplishments in nearly five years as surface transport minister in the UPA government. The highways programmes of the NDA government have all but come to a halt. And now that the world is in an economic slowdown, it ought to be a time when India pumped money into this sector of infrastructure – but private companies are getting cold feet because bank credit has dried up. Some economists think India can be among the first to recover from the global recession; that might have been true had Baalu done his job and kept performance high. Instead, Sleepy has been fruitlessly pursuing the Sethusamundram Canal project, and he has tried to divert cheap gas to companies owned by his sons.
Back home in Tamil Nadu, there is the electricity minister Arcot Veeraswamy, possibly the dwarf Happy. He has reigned over a deteriorating power situation which makes a mockery of the UPA's hopes that India will help pull the globe out of recession.
Ask any industrialist in the state that has been among the most industrialized in the country. Factory owners in Sriperumbudur lament the open extortion by "rowdies"; they lament the money they spend on private generators due to power rationing; they lament the drying up of the US market. One reason it is so bad is Veeraswamy's great interest in monitoring the rise of actorturned politician Vijaykanth, a man with no ideas, no neck, but lots of supporters, as a recent rally in Chennai demonstrated.
Kanimozhi's two step-brothers, Stalin and Azhagiri, can be likened to Snow White's Sneezy and Grumpy. These guys are certainly not the Brothers Karamazov. If they were, nobody would spend their time wondering what lies in store for the DMK after Mr Kalaignar departs from the scene.
By protocol, Stalin as a senior minister in the state government would appear to be the natural heir. But Azhagiri, the elder brother who is more straightforward than subtle, has been ruling the roost in the southern part of the state, and has of late turned his gaze to the Capital.
Kanimozhi seems to have taken a liking for Grumpy. And in doing so, her well-wishers may have displayed a bit of ruthlessness as well. For, back in June there were a bunch of mysterious rumours about Stalin, saying that he had returned from a London trip with some dreaded disease which would cut his life short and which had forced Mr Kalaignar to reconsider his succession. It was a false rumour. Stalin found that he had sarcoidosis, a node in the lung that is easily curable. At worst, he is simply, well, Sneezy.
The rumours, however, are an example of how absurd the fallout of sibling rivalry can get.
The last two in Kanimozhi's troupe would be her rivals for Mr Kalaignar's mantle: PMK founder S Ramdoss and film icon Rajnikanth.
Ramdoss, whose son is the health minister in Delhi (so we can call him Doc), thinks he is the natural successor. He overplayed his hand recently, however, and finds falling between both the DMK's and Ms J Jayalalithaa's stools. But he is a potent force, demonstrated by the fact that Baalu visited him at his house in Tindivanam two weeks back – some say to request Ramdoss not to raise the 2G spectrum controversy in the state. Perhaps his silence will be his price for his return to the DMK-led front.
Rajnikanth is a force greater than a tsunami, and was almost lured into politics by the late G K Moopanar. The talk is that he will start his own party – but only after Mr Kalaignar goes. Naturally, of Snow White's dwarfs, he should be Bashful.
None of this can be good for Kanimozhi, who, if you've noticed, has been unable to live up to her responsibility as Mr Kalaignar's pointsman in Delhi, as evidenced by her lack of handling of the Sri Lankan Tamils' issue and the 2G spectrum controversy.
It's probably because she spends all her time in Chennai, rushing from one local function to the next, keeping her visibility high, and feeding her obscenely growing ambition. Unlike Snow White, however, she has enviable maternal support, and it looks as if more than her, it will be the residents of Tamil Nadu who will be biting the poisoned apple and slipping into coma, with no prince charming to rescue us in sight