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Why DMK's spring-cleaning won't work

June 25, 2014 18:43 IST

Karunanidhi and StalinWith assembly elections only two years away, in 2016, the DMK may not have the luxury of time on its side. If the slow pace of reforms that the party has indulged itself in, in the past decade and more is any indicator, the committed 25 percent vote-share would either be frittered away, or lost, says N Sathiya Moorthy.

Despite reorganising the party structure to increase the number of district units from 35 to 65, and suspending 33 second-line leaders across the state for contributing to the parliamentary poll debacle, the ongoing spring-cleaning in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is at best a cosmetic effort that’s too little, too late.

The fact that the number of district units have nearly been doubled at one go shows how delayed the process has been. Likewise, suspension of 33 leaders should picture the rot that has set in over time. If nothing else, the party will have to resort to such efforts periodically, and allow organisational elections to go on as independently and transparently as possible, if it has to re-infuse confidence and enthusiasm in cadre-morale.

The district re-organisation has been done without much loss of time after a six-member committee submitted its report to party president M Karunanidhi. The committee of veterans was/is seen as being non-partisan and sincere. That did boost the cadre expectation after the disastrous poll debacle. A beginning was made, but not enough has been done afterward. Or, so it would seem.

Likewise, the suspensions followed the commissioned submission of complaints by the party’s losing Lok Sabha candidates. Among them are three prominent persons -- former Union Minister of State for Finance, S S Palanimanikkam, former state minister V Mullaivendan and incumbent Rajya Sabha member, K P Ramalingam.

Of them, Palanimanikkam was said to have worked against the interests of party candidate and former Union minister T R Baalu after being forced out of his native Thanjavur constituency. Ramalingam had identified himself with Karunanidhi’s estranged politician-son M K Alagiri even after the party had sacked the latter.

Sibling rivalry still

Yet, the two major decisions suffer from inadequacies. The reorganisation means that there will be more parliamentary constituencies that will fall under the care of two or more district unit secretaries. There will be jockeying for favourite candidates for elections, and blame-game afterward if the party were to lose, as has happened just now.

Likewise, there are already murmurs of dissatisfaction, if not disaffection, that disciplinary action has targeted only those not in the good books of DMK treasurer and heir-apparent M K Stalin. Or, it has targeted those that are identified with either Alagiri or half-sister Kanimozhi. ‘Sibling rivalry’ refuses to go away.

The disciplinary action smacks of inadequacies even otherwise. No action has been taken against those district secretaries who had brought a bad name to the party when occupying ministerial positions in the past, and have done nothing precious to eradicate the public/cadre-image in the matter. There is also nothing to suggest that they will not be allowed to continue.

Many of these district secretaries and those below them are seen as being incapable of doing anything to change the public perception about themselves and the party, as entrenchment has come with a cost for a cadre-based party like the DMK. The party lost two successive elections very badly, in 2011 (assembly) and 2014 (Lok Sabha) owing to such unimpeachable imagery in the voter-mind.

Lacking in self-confidence

Successive decisions by the party since Stalin began taking on the reins in instalments would show that for a leader of his stature, the DMK treasurer may still be lacking in self-confidence. It is different from his unwillingness to take on responsibilities unless they were conferred on him by the Karunanidhi leadership.

In this, Stalin’s style of functioning has differed vastly from that of Alagiri, who had been seen as taking unilateral and at times controversial initiatives, putting the party in bad light. If it was expected to build his self-confidence as the heir-apparent that has not happened.

Party supremos of stature in the state and elsewhere have always put themselves a couple of notches above lesser mortals, and allowed freedom of action and criticism on them. Though factionalism has been there in Stalin’s DMK, too, it did not take the same route.

Instead, it owed to Stalin favouring a few in the districts, and they in turn running rough-shod over whoever they had thought off as a challenge. This has percolated to the village-level. The old DMK game of creating a ‘B-Team’ headed either by the late ‘Murasoli’ Maran or Alagiri, for inevitable dissenters at the district-level to migrate, failed after Alagiri did not play ball after a time.

Loyal to Stalin, burden on party

The present re-organisation does not promise anything in terms of punishing and side-lining errant district secretaries who are still ‘loyal’ to Stalin, but are otherwise a burden on the party. There is nothing to suggest that they would be barred, or otherwise discouraged from contesting the upcoming organisational elections at all levels.

Only such a serious surgical approach alone would help the DMK to try and refurbish the public image of the party that is now down. With nothing of the kind likely to happen -- or, that being the cadre perception -- the disenchantment could show in the organisational elections.

Either the cadres would stay away from the organisational elections, or could challenge the incumbent, whether or not he is a Stalin favourite, if they feel that he is not good for the party’s public image. Alternatively, or alongside, the entrenched district secretaries could repeat their high-handed methods to usurp organisational power and positions at whatever cost.

The inability of the Karunanidhi-Stalin leadership to rein them in could lead to an exodus of second-line leaders, some into retirement, and some others into the waiting hands of rival parties, which would cold-store them ultimately. This then too would be a repeat of the MGR-expulsion days, from which the party would not have learnt its lessons four decades down the line.

Not learnt the lesson

All this could produce yet another ‘poll shock’ for the party leadership which has not learnt how to manage dissent ever since the late popular film-star M G Ramachandran was sacked in 1972. MGR was followed by Vaiko, 20 years later in 1993 -- until the Maran-Alagiri duo got to work on the ground, either by design or otherwise.

Today, a repeat of the scenario in the long aftermath of the MGR dismissal stares the party on the face. It has neither the mechanism, nor the instinct, nor the intent to set right matters. Or, so again, it seems.

With assembly elections only two years away, in 2016, the DMK may not have the luxury of time on its side. If the slow pace of reforms that the party has indulged itself in, in the past decade and more is any indicator, the committed 25 percent vote-share would either be frittered away, or lost, at times for good -- if the leadership refuses to see and hear what needed to be seen and heard -- and act on them, too, with sincerity and transparency.

Image: M Karunanidhi and M K Stalin.

N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Chennai chapter of Observer Research Foundation.

N Sathiya Moorthy