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September 3, 1998


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Jaya's ex-aide Natarajan tries to take the tough route to power

N Sathiya Moorthy in Kanyakumari

Guess who is the 'rising star', the 'future hope' of Tamil Nadu, in the midst of the Karunanidhis and the Jayalalithas, the Moopanars and the Ramamurthys, the Vaikos and the Ramadosses?

M Natarajan, if you please.

The embarrassed-yet-not-so-estranged husband of Sasikala, in turn the live-in aide of AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha, is on his trip all over again. On Tuesday, he launched a padyatra from the land's end to the seat of government in Tamil Nadu, namely Madras.

The goal is clear, but the deadline for the padyatra reaching the distant metropolis has been kept as vague as the one for the political goal. And accompanying him on the padyatra are 'volunteers' of his Makkal Vizhippunarchi Iyakkam, or the 'People's Reawakening Movement', though it remains to be seen, how many of them will be with their leader throughout the 900-km stretch.

True, Natarajan, a post-graduate employee of the state information department before he graduated as Jayalalitha's unsung political advisor in her critical days, has set the DMK state government and its 'anti-people policies' as his immediate target. Of particular interest is his opposition to the government's anti-terrorist law, brought out in the wake of the Coimbatore serial blasts.

But his own advisors are not shy of his ultimate goal. Yes, Fort St George, the seat of government in Madras. At least they argue that the cadres of the AIADMK, which Natarajan had nurtured during its critical years, are getting increasingly tired of Jayalalitha's intransigence. According to these advisors again, the Tamil Maanila Congress has become 'politically irrelevant', and its "anti-DMK, anti-Jaya votes too will come our way".

Some ambition, some strategy, you may say. But those are commodities that Natarajan has not been found short of. In a way, he is a Subramanian Swamy clone, minus the latter's 'national presence'. If anything, he could be said to have learnt his political skulduggery only from Dr Swamy, if not under Dr Swamy, when the Janata Party president used him as a bridge to Jayalalitha in the post-MGR days, particularly in 1989-91 when the DMK was in power.

That was when Natarajan and his wife had made themselves permanent fixtures in Jayalalitha's Poes Garden home. Dr Swamy had reportedly suggested that Jayalalitha become chief minister on the strength of his political manipulations, and he himself could try and become prime minister with the 40 MPs she could help win.

Natarajan was obviously impressed, only that he would rather have Jayalalitha as prime minister, and he himself as chief minister. That should explain, how after ensuring the DMK government's dismissal in January 1991, Dr Swamy as Union law minister, ended up losing Jayalalitha's blessings for contesting the general election that very year.

That, however, did not prevent Dr Swamy from considering Natarajan for replacing Jayalalitha when the former launched the 'Movement for Good Governance' against her chief ministership a year later. Only that better counsels prevailed, and both have been at each other's throat, albeit, through proxies since then.

Today, both Dr Swamy and Natarajan are out to outsmart each other in being close to Jayalalitha. Natarajan has his wife Sasikala inside Jayalalitha's home, though after a break, but he wouldn't take chance. A former Swamy aide, 'Tiruchi' Velusamy, who has been alleging a role for his one-time mentor in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination, before, during and after the Jain Commission proceedings, was by Natarajan's side in Kanyakumari when he launched the padyatra.

"I was the one who made Jayalalitha chief minister," Natarajan is not tired of telling anyone willing to listen. Only that their numbers have been declining lately, and every time he tries to rear his political head, the AIADMK hits him where it hurts. Lately, he was physically assaulted in a North Arcot village, and even as this padyatra approached its first halt at Kottaram, local AIADMK members were booked by the police for trying to show black-flags to Natarajan.

Natarajan is convinced that both Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha, in their own parallel ways, are out to harm him and his family. He blames the chief minister for all the cases that have been filed against his wife, forgetting for a while that the Congress government of P V Narasimha Rao had been behind most. Likewise, he challenges Jayalalitha to a debate on his role in making her chief minister.

If Natarajan has launched a padyatra, he is only aping his nephew and Jayalalitha's one-time foster-son, V N Sudhakaran, whose `mega wedding' made international news in 1995. Since falling foul of Jayalalitha, in turn after her losing the 1996 election, the father of two has been on a padyatra to one temple or the other. That's when he is not gracing a temple festival, elsewhere.

If he is addressed by his 'followers' as 'Chinna MGR', Sudhakaran has also aped Tamil cinema's reigning superstar Rajnikanth by staying away from Madras on his birthday last week, and making a public announcement for his 'fans' not to bother visiting him. Coming from the numerically-strong Thevar community, and wearing the hallmarks of religion, Sudhakaran obviously attempts to ape the late Forward Bloc leader Muthuramalinga Thevar, who said 'Religion and nationalism should go hand-in-hand'.

In all this, however, there is a message that both the uncle and nephew seem to be sending out. That, they are ready -- jointly earlier, severally now, after the two have reportedly fallen out -- to take on the combined might of the political establishment.

And Natarajan at least is willing to wait, with his patience preserved like the Tamil poet-savant Thiruvalluvar, whose portrait he seeks to portray with a shawl wrapped across his left shoulder, and his better days in politics having made the acquaintance of a Kanshi Ram here, and a Mulayam Yadav, there, possible in the first place.

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