Home > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy
Mahajan rose because of his own genius
May 05, 2006
I was in Tamil Nadu when the news hit us that Pramod Mahajan had lost his last battle. Once the initial shock was over, I could not help but notice that there was really very little grieving around me, certainly nothing comparable to what I was seeing on screen in Delhi and Mumbai.
It is really too soon for me to put down my thoughts on the impact of Pramod Mahajan's death. There is one judgement however that can be made without fear of contradiction -- Pramod Mahajan was a politician to the marrow of his bones. Yet while he was passionate about his commitment to the BJP he was also a realist.
Death of a Leader
I think he would have been the first to admit that the lack of mourning in Chennai was because the BJP is pretty much a non-entity in the South (Karnataka always excepted). Barring Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, possibly, L K Advani, I wonder how many other BJP leaders could be identified by the mass of voters in Tamil Nadu.
If the BJP's non-existence was one reason why Tamil Nadu never saw the outpouring of emotion witnessed in Maharashtra, the second is that there is no dearth of political talking points that concern the state more directly. One gentleman from Chennai put it succinctly: "The former communications minister is not as big an electoral issue as the present communications minister." The reference is to Dayanidhi Maran, who is set to become as polarising a figure as Pramod Mahajan was within BJP circles.
Dayanidhi Maran and Pramod Mahajan rose to prominence from vastly differing backgrounds. The BJP leader was the son of a teacher from a small town in the interior of Maharashtra, the DMK grandee is the son of former Union minister Murasoli Maran and the grandnephew of party supremo M Karunanidhi. But the charges levelled against Dayanidhi Maran sound like an eerie echo of the grouses voiced against Pramod Mahajan.
Farewell Mr Mahajan
As far as I can tell, it rises from an ineffable discomfort with the manner in which both Maran and Mahajan donned Western attire, or the speed with which they adopted such Western tools as computers and cell phones. (Does anyone recall the tempest in a teacup that arose ten years ago when Mahajan was seen with a cell phone? Today, when it is a handy tool for the humblest plumber or auto-driver, it all seems just a bit ridiculous but in those days there was dark muttering.) As to the Western clothes, when was the last time you saw a Chinese minister in anything but a suit and tie?
How about the rumours of the wealth possessed by Mahajan and Maran? If you read between the lines in the reports filed after Pramod Mahajan's shooting, the BJP leader does not really come across as someone who flaunted his wealth. He lived in a rented flat, there was just one servant, and the person who opened the door and then went to prepare a cup of tea was Pramod Mahajan's wife. Those are not the trappings of a maharaja's lifestyle.
How about Maran? According to the application filed by Maran with the Election Commission when he stood for election from the Chennai Central constituency in 2004, the communications minister has assets worth roughly Rs 1.6 crore (Rs 16 million). That is a lot of money but far from extraordinary. For instance, do you know who the richest candidate in the ongoing Tamil Nadu assembly polls would be? The answer is M Karunanidhi, whose declared assets are Rs 26.53 crore (Rs 265.3 million); that puts the DMK patriarch ahead of Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who has about Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million). Next to such figures Dayanidhi Maran does not seem out of the common.
The Union communications minister's family also controls a media empire, the Sun TV network, run by Dayanidhi Maran's brother, Kalanidhi. How much is Sun TV Limited worth? When it came out with a public issue in April 2006, it offered '6,889,000 equity shares of Rs 10 each for cash at a price of Rs 875 per equity share', which makes the company worth over Rs 600 crore (Rs 6 billion).
I have no idea how many shares -- if any at all -- Dayanidhi Maran holds, but would it be fair to say that he can call upon his family for help in a pinch?
(Interestingly, Dayaluammal, wife of M Karunanidhi, sold her 20 per cent stake in Sun TV in November 2005, before the public issue. It was immediately interpreted in Tamil Nadu circles as an indication that the DMK patriarch was unhappy with Sun TV's coverage of his heir apparent, Stalin.)
Dayanidhi Maran's 'Western' habits and his family's wealth may set him apart from the rest of the DMK but what makes his colleagues truly restive is the same sin that Pramod Mahajan was once accused of, namely arrogance.
Maran is still several months short of his fortieth birthday, a stripling by Indian political standards. Yet his rise has been meteoric; he won his first Lok Sabha election in 2004 by 1.34 lakh (134,000) votes and was immediately made a member both of the Union Cabinet and of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.
In a cadre-based party, which the DMK still claims to be, this leaves several senior party workers with a grievance. How, they ask, can a man with no background in political fieldwork be pushed up the ladder in such a manner? Dayanidhi Maran's rise, they say, has made him arrogant.
The Assembly Election 2006
Karunanidhi's defence of his grandnephew has been surprisingly lukewarm. He shall, he says, pursue any serious charges should they be brought against Maran. My friends in Tamil Nadu are divided whether this is simply a case of the old man being caught on the back foot, or whether Karunanidhi is genuinely miffed with the Maran wing of the family. (Sun TV and the newspaper Dinakaran have been generous in praising Karunanidhi himself but his political heir, Stalin, has had stinted coverage. This throws a light on Dayaluammal's sudden decision to disinvest from Sun TV.)
The charge against Dayanidhi Maran is that he is now acting as if he is the de facto Number Two in the party. This has not gone down well with the Stalin wing. Stalin has fought and lost elections where the younger Maran's only experience of electoral politics is the pro-DMK wave of 2004. This, according to DMK sources, makes the communications minister reluctant to listen to veterans who have endured the ups and downs of politics.
While I knew Murasoli Maran quite well, I have no idea if his son is 'arrogant'. Such charges may well be nothing more than the pangs of a party changing from a cadre-based to a dynastic outfit. But whether true or false the rumours have become an issue in Tamil Nadu politics, and in such a close race it is a headache that the DMK really did not need.
There is something to the adage that 'men learn more their mistakes than from their successes'. The Pramod Mahajan who emerged from the heartbreaks of the 2004 general election was a wiser, better man in some ways. But never, even when he was Prime Minister Vajpayee's trusted right-hand man, was the late BJP leader ever accused of favouring his own family. (His assassin seems to have harboured a grouse for not doing enough!)
Therein lies the chief difference between the self-made man who rose through the ranks courtesy of his own genius and the one who was gifted office on a platter. Will the current Union communications minister make as decisive a mark on Indian politics as his BJP predecessor did?