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'Raja always put DMK's interests above his own'

December 08, 2010 11:40 IST
The CBI raided former telecom minister A Raja's homes in Chennai and New Delhi on Wednesday morning.

Krishnakumar Padmanabhan discovers that despite the national outrage over his alleged misdeeds, Raja remains a popular politician in Tamil Nadu.

On Monday, November 29, former Union telecom minister Andimuthu Raja landed at Coimbatore airport on his way to his constituency, Nilgiris.

This was the first time he was visiting Nilgiris since resigning as a Union minister, after his name figured in the 2G spectrum scam. He got a tumultuous welcome from his supporters.

The day he handed over his resignation, he got a hero's welcome at Chennai airport. Even for a nation used to seeing tainted politicians waving cheerfully to supporters, these images may be difficult to decipher and digest.

Here is a man who is said to have cost the exchequer Rs 173,000 crore (Rs 1,730 billion) and largely loathed across the nation. And instead of abuse and black flags greeting him he was getting a hero's welcome wherever he went in his native state.

There is more to the curious case of Andimuthu Raja in Tamil Nadu.

Not only does he have the backing of his grassroots supporters, he seemingly also has his party leader's backing.

A day after he resigned, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravid Munnetra Kazhagham supremo Muthuvel Karunanidhi lauded Raja in an editorial in the party's newspaper, Murasoli.

To cap it all, there wasn't public outrage either in the state, which switches its governments every term only to see one party go one up in the corruption stakes.

Even the local media has not reported widely on the spectrum scam or the 2G tapes.

Only Dinamani (from the New Indian Express group) has been reporting the scam. None of the other newspapers -- English and Tamil -- have written about the scam.

Bloggers are now working on translating the Radia tapes -- conversations between Niira Radia, the corporate lobbyist, and politicians including Raja -- and posting them online.

"Till the time the Rs 173,000 crore came out, there were no waves in the state," says a senior political journalist in Tamil Nadu, explaining the lack of public outrage. "The lay people knew nothing about 'spectrum', and moreover this was a central issue. This does not touch them personally. Yes, the middle class and the upper class were shocked. And this shows in the urban areas. But elsewhere in the state, the issue will gain prominence only when the election season starts."

Tamil Nadu will go to the polls next year when voters will elect a new government -- the choice will be between the ruling DMK and its bitter rival, the All India Anna Dravida Kazagham.

Karunanidhi's backing

So, how and why does Raja have Karunanidhi's backing?

"When he was asked to resign, the mood in the party was that he was asked to go only because Jayalalithaa was offering the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) support," says a DMK source. "But then, the leader has not said anything against him. And the party workers would not be organising such receptions wherever he goes. Raja has always put the party's interests above his own. The leadership sees him as having done more for the party from Delhi than even Murasoli Maran (the chief minister's late nephew, a Union minister through much of the late 1990s and early 2000s."

Had action been taken against Raja within the party, the DMK activist adds it would look like accepting his guilt.

"That is why even when he resigned, the party said it was to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament, and it was maintained that Raja was innocent," he points out.

In DMK circles, Raja is also seen as the top-most mobiliser of funds for elections. Though Karunanidhi has backed Raja till now, other DMK leaders want the chief minister to distance himself from his embattled colleague.

"(Union Chemical and Fertilisers Minister and the chief minister's elder son M K) Azhagiri never liked an outsider in a high position," says a source close to the Madurai-based leader. "One reason there was not much pomp at his son's wedding recently was because the Raja issue was still fresh in public memory. Now, the Stalin (Karunanidhi's younger son and the state's deputy chief minister) camp also wants the party not to be seen as supporting Raja. They don't want this to come back and haunt them during the election."

Political observers in Tamil Nadu believe that though it may take a while for Raja to return to active public life, nothing much will come of the enquiries into the scam.

"The belief is that such a big scam could not have happened without the knowledge or participation of the Congress," says an observer.

And, at least for the foreseeable future, the Congress needs the DMK as its ally at the Centre and the DMK needs the Congress as its supporter in the state. Karunanidhi's government is propped up by Congress support in the state assembly.

"Though Jayalalithaa offered to make up for the DMK's numbers (the DMK has 18 Lok Sabha MPs), the Congress knows it will have to depend on volatile elements if the DMK goes away from the coalition," the observer points out.

In Tamil Nadu, with an alliance between Jayalalithaa's AIADMK and actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam almost certain for next year's assembly election, the DMK needs the Congress in an alliance.

"If the Congress goes away, then the DMK will face huge losses. They need a credible ally in the urban areas, without which they will lose out in those areas," adds the observer. "So, at least till the elections are over, the status quo will remain and neither side will broach the Raja issue."

Also Read: CBI raids Raja's houses in Delhi, Chennai
Azhagiri kills two birds with low-key wedding

Krishnakumar Padmanabhan