The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is not used to being sidelined in Tamil Nadu politics but that is the unfortunate reality facing it now. Till the last Assembly elections, the party literally lorded it over the state.
The kin of DMK chief M Karunanidhi dominated not only the political scene, they also had a hand in several pies. The former chief minister's close relatives enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the film industry, television, print media, cable distribution, real estate, airlines and hotels.
The overwhelming majority of their victims kept mum as they knew raising their voice against the 'first family' would lead to serious repercussions. Countless businessmen endured huge losses but only a few like C Sivasankaran of the Siva Group showed the guts to complain when Karunanidhi's grand-nephew and the then telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran forced him to sell Aircel to Malaysian business tycoon T Ananda Krishnan.
During DMK rule, Karunanidhi's prodigal son MK Azhagiri was considered as the uncrowned king of the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Hardly anyone in Madurai and surrounding areas dared to challenge his hegemony. DMK workers enforced his writ enthusiastically.
Azhagiri's brother Stalin concentrated on Chennai and simultaneously exercised control over other important parts of the state through his acolytes. In Jun 2010, Stalin organised the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore with the active support of lottery baron Santiago Martin. The latter reportedly splurged hundreds of crores to make the event a grand success.
A significant portion of the 2G scam loot is believed to have gone to the DMK's coffers. The party's Dalit icon A Raja, Maran's successor as telecom minister, is accused of selling scarce and therefore precious spectrum at throwaway prices. In this connection, Raja and Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi spent a considerable amount of time in Tihar Jail.
For five years, the people of Tamil Nadu watched all this and waited for a chance. DMK was routed in the 2011 polls mainly because voters were disgusted by the Karunanidhi clan's venality and involvement in corruption on an unprecedented scale. DMDK founded by actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth got more seats and emerged as the main opposition party.
Even after being relegated to third place, it seems the DMK leadership have not learnt the right lessons. Karunanidhi and his sons continue to make mistakes. The latest is their 'fill jail' call. Party workers have been urged to court arrest en masse and subsequently not apply for release.
The protest is aimed at drawing attention to the detention of DMK's Salem strongman Veerapandi Arumugam under the Goondas Act. He was about to come out on bail in a case of land grabbing when the police detained him. The reason may be valid but the stir may ironically end up being counter-productive.
Just days are left for the Presidential elections. MPs and MLAs belonging to DMK won't be able to vote for the UPA's nominee Pranab Mukherjee if they are locked in prisons on Jul 19. In case that happens, he may end up losing a significant chunk of assured votes.
Apparently the party's high command did not consider this aspect before exhorting all the supporters to fill jails in the state. A rethink is needed to avoid the aforementioned scenario. Perhaps they can ask the MLAs and MPs not to join the stir. That would mean further loss of face but it seems to be the only sensible option.
One cannot rule out the possibility of the AIADMK government led by J Jayalalithaa taking a hard line. If fresh cases are booked against DMK activists once they court arrest, then they will remain behind bars for a long time. It is for the DMK leadership to decide whether such a huge risk is worth taking for petty political gains.