The homecoming of Andimuthu Raja this week was marked by pomp and fanfare. Both the DMK party and A.Raja appear to have embarked on a game plan to project him as a martyr crucified for being a Dalit.
Conveniently though they don’t ask the obvious question – who exactly is responsible for his predicament. Asking too many questions could spoil the fun after all!
Raja himself is seeking to retrieve some of his lost ground with his whirlwind tour of his constituency of Ooty, making full use of his first visit to Tamil Nadu after 16 months.
The DMK party still has many stalwarts from its heydays, in the likes of Professor K.Anbalagan, Duraimurugan, Veerapandi Arumugam, etc. All these senior leaders who were instrumental in the humongous growth of DMK were never able to carve a niche for themselves in the DMK and were forced to play second fiddle to one or another of the DMK scions. But, A.Raja, a novice in politics when compared to party seniors like Anbalagan or Duraimurugan, is being wooed by all of Karuna’s heirs apparent. Feelers from such quarters are a clear indication that A.Raja has become a potent force in the DMK, which status few other leaders achieved in the fifty year history of the DMK.
A.Raja’s has indeed been a meteoric rise in the party, leaving many fuming inside the DMK. While numerous DMK heavyweights were queuing up at Gopalapuram to secure a ticket to contest in the parliamentary elections in 1996, A.Raja sprang a surprise on them all by bagging the nomination for Perambalur, and he went on to win handsomely. A lawyer with no decent practice worth its name, Raja’s elevation as an MP at the age of 33 was a shocker to many. A canny politician he was, Raja identified the power centers around Karunanidhi and made the right moves which ensured his second nomination in 1999.
When Karuna suggested Raja’s name for appointment as Union Minister of State for Rural Development in 1999, the DMK partymen understood that Raja had arrived. By the time he became minister, Raja had become the blue-eyed boy of the CIT colony hub, the parallel power center in Karunanidhi’s domain. It was a win-win situation for A.Raja.
It is in the CIT colony Rajathi Ammal, MK’s third ‘wife’ and their daughter Kanimozhi are put up. Lacking the status of a legally wedded wife, Rajathi Ammal thereby seemed to lack access to power too. She tried to make up for that ‘failing’ by promoting Kanimozhi.
The mother-daughter duo, chafing at their ‘second-class’ status, thought they had struck gold in Raja who was willing to act as their representative in Delhi, a true loyalist all the time. Naturally whenever possible Kanimozhi and Rajathi sought to influence the grand old man of the party and get their boy plum positions. Thus the CIT-colony alliance seemed to work fantastically for both.
When Kanimozhi was offered the DMK ticket back in 2004 to contest from the Central Madras parliamentary constituency, held earlier by the late Murasoli Maran, a nephew of party chief Karunanidhi, she spurned the offer, apparently diffident about getting into politics full time. Eventually the ticket went to Dayanidhi Maran, the younger son of Murasoli Maran.
Perhaps Kanimozhi didn’t realize the mistake she was committing in passing up. Dayanidhi Maran seized the opportunity with both hands and came to be seen as the DMK’s face in New Delhi, even eclipsing veterans like T.R.Balu.
If the Maran scion thought he was scoring a point by studiously ignoring the CIT colony residents even while reveling in his newfound power as Union Cabinet Minister for Telecom, the CIT folks had some solace in finding their nominee Raja made the Union Minister for Environment and Forest.
Being a quick learner, he learned the nuances and intricacies of the Delhi politics and became a suave operator. His tenure in the Environment ministry saw Raja make the right contacts and getting acquainted with power brokers who were thronging the environment ministry for clearances of multi-crore projects and mines.
Thus the environment portfolio turned into a golden goose, and Raja promptly channelized a significant portion of his earnings to the CIT colony residence. For he was not only resourceful, but he also knew how to oil the wheels of his career. Kanimozhi’s nomination to Rajya Sabha cemented Raja’s ties with CIT colony. Being a novice to Delhi politics, Raja promptly took Kanimozhi under his wings.
This abundant caution came to the fore again when he became the Telecom minister after Dayanidhi Maran was eased out in the wake of the controversy over the survey in the Maran-family-owned Tamil daily – it seemed to imply that Karunanidhi’s elder son Azhagiri enjoyed little support among the DMK cadre.
All hell broke loose, and Azhagiri’s henchmen were set upon the hapless office of the daily. In the resulting fire, three of the employees of the newspaper were choked to death.
It then became untenable for Dayanidhi to continue in the union ministry any more, and Raja got the coveted job, thanks to intense lobbying at the CIT colony.
But almost one of his first acts after assuming office was to fly down to Chennai and deliver a huge amount to the DMK’s first family, the Radia tapes revealed.
Mind you the stash went to the first family at Gopalapuram, not to the second at CIT colony. The Machiavelian he was, Raja was making a point: his predecessor, Dayanidhi, had been making a killing, but would not share the loot with the patriarch, despite the fact he was the grandson of MK’s elder sister.
Thus while he already was a known CIT loyalist, he now had the confidence of Gopalapuram too. Raja started spreading wings, and spectrum happened.
The 2G scam shook the conscience of the nation. The entire media and all the opposition parties inevitably gunned for Raja’s head. He was forced to resign from the cabinet and ultimately arrested. The DMK which initially put up a brave defence on behalf of Raja ditched him when the Karuna’s favourite daughter herself was sent to prison.
But the 16-month-long incarceration has become a blessing in disguise for Raja. For the DMK has been undergoing some intense convulsions in his absence, what with the assembly election debacle and the war of succession between Azhagiri and Stalin. Now both the sons are wooing party leaders and cadres.
Raja has descended into this chaos. Whatever his clout among the party flock, his Dalit label is a helpful rallying point. Hence the two sons are falling over each other to woo him, not to mention Kanimozhi who is perhaps hoping that when as the brothers tear into each other, she might come to be seen as a much better option.
But Raja, shrewd as ever, plays his cards close to his chest. Of course he will never forget that his party’s initial enthusiasm for him started cooling off after Kanimozhi was arrested. The priority then became one of saving her at any cost.
Not just that the DMK chief, in his anxiety to save his daughter, went to the extent of allowing Kanimozhi’s lawyer Ram Jethmalani to argue that Raja was the center of the scam and all decisions were taken by him alone.
Still Raja swallowed the humiliation, kept reiterating his loyalty and never let out a word on where the spectrum loot went.
At the same time he also kept in touch with his supporters during his long incarceration. Sources in Delhi say that there was a beeline of visitors for Raja. He nurtured well his contacts in Ooty, particularly.
Raja’s political savvy was in full bloom during his recent media interaction at the Anna Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters, after he called on his ‘Thalaivar’ – “I am like the child in the womb of the DMK”. He claimed that his moral fibre got strengthened during his imprisonment as he immersed himself in MK’s memoirs, poring over it again and again.
Not just morally, but legally and politically too he had become stronger thanks to those pearls of wisdom rolling out endlessly from the pages of Karuna’s semi-autobiography.
The theatricals that seemed to ignore the backstabbing by Karunanidhi, very much in the fashion of his mentor himself, seemed to show that Raja had become a past master in posturing.
He has also honed his skills in political conspiracies while in New Delhi. In 2009 he had gone all out to block the re-entry of Balu into the cabinet. He is heard asking that wheeler-dealer Nira Radia to convey Karunanidhi in a sealed cover that TR.Balu is a taboo for the Congress!
So presumably he will resort to every trick conceivable to preserve himself in the pit of snakes that the DMK has now become. He is very well aware that Karunanidhi’s demise would throw open infinite possibilities. With Stalin and Azhagiri determined to destroy each other, and Kanimozhi herself looking for allies to save her own position, he could mount his own challenge to the warring brothers, with or without Kanimozhi’s help. His Dalit background and the halo of a martyr, not to mention his hidden booty, could all make him a formidable force.
For all the furore it has caused, the 2G case itself could meander on aimlessly for a while and then die altogether for want of solid evidence to nail the guilty. For all the purportedly astronomical figures of loss to the exchequer, the money trail is known to have gone cold except for the Rs.200 crore that found its way to the Kalaignar TV.
It would be too farfetched for any Judge with basic knowledge in criminal law to fix the 200 crores on A.Raja. The CBI could be said to have botched up the entire charge sheet by not examining either the then Finance Minister P.Chidambaram or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a witness.
Without examining them as witnesses charging A.Raja for having misled them would not stand legal scrutiny.
After all the former Solicitor General Vahnavati himself has certified the press release of Telecom Ministry, which forms the fulcrum of the 2G scam, as “fair and reasonable,” but he has not been charged in the case – that lapse is seen as the death knell of the trial. The CBI’s action of selectively charge sheeting Swan and Unitech and leaving out Reliance, Tata and Systema Shyam telecom and not charge-sheeting Loop telecom under the Prevention of Corruption Act too would be a boon for Raja’s defence. Having gone through the documents against him and the charge sheet and knowing the facts by heart, A.Raja is said to be quite confident of coming out unscathed.
Only time would tell whether A.Raja would be able to wrest control of the DMK after Karunanidhi. But he looms like a dark horse in the background and perhaps can’t be wished away by anyone.