Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Maran's ouster: sidetracking the issue

I'm amazed at the media coverage of the ouster of DMK minister, Dayanidhi Maran, from the union cabinet. Most of the coverage has focused on Maran's perceived political ambitions and how these collided with those of the first family of the DMK, that of Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi. The financial dailies have explored the business angle as well, whether and how Maran's exit will impact on the telecom industry.

But these are secondary issues. The core issue is the barbaric attack on the office of the newspaper Dinakaran in Madurai which resulted in three deaths and the destruction of private and public property. The paper was attacked because it had carried the results of an opinion poll that showed that only 2% of those surveyed wanted Karunanidhi's elder son, M K Azhagiri, to inherit his mantle. The majority (70%) were said to favour the younger son, M K Stalin. Another 20% were said to favour "others"- a category that supposedly referred to Maran. The Karunanidhi family is said to have viewed this as mischief perpetrated by Maran and decided to boot him out of the cabinet.

It is hardly material whether or not Maran was trying to use his family newspaper to play political games. As a politician and newspaper owner, he has every right to do so. The Karunanidhi clan, in turn, has every right to put him in his place. But vandalising a newspaper office because it carries a survey that somebody does not like is just not on. The media should have focused on the violence that ensued and the nailing of its perpetrators. Can you imagine the reaction if something like this had happened to a newspaper in Gujarat because it carried a survey unflattering to its chief minister?

Happily, ET today makes amends for the media's misplaced focus with a strongly worded edit titled, Violence, not the survey, is the issue.

By compelling Union communications and IT minister and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran to resign, the CM has, very shrewdly, taken what would be seen as swift action in the Dinakaran arson case, without doing anything discernible to crack down on the key masterminds — allegedly his elder son M K Azhagiri and his acolytes — of the operation.

..it would have been logical for the DMK to have, before all else, proceeded against the real masterminds of the criminal act. The main issue is certainly not the motivation behind the survey, but the need for the state to crack down hard on those who instigated the May 9 violence. Maran’s ouster from the Union Cabinet is not simply a case of misplaced emphasis.

The only ground for a minister’s ouster should logically be poor performance. Maran can hardly be faulted on that score. But parties such as the DMK, key players in India’s coalition politics driven by self-aggrandisement and patronage, could not care less.

The cynicism of Karunanidhi’s dynastic manoeuvring must be condemned. Among other things, it raises serious doubts about the objectivity of any future probe into the incident. Maran’s direct role in the publication of the Dinakaran survey is, at best, tenuous.

Well said!

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