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Karti Chidambaram’s arrest is symptomatic of the brazenness that runs through TN's politics

Three months after Jaya’s death in December 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s verdict, including a four-year sentence for Sasikala and her 2 relatives.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 11, 2018, 09.58 AM IST
​Karti Chidambaram
Karti Chidambaram is alleged to have received kickbacks for facilitating a foreign investment in a television company when his father, P Chidambaram, was the Union finance minister.
To say that venality is inherent in politics in India would not be an overstatement and the netas of Tamil Nadu are no exception. But what sets them apart is the number of corruption cases linked to them in recent years which have attracted national attention.

The latest of those relates to the arrest of Karti Chidambaram, son of Congress member of Parliament P Chidambaram, by the Central Bureau of Investigation on February 28. He is alleged to have received kickbacks for facilitating a foreign investment in a television company when his father was the Union finance minister.

The opposition Congress is blaming the arrest on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s “vendetta politics”.

The other notable corruption cases are the 2G spectrum allocation scam, which saw the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s A Raja, a former Union telecom minister, and Kanimozhi, daughter of the party patriarch Karunanidhi, spend months in jail in 2011 and 2012, before finally being acquitted last December; and the Aircel-Maxis case in which DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, who was also a telecom minister, was accused of forcing the owner of Aircel to sell his shares to Maxis in return for the latter’s investment in a company of Sun Group, run by his brother Kalanithi. The brothers were acquitted a year ago by a special court, but the decision has been challenged in the Delhi High Court.

There was also the disproportionate assets case against former Tamil Nadu chief minister and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief J Jayalalithaa and her aide VK Sasikala, which dragged on for years. Jayalalithaa spent three weeks in jail in 2014 and had to resign as chief minister after she was convicted by a trial court in Bengaluru, but the conviction was stayed by the Karnataka High Court.

Three months after Jayalalithaa’s death in December 2016, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s verdict, including a four-year sentence for Sasikala and two of her relatives.

Corruption Cases
Months later, Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe Election Commission (EC) officials to get the AIADMK’s ‘two leaves’ symbol in a fight between two factions of the party. He was later released on bail and in December 2017 won the by-election election to Jayalalithaa’s assembly constituency though the symbol had been given to the other AIADMK camp, which is in power.

N Sathiya Moorthy, director of the Chennai chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, says the importance of its two major Dravidian parties in national coalitions over the past two decades emboldened them and made them more brazen. Jayalalithaa withdrew her support to the fragile coalition led by the BJP in 1999, cutting short the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s term to a mere 13 months. Between 1999 and 2004, the DMK was part of Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance government, and between 2004 and 2013 a key constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

Tamil Nadu sends 39 lawmakers to the Lok Sabha; only four states — Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Bihar — elect more.

Maalan V Narayanan, a senior journalist in Chennai, says one reason for the corruption in the DMK and the AIADMK is the power wielded by the first families of both parties. The DMK is controlled by Karunanidhi’s family (the Maran brothers are his grand-nephews) and the AIADMK was till recently under the influence of Sasikala’s family. He adds that the policy of handing out freebies like televisions, fans and mixer-grinders, mastered by Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi and emulated elsewhere in the country, further led to voters being give money for their support, which has perpetuated impropriety.

“One can outwit the other only with money power...The election system is such that it sustains corruption.” The EC suspended polling in two assembly constituencies in the state in 2016 after evidence was found of voters being bribed and it did the same in Jayalalithaa’s constituency during the bypoll.

To be fair to some of the politicians caught in controversy, the charges against some like Karti Chidambaram are yet to be proved and others like Raja and Kanimozhi have been exonerated. Also, issues get raked up to suit certain political parties that stand to benefit from them — and it certainly helps that there is a prime facie case often, according to Moorthy.

Tamil Nadu is both fascinating and incomprehensible to political observers in Delhi: the personality cult that dominated politics till Jayalalithaa’s passing; the strong ties between cinema and politics, from Karunanidhi, MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa to Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth; and the irrelevance of national parties — the Congress has been out of power there since 1967 and the state is one of the few that has eluded the BJP.

The developments in the Karti Chidambaram case will not be the only reason Tamil Nadu will be in the news in the months to come. The entry of Haasan and Rajinikanth into the political arena; speculation about Tamil Nadu going to polls early, maybe even along with the general election in 2019, two years ahead of schedule; and the future of the AIADMK will also be closely watched.

VK Sasikala

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