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Why Stalin consoling OPS over his wife’s demise has sparked hope of civil political culture in TN

There are hopes of an amicable political culture evolving in the state, long known for acrimonious rivalries between Karunanidhi & MGR and then between him and Jayalalithaa.

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New Delhi: The image of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin consoling former deputy CM O. Panneerselvam, whose wife passed away Wednesday, is now sparking hopes of a civil political culture in the southern state. 

Stalin had Wednesday landed up at OPS’ residence and paid his respects. Photographs showed him placing one hand on OPS’s shoulder and the other, clutching the former deputy CM’s folded hands. Behind Stalin, senior DMK leader Duraimurugan can also be seen paying his condolences. 


This, however, isn’t the only instance of the chief minister showing courtesy to his political rivals. 

Earlier this week, Stalin decided to retain photos of former AIADMK CMs Jayalalithaa and Edappadi Palaniswami on 65 lakh school bags meant for free distribution. 

In May, at the height of the second Covid wave in the state, he convened an all-party meeting to tackle the rising number of cases in the state and appealed to MLAs to bury their political differences. 

Even in the multi-party Covid advisory panel, Stalin retained the former health minister from the AIADMK C. Vijayabaskar. And when AIADMK leader Madhusudan passed away last month, he was among the first to attend the funeral.

It’s a far cry from the notoriously bitter relationships that politicians from both parties have maintained since the late 1970s, when M.G. Ramachandran, or MGR as he was known, assumed power in the state.    

Equations between MGR and Karunanidhi, though great friends initially, turned sour as the former broke away from the DMK and started the AIADMK. 

This acrimony between the DMK and AIADMK only intensified during the Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha regimes, when both sides filed numerous cases against the other, publicly attacked one other, including in the infamous instance of Jayalalitha leaving the state assembly with her sari torn and hair dishevelled, promising never to return. 

DMK leaders say that the chief minister is making a concerted effort to ensure cordial ties with various parties. “CM Stalin is bringing in a new political culture in Tamil Nadu. We now have a statesman as a chief minister,” DMK leader Karthikeya Sivasenapathy told ThePrint.

“M.K. Stalin wants to change the vicious atmosphere which has been in place since 2016. One can definitely expect similar moves of including opposition leaders in advisory panels in the future also. This is not a one-off,” asserted DMK spokesperson Saravanan Annadurai. 

Also read: Congress vidhwa, napunsak, lucha-lafanga — Political attacks are now all about the personal

‘You go even to your enemy’s house when there is a death’ 

Speaking about this ‘new political culture’, Professor and Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Madras, Ramu Manivannan, explained that Stalin, having seen the political culture during his father’s tenure, now wants to set an example. 

And this attitude, he added, has come due to Stalin having experienced the ups and downs of power. 

“Both inside and outside the legislature, he is displaying a lot of maturity and mutual respect,” Manivannan said. “In the legislature too, he is restraining his own party members from excessive flattery and telling them to get to the point. This is ensuring that opposition leaders have adequate time to speak.” 

AIADMK leaders, however, aren’t too impressed. 

Ponnaiyan, a senior AIADMK leader, said that this was always the culture in Tamil Nadu. “When there is a death, you even go to your enemy’s house to pay your respects,” he said. “For Karunanidhi’s demise we went and for Jayalalitha’s demise, they came. This is very ordinary.”

This was also echoed by another AIADMK leader, Ravi Bernard, who said this was basic courtesy (of Stalin paying his respects to OPS). 

The DMK, however, disputes the claims. It points out that in 2016, when Stalin attended Jayalalitha’s swearing-in ceremony, he was made to sit at the back in the 16th row despite being the opposition leader. 

They add that since then, Stalin has always wanted to change this acrimonious political culture. “He is a gentleman who believes that actions are more important than words and that is why he attended OPS’s wife’s funeral,” said DMK spokesperson Saravanan. 

Acrimonious political history of Tamil Nadu

In a world of cult politics, with larger-than-life leaders, Tamil Nadu has had a history of acrimonious political culture.

These bitter rivalries first began with MGR and Karunanidhi. The duo’s equation evolved from being best friends and collaborators to an intense political rivalry where Karunanidhi compared MGR to Judas, while MGR painted Karunanidhi as a dark force. 

The rivalry only intensified when in 1977, the MGR administration pressed murder and conspiracy charges against Karunanidhi for DMK’s demonstration against Indira Gandhi during her visit to Madurai where Karunanidhi was imprisoned for 40 days. 

MGR’s government also passed an order that no public space should be named after a living person and therefore ‘Karunanidhi Maligai’ was renamed even though many other public buildings and spaces escaped the order. 

Hitting back, the DMK in 1978-79 moved two no-confidence motions and a censure motion in 1979 against the MGR government for being “corrupt and inept”. 

In November 1979, Karunanidhi said MGR was about to commit the scandal of the year by buying ships from Bulgaria and then in 1980 had MGR’s government dismissed by allying with Indira Gandhi whose declaration of Emergency saw his son M.K. Stalin jailed and beaten up in custody. In this rivalry, Karunanidhi also painted MGR to be indifferent to the plight of Tamils. 

The political rivalry between MGR and Karunanidhi though intense also had its instances of softness. However, the nature of political culture became extremely acrimonious between Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi. 

A case was foisted on Jayalalitha and her aide, implicating them in fraud and attempt to murder. It was alleged that the deposit money collected before the assembly elections from those who wanted tickets was not refunded and her aide threatened to kill those who asked for their money back. Sun TV owned by Karunandhi’s nephew within minutes showed her arrest and aired the collection of jewellery she owned. Karunandhi announced that special courts would be set up to hear the cases involving Jayalalitha on a daily basis.

Jayalalitha got her revenge when in 2001, at the crack of dawn Karunanidhi was dragged out of his home and not given time to change, the telephone lines in his house cut and his house filled with policemen on corruption charges by ‘Amma’s governments’. Karunanidhi along with Stalin was the prime accused for getting financial gains for the construction of flyovers in Chennai.

Aside from foisting cases on each other, the budget session of 1989 is a visual many will not forget. Just before Karunanidhi was about to present the budget, he was stopped for his ‘unparliamentary’ behaviour towards Jayalalitha, where she then accused him of tapping her phone and urged the chair to discuss the motion of breach of privilege against him. 

Jayalalitha repeatedly said a person charged with ‘criminal acts’ should not be allowed to present the budget and shortly after Karunanidhi fell when an AIADMK leader charged towards him. Seeing this, AIADMK and DMK leaders pulled out mikes and began attacking one another, an AIADMK leader tore up pages of the budget, as chappals and books landed on Jayalalitha’s head. And while leaving the assembly her sari was pulled allegedly by DMK leader Durai Murugan. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Late night mails, surprise inspections, friends across the aisle — MK Stalin’s first 100 days


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