Tale of rising Sun and falling Maran

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June 7th, 2011 Aditi Phadnis

Dayanidhi Maran is in the news again for the wrong reasons but not because of family politics this time: although the proximate cause is Sun TV, the primary business run by Marans.

Sun TV was given space in Anna Arivalayam, the headquarters of the DMK, as a propaganda channel for the party. It was seen as an offshoot for the DMK newspaper, Murasoli, first edited by Karunanidhi but later handed over to his elder sister’s son who came to be known as ‘Murasoli’ Maran —- a lawyer also engaged in journalism, cinema and politics, like his maternal uncle. In 1967, for the first time, Murasoli Maran became MP for south Chennai in the Lok Sabha. While Karunanidhi stayed in the state legislature from 1957, Maran became his uncle’s ears and eyes in Delhi. This is probably why Dayanidhi Maran, who inherited his Lok Sabha seat, also thought he had inherited the political role of his uncle. The difference, of course, was Maran knew the party structure and workers personally. Let alone identifying workers individually, Dayanidhi often did not recognise or accord importance to ministers and party elders. So the disquiet began here.
Sun TV, which was managed by brother Kalanidhi grew to become a huge commercial success. Being located where it was, it never had any pretensions to being anything other than a propaganda channel. But in Tamil Nadu, propaganda is much more sophisticated than in other states — the subliminal message is delivered more skilfully. Sun TV’s editorial content was closely vetted but also afforded a certain amount of autonomy.
When Sun TV was set up, about 20 per cent of the shares were held by one of Karunanidhi’s wives. Just before the IPO, the Marans offered to buy out the shares. Karunanidhi thought he had made a killing. His children, when they came to know of the sale, knew otherwise.
Misdemeanours mounted. Although the heir apparent in the DMK has been Stalin, it took him four terms in the assembly to become a minister. He went through the mill. Not so Dayanidhi, Harvard educated and responsible for bringing investment in telecommunications and IT to Tamil Nadu. But with his brother’s fortune — Kalanidhi Maran is counted as one of India’s 25 richest individuals with a personal fortune in excess of $1.5 billion — many saw for the Marans a bright political future. Today the family owns 19 TV and cable networks and also seven FM stations all over the south. In Tamil Nadu the “Sun” has a monopoly in the cable TV domain. Soon this family too began to believe it could control the DMK and saw no reason to kow-tow to the second generation of the extended Karunanidhi family — his four sons and two daughters from three wives. Stalin is his second son from wife Dayalu.
Karunanidhi has done five term as party leader and chief minister. The DMK’s founder C N Annadurai died in 1969 and Karunanidhi amended the party constitution and became President for the first time in the same year. He had four terms as CM: 1969, 1971, 1989 and 1996. With Murasoli Maran in Delhi and Karunanidhi in the state, the party had a strong ideological base — Maran was responsible for ideation. But Dayanidhi?
However, the Maran family believed it could use its media clout to build up Dayanidhi. Hence the opinion polls conducted by Sun TV and Dinakaran citing Dayanidhi as the most efficient cabinet minister from Tamil Nadu in New Delhi. The first to object was the PMK whose representative Anbumani Ramdoss was health minister. But the DMK also found Maran’s image-building objectionable, so Karunanidhi told Dayanidhi to suspend the opinion polls. When violence broke out in Madhurai resulting in the loss of three lives and serious damage to machinery, the Marans demanded action against Azhagiri, Karunanidhi’s eldest son who has charge of the DMK in the city. The Marans stayed away from the function felicitating Karunanidhi for completing 50 years in the legislature. Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi attended the meeting.
Recognising they had a crisis on their hands, Karunanidhi called a meeting of the DMK’s general council. A resolution censuring the Sun group and calling for the removal of Dayanidhi Maran as cabinet minister was passed unanimously. Not one member of the party defended Maran.
Maran went to see his uncle to hand in his resignation. He was first kept waiting. Then his uncle asked him to send it to the Prime Minister. That was the end of Maran. All the posters of Dayanidhi Maran which had plastered Chennai and other cities vanished overnight. He was an untouchable, and all it took was one week.
Now it transpires that one of the most important industrialists of Tamil Nadu, C Sivasankaran was asked by Dayanidhi Maran to invest in Sun TV, in return for telecom licences. Maran is denying this hotly. The bigger question is: Did Karunanidhi know about this deal?

With all the hullabaloo over Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi probably doesn’t want to worry his head about Maran. But where is it all going? 

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