Andimuthu Raja is losing it. He is among the better public speakers in the DMK, but in his eagerness to be more loyal than the king, the former Union minister on Saturday attacked chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami using ‘mother’ and ‘birth’ as metaphors that were arguably crass and definitely lousy. The AIADMK digital war room got into action, launching a counter that if the DMK can abuse the CM’s mother anything could happen to other women. Campaigning in Chennai on Sunday, EPS appeared to be fighting tears while speaking about Raja’s remarks.
After Stalin issued a ‘general statement’ asking his party functionaries to mind their language, Raja said the AIADMK had doctored the video of his speech (something the social media managers of all parties are adept at). A couple of days earlier, campaigning for Thondamuthur candidate Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, Dindigul Leoni said today’s women have become ‘barrel-like’ after drinking milk from foreign breed cows. Sivasenapathy apologised for the comment. But the damage was done.
The DMK has a bright chance to win this election, but such slurs can add to the rival camp’s ammo. And, if the opponent is smart, it can lead to electoral hara-kiri. In fact, a common thread that runs through the AIADMK campaign is a public caution against choosing the ‘thuggish DMK’. To give an example, last week, DMK cadres in KK Nagar harassed and threatened a TOI reporter who had gone to report a programme on food safety.
There are murmurs even outside the AIADMK circles how DMK cadres, if not leaders, would behave if the party forms the next government. Stalin was probably aware of it when he decided to give the call for decency in public conduct, but if it was a conscientious decision, he should tell his functionaries to not just set an example, but also to instruct their foot soldiers to behave. All political parties have their share of ruffians and uncouth elements, but the image had stuck more easily to the DMK.
Having emerged as the inheritor of the Dravidian political legacy (however diluted it is today), Stalin — who earlier faced such charges of highhandedness — has an opportunity to change that. Stalin’s graduation from an aspirant for the top post to the party boss has been characterised by a slow and steady metamorphosis from the tumultuous to the temperate. He even tries to look stately.
In August 2017, I was among the editors who M K Stalin had invited to speak at the 75th year celebration of the DMK newspaper ‘Murasoli’. It turned out to be more of an occasion to talk about M Karunanidhi, but that was expected as ‘Murasoli’ has often been synonymous with its founder Kalaignar.
I was also among the few on the dais to speak our mind. I recollected how when I wrote a cover story for ‘India Today’ (Tamil) in the early 2000s arguing that the DMK had failed as an opposition, ‘Murasoli’ spent almost half a page to call me a crackpot. I also spoke about Karunanidhi once showing me the door at Gopalapuram when confronted with an uncomfortable question midway through an interview, yet soon he sent word for another meeting.
I said I liked the ‘Murasoli’ stinger — the crackpot reference included — because it was better than J Jayalalithaa’s half-a-dozen defamation cases that came my way in 2001-2002 (Such cases filed by politicians are often a journalist’s medals, but the monthly visits to the court can be quite boring). Stalin and the entire DMK leadership sat in rapt attention listening to our criticism. That might have been stage-managed, literally, but it was a symbolism of tolerance which has often been in short supply among our political parties.
My point: Politicians will criticise each other. Media will criticise politicians. And politicians will criticise the media. We all love a good battle. Let’s engage in that without being boorish and vulgar. Or, if political decency is not in our DNA, let’s fake it for the greater good.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.