While the DMK is looking at a good chance of returning to power in Tamil Nadu, one apprehension constantly raised is the alleged violence and abuse of power under its regime in 2006-11.
DMK leaders were accused of widespread violence and land-grabbing. Among the most prominent leaders constantly in the news was Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s own elder son M K Alagiri. Besides him, Veerapandy S Arumugam in Salem and N K K P Raja in Erode were accused of running demarcated territories as fiefdoms in western Tamil Nadu.
Dozens of DMK leaders, including ministers and MLAs, were subsequently arrested after the AIADMK came to power in 2011. Among those held was former DMK mines and minerals minister K Ponmudy, who had got mining licences along with son and other relatives since 2007, for alleged role in quarrying of red sand without payment of fees. Ex-DMK ministers Veerapandi S Arumugam and Vellakovil Swaminathan were arrested on land grabbing charges, while another former minister I Periyasamy was arrested for illegal granite mining and KKSSR Ramachandran for his alleged role in covering up a murder during the DMK regime. Swaminathan was also arrested on charges of intimidation. Another DMK leader, K P P Samy, was held for the murder of a fisherman, while former DMK minister Pongalur Palaniswami’s son was arrested for land grabbing.
K Ponmudy from Thirukkovilur, E V Velu from Tiruvannamalai (who was incidentally raided on Thursday evening by Income Tax, with Rs 3.5 crore seized), who continues to be in Stalin’s camp, and K N Nehru of Trichy went on to face corruption cases.
There were also multiple power centres in DMK time. Besides Karunanidhi and a team of leaders who reported to him directly, there was Alagiri, younger son M K Stalin and Rajathi Ammal, Karunanidhi’s third wife and the mother of Kanimozhi.
The DMK being a cadre-based party, even district secretaries grow to be very powerful — and this came to haunt the DMK, which at the time was in power not just in the state but through its ally, the Congress, also part of the UPA government at the Centre.
There were instances of leaders such as Arumugam questioning Karunanidhi at internal meetings about the happenings in the party. During an interview for poll candidates, when the CM promised powerful families in the party would not get more than one seat, Arumugam is said to have shot back: “So Stalin is not contesting, Leader?”
At the peak of his powers, Alagiri, with son Dayanidhi Alagiri, P R Palanichami of the powerful PRP Granites and ‘Pottu’ Suresh (later killed in a gang war) and ‘Attack’ Pandy (who is in prison), was believed to run Madurai. At a Madurai rally in 2010, Jayalalithaa had asked: “Is Madurai the private property of Alagiri and his father?”
During this time, one of the biggest blots on the Karunanidhi government was the attack on Dinakaran and Sun TV network offices in near Madurai in May 2007, allegedly by goons of Alagiri, that left three persons dead. The attack followed the results of a political survey by the publication, owned by the Murasoli Maran family related to Karunanidhi, that favoured Stalin.
Already in his 80s by then, Karunanidhi often seemed helpless in bringing partymen to line. An official told The Indian Express he had warned the CM, while he was in the Assembly, about the Dinakaran office attack minutes after it happened. “He read the message, was idle for a few seconds and then suddenly returned the note with grammatical corrections. There was no instruction.”
Now, not only is Alagiri marginalised, some of his loyalists have joined the AIADMK. Meanwhile, nine accused in the Dinakaran and Sun TV attack case were sentenced to life by the Madras High Court in 2019, including ‘Attack’ Pandi.
The DMK leader spent long years in Karunanidhi’s shadow, and much of the final period in erasing the after-effects of that violent period and the 2G scam charges, which also saw DMK leader A Raja and Stalin’s sister Kanimozhi behind bars. Since the death of Karunanidhi, Stalin has clipped the wings of many of the ‘Zonal Kings’ in a clean-up exercise. He has also entrusted key posts in districts to young, new leaders to crack the hold of old leaders.
A senior DMK leader pays him what might be, in a way, the ultimate praise: “He has already started running the party like Jayalalithaa… Any excesses from anyone will not be pardoned. No leader is encouraged to talk to media or patronise the party in public.”