When MGR died in 1987, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, an arch-rival of the actor-turned politician, while expressing his shock and grief in a melancholic letter, reminisced his early associations with the illustrious actor and his tireless work for the public when he switched to politics. Those were the days when the dirty linen of political rivalry wasn’t washed in public and politicians, despite ideological differences, stayed cordial to one another.
The situation is far from cordial today, with leaders resorting to personal attack against each other to prove a point. The best examples are DMK chief MK Stalin and TN Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami of the AIADMK. Both have accused each other for the death of their former chiefs J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.
It all started after an AIADMK minister allegedly pointed fingers at the sudden hospitalisation and death of former AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa. Stalin took the opportunity to seek a probe into the death of Jayalalithaa. The newly formed government under the leadership of EPS formed an inquiry commission headed by former High Court Justice A Arumughaswamy to probe Jayalalithaa’s death.
Since then, the mudslinging between the two parties have hit a new low. From accusing AIADMK ministers with corruption to dragging them to the court, Stalin has also started attacking them on public platforms, linking their names to criminal cases including sexual harassment and murder.
After a series of murders and theft at Jayalalithaa’s Kodanad estate in 2017, Stalin accused Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami of being complicit in the crime and demanded his resignation. The state government responded by slapping a defamation case on Stalin, who, in turn, got a stay on the inquiry. On April 8, the Madras High Court, while hearing a petition to vacate the stay, asked both Stalin and EPS to refrain from launching personal attacks on each other over the Kodanad case.
The same day, EPS raked up a new storm by accusing the DMK chief of ill-treating his father and former party chief M Karunanidhi and keeping him under house arrest for two years, to be the leader of the party. EPS questioned why Stalin did not take Karunanidhi abroad for treatment of the throat, and said a probe could be launched into this matter.
Political observers say the mudslinging that the leaders of Dravidian parties have resorted to is too low compared to the dignified relations of political rivals like Kalaingar and MGR.
“Even MGR and Karunanidhi have criticised each other, but they haven’t stooped so low. Their criticisms were purely based on the party’s functioning and governance. They never resorted to personal attacks,” said N Sathiya Moorthy, a political observer.
He also said Chief Minister Palaniswami could have ordered a probe if he had enough evidence to suspect foul play in the death of Karunanidhi. “Instead of criticising it in the public stages, he, as a responsible leader, should have ordered a police investigation or a judicial probe into it,” he added.