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Respect and Respectability August 3, 2010

Posted by Gomathi Reddy in Desi Indian, General, News and Current Affairs, Politics.
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Politics in Tamil Nadu is all about demanding Respect and Respectability.  If these demands are not met,  respect is “coerced” out of you – You have to get it at any cost, and most often senior politicians look like children throwing tantrums.  The louder you get, the greater are your chances of getting the most “wanted” commodity in the regional political landscape.

I am often reminded of Lawrence Sterne’s words, “Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.”  With both morals and manners in short supply, one is always left wondering, which side of the Dravidian politics will leave you with respect, as a citizen.

Last evening I was watching the television coverage of Chief Minister Kalaignar Karunanidhi’s speech at Coimbatore, where he was addressing his party cadres, after throwing open a Technology park in the mini-metro.  Coimbatore has been in the DMK(the ruling party in Tamil Nadu) radar for all the right reasons, in the last one year.  Considered to be AIADMK’s bastion (the opposition party in the Tamil Nadu Assembly), Coimbatore was chosen as the host city for the World Classical Tamil Conference.  With the need to provide for an international event, the city got a face-lift on many accounts and supporting infrastructure was built on a war footing.  Strongly argued as a wastage of public money, and an unwanted bash of celebrating Tamil, the political motive for hosting the Conference in Coimbatore was just to break the AIADMK’s hold on the textile city, as the next assembly elections are just around the corner in 2011.  Whatever be the agenda, much was spent on sprucing the city – but next only to hyping up of the event, and singing the praises of the thought leader of the event – the Chief Minister, obviously.

This 87-year-old patriarch of Indian politics is still a strong contender for the hottest of regional political hot seats, and he will win anyone hands down with his overpowering demeanour and power-embedded body language. While I am often seen by my friends as a DMK sympathizer, I prefer to call myself a “Stalinite,” as a mark of my respect for his work – though no such known faction exists.

For those who do not understand Tamil Nadu’s politics, M.K.Stalin is the Chief Minister in waiting for as long I know TN politics, and every now and then he has to contend with competition from within and outside the family for this position, not withstanding the fact that he is an icon on his own right and does so much good work, immaterial of whether the public and party appreciate.  He is one grass-roots worker, who does not wait for acknowledgement to come from the leadership, his party, or its policies. He is the only exception in Tamil politics, who does not give in to the pressure from within the party, to indulge in mud-slinging of political rivals – This is unheard of, in this part of the world. It is believed that dignified public figures do not earn votes and I hope this misnomer will change with his success.

Sitting next to the patriarch, Deputy CM M.K.Stalin was at his squirmy best, as his father took a dig at Ms.Jaylalithaa, the AIADMK supremo.  He admonished her for not being respectful of him in her speeches.  He chided her for her unabashed disrespect for him and his leadership.  He said that “she even refers to me as Karunanidhi, and not Kalaignar,” – Karunanidhi being his real name, and Kalaignar(meaning a respectful artiste/artisan in Tamil) as he is popularly referred to, by his cadre.

I’ve never figured out why, calling any of our political leaders by their known names is considered to be disrespectful.  Almost everybody has a public persona (ala the 3D virtual persona, in Second Life) and a public name (ala Facebook public profile) and some imaginative member of the cadre comes up with a name, which gets popular by regular chanting and ranting and well, then it settles down as his/her real name.  So Ms.Jayalalithaa becomes “Amma” (meaning mother, which in India is considered sacrosanct – even if you are accused and charged with all the heinous crimes that can come off from a political leader) Sonia Gandhi is “Madam” (She is Italian, why a French reference? Maybe Indians are more comfortable with French – I mean the language), CM M.Karunanidhi is “Kalaignar,” erstwhile DMK’s founding father, C.N.Annadurai is “Anna”(meaning elder brother), another big wig of Dravidian politics, E.V.R.Periyar becomes “Thanthai” (meaning father), Deputy CM M.K.Stalin becomes “Thalapathi” (meaning General), Union Minister M.K.Alagiri, brother of  the Deputy CM is “Annan” (meaning elder brother, again)…and the list goes on.  So what you have is a Father(Periyar), a mother(Jayalalithaa), elder brother(s)(Annadurai and M.K.Alagiri), a general (Deputy CM M.K.Stalin) and at the helm is a respected artisan (CM, Kalaignar M.Karunanidhi).

The mother is not on the father’s or brothers’ side, and the father and one of the elder brothers is no more, and the general though is part of the family is more professional, and the artisan holds the key to everybody’s success  – If this sounds like a funny riddle or a game idea, don’t blame me. What do I see? – I see the entire Dravidian clan in public life, as one big family at war, and strangely the general is led by an artisan, who is the most capable leader of the lot!  –  Sounds like a 2-line pitch for a Hollywood screen play. Interesting right?

Now this large Dravidian family with larger factional politics within the respective families controls the wealth, thought processes, current and future lives of the people of Tamil Nadu.  They torment each other, fight amongst themselves to give the best for the people of Tamil Nadu – or so, we believe.  As the large picture gets clearer (or murkier) to you, I am still stuck in my thought flow of why do we demand respect? Why do we demand respect from adversaries? Why is it such a tall call in our politics, not to resort to mud-slinging at a personal level? – Is this bankruptcy of ideas to fight at an ideological level, or is it the sheer fright of having to face real issues of real people, or is it just the Tamil way of indulging in personal melodrama, at the cost of growth?

Whatever be the reason behind CM Kalaignar M.Karunanidhi demanding respect from Ex-CM Amma J.Jayalalithaa, I enjoyed his tongue-in-cheek references to his adversary as “Amma,” and was surprised that he couldn’t carry his act for long, before resorting to his regular, “Nee” language.

“Nee” and “Neengal” translate to “You” in English. Unlike in English, in Tamil, “Neengal” is a “respectful You,” and a plain “Nee” is just “You” – can be construed as disrespectful You, for public figures, or if you are very chummy-chummy friendly types, then “Nee” is the way to go! Is that why he said that? I’d love to believe that, it is all in the family!

But that is not the fact. This patriarch knows the sentiment of the masses, and every word he utters is the gospel truth for his party men.  He holds the pulse of his cadre with a simple, “En uyirinum melana kazhaga kanmanigaley” (Dearer than my life, cadre of the party) and the crowd goes into raptures.  With unmatched oratorical skills and a voice and thought flow that can hold the audience for hours together, his age and health have not diminished his skills to reach the unsaid to the people of Tamil Nadu.  For a few moments you tend to forget why you are watching this man – for his sharp wit and oratory or for his ability to steer the state.  This is the very ability that a charismatic leader uses to skirt real issues and the masses too can get carried away.  He has ample supply of it.

Though his demand for respect and respectability from an under-experienced adversary looks a bit contrived to me, I can’t dismiss the thought that maybe it is his way of acknowledging her to be his equal. I hope not! She isn’t – Any which way you look at it, though she has her inherent strengths.  She is much younger to him and has not been a Dravidian leader from the days when the DMK was a social movement, much before it became a political party – that is the advantage that Kalaignar has, and he never fails to point this out, in all his gatherings. So we come back to the question – does age and experience deserve respect and is it okay to demand respect, just because you are old and experienced in your domain?

Maybe not – Not in this, information age.  Your work should speak for itself, and it would be good to treat  everything else (good or bad) as just another fleeting opinion, that does not merit rebukes from leaders of stature.  Deputy CM M.K.Stalin will stand tall and win everyone’s respect on this account, over everyone else!

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