In a candid conversation with the American Political Officer in February 2008, DMK Member of Parliament Dayanidhi Maran spoke of corruption in his party and the increasing anti-incumbency factor in Tamil Nadu.
Consul General David T. Hopper, in a cable dated February 23, 2008 accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks [142702: confidential], informed the U.S. State Department that Mr. Maran predicted that in Tamil Nadu the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its partners “would lose about half of their [Lok Sabha] seats if things continue as they are.” Further, “talking about the increasing anti-incumbency factor in the state, Maran alluded to the general impression that the DMK is especially corrupt, saying ‘when people get into power they lose concentration and start focusing on making money.'”
The cable, which was coordinated with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, explains that on February 15, 2008 the Political Officer at the Chennai Consulate-General met with Mr. Maran “for the first time since he was sacked in May 2007 as the Union IT and Telecommunications Minister following a dispute with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi.”
Mr. Maran also spoke about the perils of providing freebies. “The problem when you come to power by promising people free TVs,” he is quoted as saying during the meeting, “is that people soon forget the TVs you gave them and then ask ‘what are you doing for me now?'”
Mr. Hopper reported the estranged DMK M.P., who is now back as Union Textiles Minister, as being “very downbeat” about the United Progressive Alliance's prospects in the 15th Lok Sabha election, observing that “the UPA is in tough shape, especially after Gujarat.” Surveying South India, Mr. Maran also “expected significant losses for the UPA partners.” He was “pessimistic” about the Congress's prospects in Andhra Pradesh, “saying Chief Minister YSR Reddy's popularity is on the decline and that he expects Congress to lose a substantial number of the 29 Lok Sabha seats it currently holds. But he was quick to add that in both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu the UPA's predicted losses stem from failures of the DMK and Congress parties and not from effective opposition.”
The Chennai consulate cable reported Mr. Maran as going on to assert that “the opposition AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh have floundered” and that “any UPA losses will have ‘nothing to do with Jayalalithaa (the AIADMK leader) or Naidu (the TDP leader).'” Further, he “acknowledged that the INC would likely pick up seats in Kerala at the expense of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) but said the gains would not be nearly enough to offset UPA losses in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.”
Mr. Hopper, the experienced diplomat, noted that Mr. Maran's falling out with the DMK leadership was in part due to financial reasons, and so “his swipe at DMK corruption, although largely accurate, reflects some sour grapes.” Moreover, the Consul General pointed out in the cable, when in favour with DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, “Maran joined in the TV and other give-away schemes that helped the DMK win the 2006 state elections.”
Interestingly, while the DMK M.P. was scathing about the DMK, he was all praise for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, arguing that the Congress party needed to name him as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2009 Lok Sabha election. Although he recognised that it would be a long shot, Mr. Maran contended that “Rahul is the only chance they've got.”
Rahul, Mr. Maran added, would benefit from the legacy of his father Rajiv Gandhi's popularity in South India. The dynastic element of Rahul's elevation would play well down south, he remarked. “If you haven't noticed, we don't have much of a problem with dynastic politics down here. In fact, we seem to like it.”
The cable also reported Mr. Maran as saying that projecting Rahul as the Congress's candidate could help motivate young voters, but he was being held back by his handlers, who were managing him too closely and keeping him cloistered. “Rahul's big problem, Maran said, is that ‘he doesn't get to see real people.'”
Consul-General Hopper, too sharp not to detect a subjective element in the insights provided by Mr. Maran on Mr. Rahul Gandhi, supplied this comment towards the end of the cable: “His views on the likelihood of Rahul Gandhi taking the reins in Congress are perhaps colored by his view of himself as part of a new breed of young Indian politicians, playing a similar role in Tamil Nadu's DMK as Rahul does for the Congress party. To the extent he sees Rahul going places, he is seeing a brighter future for himself too.”
By December 1, 2008, Mr. Maran was back in the DMK fold and in his grand-uncle M. Karunanidhi's favour. When it came to the 2009 Lok Sabha election, his prediction was off on Tamil Nadu where money power played a huge role – and the DMK bagged 18 seats against the AIADMK's 9, and the DMK front bagged 27 against the rival front's 12. Mr. Maran's “pessimism” was way off on Andhra Pradesh where the Congress, led by a hugely popular YSR, took 33 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats. He completely misread the role of the AIADMK leader, Ms Jayalalithaa, in creating the groundswell that was in its early phases in mid-2009. But his prediction that the DMK was heading for a downfall on account of the corruption issue came true with a vengeance in the Tamil Nadu Assembly election of mid-2011.
This article has been corrected for a factual error