This is one comeback script that Kalaignar would heartily approve. In fact, it would have also made his life a little easier on his 89th birthday, given that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is riven by family fault lines and his frail shoulders have been weighed down by the 2G scam tag.
Former Telecom Minister A Raja received a hero’s welcome in Tamil Nadu, when he went there after getting bail in the 2G spectrum case. Raja had returned to his home state after spending 15 months in Delhi’s Tihar jail.
“It’s a welcome fit for a raja (king), not an undertrial,” gushed his supporters who went into raptures at every stop that he made. The green signal for these celebrations came after the DMK patriarch and former TN Chief Minister M Karunanidhi warmly described him as his ‘younger brother’. Raja was met with ecstatic crowds at Chennai and Coimbatore airports, at Anna Arivalayam (DMK headquarters) and also his camp office in Mettupalayam in the foothills of the Nilgiri mountains (in his Lok Sabha constituency). The exultant crowds seemed to have forgotten that Raja was out only on bail and was still accused of the mother-of-all scams, the 2G scam that threw up a CAG figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore, and not many of those celebrating even knew how many zeroes went into that figure. The buzz around the man has surprised many, as the popular perception was that the DMK had deliberately distanced itself from him.
In this carefully played out script, first Raja sent out a glorious birthday greeting to Karunanidhi—in chaste Tamil. Then, the patriarch’s younger son MK Stalin travelled all the way to Delhi to meet Raja, before paving the way for his visit to Tamil Nadu. And when Raja landed in Chennai, he went straight into the arms of Kalaignar, who garlanded him. Senior DMK leaders flanked the beaming Raja as he met the press and posed for a photo op.
Raja is also close to Rajya Sabha MP and Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, who is a co-accused in the 2G scam, and had been released on bail earlier.
The rousing reception, where he was described as “a brave heart who conquered Tihar”, led Raja to find his voice. He said that he is innocent and that the CBI had nothing to show against him. He even took credit for bringing down India’s mobile phone call rates. At Ootacamund, he told a TV interviewer that he was a law student and competent enough to defend himself. Then he added, “Only the media is sticking to that figure,” referring to the mighty scam sum of Rs 1.76 lakh crore.
Raja watchers say it makes sense for the DMK to keep him close to the family, as his case is not only seen as a family problem but also as something that can potentially bring down the UPA 2. Further, with the opposition at the Centre insisting that Home Minister P Chidambaram (as former finance minister) and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were party to Raja’s decisions, the DMK knows that the buck will not stop with its man. It helps that Raja is also a potent Dalit face of the party, a support base that it would not like to risk alienating.
However, forgotten in the entire homecoming episode was realtor Sadiq Batcha, who was widely believed to be Raja’s frontman. Batcha had allegedly committed suicide at his Chennai flat within days of receiving summons from the CBI. The agency believes that Raja channelled kickbacks from the 2G scam to real estate firms owned by Batcha. Raja’s wife was a director in these firms, but the trail went cold after Batcha’s death.
Incidentally, not all of Raja’s voters are rooting for him. While Raja was in jail, voters in his Nilgiris Lok Sabha constituency scripted history of sorts during TN’s 2011 May Assembly polls. Nearly a thousand villagers from Masinagudi, Bokkapuram and Mavanhalla in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve opted for Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, to draw attention to their impending eviction—because the state’s forest department was attempting to redraw existing elephant corridor boundaries. These voters exercised their franchise and signed the voting register, but refused to cast votes for any of the candidates.
Villagers like Selva Ganesh, who eke out a living by working as guides at privately run jungle resorts, blame Raja for not taking up their cause. “Once this elephant corridor running through our villages is accepted, they will evict us and all 17 resorts, robbing us of employment. The idea was of local politicians with vested interests. It is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court,” he says.
Even if the roadshow organised by the DMK gives the impression that Raja’s homecoming was a big success, the former Telecom Minister won’t have it easy.