Tamil Nadu Congress Has a ‘Head’ At Last

CHENNAI: After much dilly-dallying, giving rise to much speculation and kindle the aspirations of individual leaders, the Congress High Command has at last nominated Mr. Su. Thirunavukkarasar as president of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC).

Ramaswami Sampath

Ramaswami Sampath

Ever since the poor show of the Congress in the State Assembly elections in May, despite its alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the subsequent resignation of the then TNCC chief, Mr. E.V.K.S. Elangovan, owning responsibility for the defeat, several senior leaders in the faction-ridden TNCC were hoping against hope that they stood a chance to head the State wing of the party. Among them were party veterans, Mr. P.T. Alphonse and Mr. Sudarsana Nachiappan, who was a minister in the Manmohan Singh government.

The name of yesteryear actress Kushboo was touted for a while, when another actress and party leader Nagma hinted at the possibility of a woman heading the TNCC, after her recent tete-at-tete with the AICC vice-president, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi.

All these speculations were set at rest when the 66-year-old Thirunavukkarasar was given the plum post, purportedly by Mr. Gandhi ,in the second week of September. He formally took charge at Satyamurthy Bhavan, the TNCC headquarters in Chennai, on Friday in the presence of former TNCC chiefs Elangovan, K.V. Thangkabalu and Kumari Ananthan and party MLAs. All of them expressed their solidarity with the new president and pledged their utmost cooperation in rebuilding the image of the party in the State. Mr. Thirunavukkarasar is fully aware of the difficult task of taking all faction leaders along with him in toning up the Congress in the State, and is confident of bringing about unity of leaders and cadres.

The TNCC is notorious for faction fights ever since the charismatic K. Kamaraj, former national president of the Congress, left the party in 1969 and aligned with the other old party stalwarts like Morarji Desai, S.K. Patil, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy and Atulya Ghosh who formed the Congress (Organisation) unable to stomach the domineering attitude of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Since then, the TNCC has been rudderless, though the late G.K. Moopanar, who was considered the trouble-shooter of the Congress at the national level, could retrieve some prestige. Even he could not bear the constant sniping of faction leaders. Ultimately he parted company with the party and founded the Tamil Maanila Congress in protest against the late P.V. Narasimha Rao’s decision to continue the party’s electoral alliance with the All-India Anna DMK  led by Ms. J. Jayalalithaa (He was for aligning with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). Moopanar returned to the parent party when Jayalalithaa broke up with the Congress and allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party. After his demise his son, Mr. G.K. Vasan, held the fort and became a minister in the Manmohan Singh government. He, too, left the Congress and revived the Tamil Maanila Congress during the 2014 election.

The faction tussle in the TNCC has been such that it is always open, sometimes leading to fisticuffs in Satyamurthy Bhavan. When Mr. Elangovan headed the TNCC, he had the toughest job of dealing with faction leaders like former Union Ministers P. Chidambaram and Vasan and Thangkabalu, but he managed thanks to the tacit support extended by party president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

The immediate challenge before Mr. Thirunavukkarasar is the forthcoming local body elections including those for prestigious municipal corporations like Chennai, Madurai and Coimbatore. A formal official announcement of the election schedule is expected any time. He has to initiate negotiations with the DMK, with which the Congress has allied in the Assembly elections and the same is continuing, on sharing hundreds of seats in panchayats, municipalities and corporations.

Though Mr. Thirunavukkarasar claims that all faction leaders and party seniors are “my friends” and so he would not encounter any difficulty in carrying on with his job, the second rung leaders are not enthusiastic about his elevation as he “is a late-comer to the party” and has been associated with DMK, AIADMK and BJP, besides floating his own MGR All-India Anna DMK.

He was a seasoned leader of the DMK and had won from Arantangi Assembly seat six times. When the late M.G. Ramachandran broke away from the DMK and founded the AIADMK in 1971, he jumped into that bandwagon, and became a member of the MGR cabinet in 1980. He was very close to Ms. J. Jayalalithaa for some time after MGR’s demise, but fell out and launched the MGR-AIADMK.  He allied with the BJP and the DMK in the 1999 general election, won the Pudukkottai Lok Sabha seat. After he merged his party with the BJP in 2002, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh and became a minister in the Vajpayee Government. This was considered an award for providing the BJP with a popular face in Tamil Nadu. In 2009, he deserted the BJP and has since been with the Congress. Because of this hobnobbing with several parties, he is considered a “defector” by some Congress functionaries. Obviously, they are not happy.

Political observers are wondering how Mr. Thirunavukkarasar is going to achieve the ‘impossible’ when hard boiled leaders like Moopanar, Chiidambaram and Vasan had utterly failed in their attempts.

Ramaswami Sampath
a Senior Journalist and Prime Associate from Chennai

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