All it takes to split a family is an opinion poll

Political parties built around dynasties, businesses built using political power, political families with media muscle— and vice-versa—are all individually explosive, even if slightly fragile. Together, though, they are pure dynamite, and that is what Tamil Nadu is showing today.

Two Three employees of the Sun TV network have been burnt to death, and seven buses have been torched by an angry mob that attacked Sun’s offices in Madurai and went on the rampage. Reason: the newspaper owned by the media dynasty projected the wrong heir apparent in the political dynasty through an opinion poll.

Confused?

There are two aspirants to the throne of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu: the sons of chief minister M. Karunanidhi, M.K. Stalin and M.K. Azhagiri. The first is a former mayor of Madras, the latter is in charge of the more volatile southern districts, but Stalin has been groomed and projected as the likely successor.

At the media end of the spectrum is the Maran family. Karunanidhi has written for his nephew Maran‘s paper Murasoli for long. ‘Murasoli’ Maran was Union minister in the Vajpayee ministry. He too has two sons. One son Kalanidhi Maran built the Sun TV riding on the DMK’s back. The other son Dayanidhi Maran occupies the Information Technology minister’s chair.

Through a deft use of political muscle, the Maran family has built a media empire in Tamil Nadu, and the Karunanidhi family has benefitted from it. Sun TV is the leading Tamil satellite channel, the Marans have obtained a monopoly on cable in Madras, bought a magazine (Kungamam), revamped a newspaper (Dinakaran), listed their company, and ended up getting very rich.

Now, it is all coming home to roost. Courtesy a opinion poll by AC Neilson in Dinakaran that shows 70 per cent want Stalin, not Azhagiri, to succeed Karunanidhi. The poll—described as “foolish” by Hindu editor N. Ram—also shows Dayanidhi Maran (22%) to be more popular than Azhagiri (2%).

Result: Sun TV’s Madurai office has been attacked reportedly by Azhagiri’s supporters.

Elsewhere, the Patali Makkal Katchi (PMK) boss S. Ramadoss is also miffed because his son, the admirable Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, who is the Union health minister, has been shown to be less popular than Dayanidhi Maran among the Union ministers from Tamil Nadu.

In the midst of all the hoo-ha over sons and nephews, a couple of vital questions get lost: is a newspaper not free enough to publish an opinion poll without its offices being attacked, without its employees being charred to death? And are these burgeoning political-media empires so good for the health of our democracy?

Cross-posted on sans serif