Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
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FOR SOMEONE REGARDED as the quintessential backroom strategist, Murasoli Maran found himself pitch-forked on to centrestage on quite a few occasions. Television clips of an incensed Mr. Maran challenging the Tamil Nadu police during the notorious midnight arrest of his uncle, the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, remain fresh in public memory. When the former Commerce and Industry Minister returned from Doha, where he represented India in the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, it was to a hero's welcome. His clear-sighted and no-nonsense bargaining strategy in favour of India and other developing nations was a wake-up call for the developed countries. It seemed to herald a new balance of power within the 140-odd-member organisation. Much earlier, Mr. Maran was detained for a year as a prisoner of conscience during the Emergency under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). He handled this experience coolly and with aplomb, drawing attention through his writings to the unjust and draconian nature of preventive detention, detention without trial. However, for the greater part of his political life, which saw him serving the last 36 years as a Member of Parliament, Mr. Maran was notable for his reticence and shyness. His relatively low public profile was at odds with the tremendous clout he enjoyed within his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and the influence he wielded from time to time on the course of national politics.
In line with some other leaders who belonged to the Dravidian movement, Mr. Maran was also a journalist and scriptwriter for films. But he had the vision to venture into the satellite television field and was the spirit behind the Sun Network, his family's major stable of news and entertainment channels in Tamil and other South Indian languages. He shot into political prominence when he won a byelection to the Lok Sabha from South Madras in 1967. He was victorious in four more Lok Sabha elections, was a member of the Rajya Sabha for three terms, and was a Cabinet Minister during the V.P. Singh Government (1989-90), the Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral Governments (1996-98) and the NDA dispensation from 1999. Mr. Maran was exceptionally close to the DMK chief, Mr. Karunanidhi, but unlike his uncle he did not enjoy working up crowds or mass campaigning or building up a grassroots base. He made up for this through his political acumen, his studious and reasoned style, and his intelligence attributes that helped him become the DMK's foremost ideologue and (as he has sometimes been described) a one-man think-tank. He was also the party's face in national politics, a task he undertook by projecting and guarding its interests at the Central level and, in the era of coalition politics, by shaping the direction it would take.
At a national level, he will be remembered most of all as an efficient and resourceful administrator and a strong and unapologetic votary of economic liberalisation. His final tenure as Commerce and Industry Minister was marked by a number of initiatives to give a new thrust to exports. His international reputation was built around the positions India staked out at Doha, where he led the developing countries to their first real success at the WTO. The positions Mr. Maran adopted at Doha were vindicated recently at the Cancun meeting of the WTO, where more than 70 developing countries successfully resisted European Union pressures to bring certain sensitive areas relating to investment and competition under the umbrella of the WTO. His passing, after a long and multi-stage illness that he fought robustly before it finally overcame him, leaves a void not only in the DMK but also in the sphere of national politics and governance.
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