On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Dangerously sweet

In the Maxis-Aircel deal, Dayanidhi is said to have pressured businessman C. Sivan­sankaran – a former owner of Aircel – to sell his stake in Aircel to MCB. In return, as a reward, Astro – owned by Ananda – would buy a 20% stake in Sun TV, owned by Dayanidhi’s elder brother Kalanithi. Sivasankaran claimed that he was forced to sell his shares at “below the prevailing market price”, allegations which were refuted by MCB and Astro.

As a result of the controversy, the CBI has lodged a First Information Report (FIR) alleging criminal conspiracy by the Maran brothers, Ananda, his right-hand man Ralph Marshall, and three companies – Sun TV, MCB and Astro.

The FIR is a report of information that reaches the police first in a point of time, as the name suggests. In short, anyone who knows about the commission of a cognisable offence can file an FIR either orally or in writing to the police.

For all the sensationalism of the controversy, this is still very much at a preliminary stage but given the current politics in India, those named could face a potentially long and tough investigation. But it is the politics of India, at national and local level, that’s also a factor in the ongoing investigations.

In New Delhi, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition government headed by Manmohan Singh is in trouble. Its political standing has been badly hit by a raft of corruption scandals.

The next polls are due only in 2014 and the Opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, is weak and divided. But opponents of Manmohan are still taking political shots at him.

Dayanidhi’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, based in Chennai, has 18 members of parliament and is aligned with Manmohan’s party.

At local level, the political plot thickens – or worsens, to be precise. The DMK is led by Dayanidhi’s granduncle M. Karunanidhi, 87, who is dubbed the party’s patriarch.

According to Indian press reports, Daya­nidhi’s talent gained him prominence but also much envy. At 45, he was India’s youngest minister for IT and telecommunications.

Regarded as IT savvy, he emerged as the national face of the DMK and was credited for bringing in billions of dollars from IT giants such as Microsoft, Intel and IBM into the country.

The tension worsened in Chennai when Karunanidhi’s son M.K. Alagiri, 61, became uncomfortable with Dayanidhi’s increasing popularity.

The flashpoint came when Alagiri’s supporters burnt down the office of Tamil newspaper Dinakaran, owned by the Marans.

The newspaper had published a poll that said only 2% of respondents wanted Alagiri to succeed his father.

He is not a man to mess around with as he was implicated in the murder of former Highways Minister T. Kiruttinan in 2003 but walked free when the prosecution could not prove its case. He is still connected to the newspaper arson case in which three workers died.

As the family members in DMK continued their feud, the state of Tamil Nadu fell into the hands of former actress J. Jayalalithaa, who heads an alliance of 12 parties, in May. She has been pressing Manmohan to act against Dayanidhi since the controversy broke out.

It’s a bit late for Ananda to realise that the rules of the game or of doing business can change quickly in India.

It looks like the authorities are also joining the politicians to play the populist card. But a conspiracy involving both companies, with one company paying for the benefit received by another, may be stretching the facts too far because all relevant parties – shareholders and board members alike of both companies – will either have to conspire or all of them will have to be deceived for such a deal to go through, as one commentator put it.

It’s a pit of venomous political snakes there, where even family members are sacrificed, and is certainly not one for businessmen to be caught in.