The noose, it appears, is tightening on Kalanithi Maran, the media shy media baron and chairman of the Chennai-based Sun TV group. Such has been the turn of events over the past couple of weeks that questions are being raised over the future of the formidable empire that he has built spanning satellite television, print media, cable TV distribution, FM radio channel and airline businesses.
On Thursday, after days of speculation that Maran will be arrested, came the news that the police have summoned him for questioning on charges of cheating and intimidation based on complaints filed by film distributors and a producer. His close aide Hansraj Saxena, CEO of Sun Pictures, a division of Sun TV, is already in jail on similar charges.
Maran has been facing problems on other fronts as well. His younger brother Dayanidhi Maran recently resigned as a Union minister after the Central Bureau of Investigation or CBI accused Dayanidhi of forcing the promoter of Aircel, C Sivasankaran, to sell the company to Malaysia-based Maxis group by holding back licenses to various circles across the country during his earlier stint as telecom minister.
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If this charge is proved, Kalanithi will be in trouble as Maxis had invested large sums of money in the Sun TV group in what was seen as a 'quid pro quo' for Dayanidhi's 'help' in bagging Aircel. That is not all. The Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu is reactivating the Arasu Cable, a company that was set up to break the dominance of Sun TV group in the satellite channel distribution business through a cable network. It is this dominance that feeds enormous profits to the Sun TV. And Sun Pictures' stranglehold in the Tamil film industry is already on the wane after DMK lost power in the recently held elections to the Tamil Nadu state assembly.
Maran has faced many a challenges in the past. Jayalalithaa had, during her earlier stint as chief minister, tried to break the group's dominance in the movie distribution business. Then, there was a spat with the DMK's first family which lasted for about two years. He managed to overcome them with very little impact on the businesses. But this time around the odds are stacked against him. Consider this: the state government is in the hands of his arch rival Jayalalithaa, his clout at the centre (which had to a large extent neutralized moves by Jayalalithaa earlier) has greatly diminished after his brother's resignation.
Most importantly, the influence of the two brothers within the DMK itself has waned with many in the party holding them responsible for its problems. Many of the disgruntled businessmen who had to face the heat when Marans were at their peak are ganging up to take advantage of the changed circumstances to get back at the brothers. Analysts and political commentators say it is too early to write them or their business off. One thing they are certain about though is that the dominance they had will end and a more level playing field will emerge in businesses they are in. Their competitors could not have asked for more.