‘An as­tute politi­cian’: Nal­lakannu

FrontLine - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

A SPE­CIFIC trait I found in Kalaig­nar Karunanidhi was that one could dis­cuss with him un­in­hib­it­edly any view, whether he liked it or not.

Our friend­ship be­gan in 1967 when the CPI’S sec­re­tariat asked me to go to Madras to take over some re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Un­til then I was con­fined to party work in vil­lages in the south­ern dis­tricts of Tamil Nadu. From then our friend­ship re­mained strong amidst the ebb and flow of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tain­ties.

He al­lowed ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing his party men, to voice their views lib­er­ally. Any de­bate on any is­sue could be ini­ti­ated in his pres­ence. This char­ac­ter­is­tic had stemmed from the Peri­yarist school of ra­tio­nal­ism of which he was an early stu­dent.

His pol­i­tics was not with­out a pur­pose. He had a deep un­der­stand­ing of so­cial jus­tice and a gen­uine com­mit­ment to­wards it. His in­di­vid­u­al­ity in pol­i­tics was strik­ing.

Though he made po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mises a few times, he gave no con­ces­sion as far as his prin­ci­ples were con­cerned. Take his so­cial schemes and wel­fare mea­sures. He was the first Chief Min­is­ter to abol­ish hand-pulled rick­shaws and re­place them with cy­cl­er­ick­shaws. You can wit­ness such modes of trans­port to­day in many States.

He ac­com­plished what Dr B.R. Ambed­kar wished. Ambed­kar, as the first Law Min­is­ter of in­de­pen­dent In­dia, re­signed when his Hindu Code Bill, a piece of leg­is­la­tion that at­tempted to em­power women, was dropped by Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru be­cause of op­po­si­tion from or­tho­dox Hin­dus. Had the Bill been en­acted, it would have em­pow­ered women to have rights on mar­riage, di­vorce and guardian­ship

called Thookumedai—the Gal­lows—was cre­at­ing waves in the po­lit­i­cal theatre. Un­like Man­thiri Ku­mari, where Karunanidhi opted for an adap­ta­tion from early Tamil lit­er­a­ture, for Thookumedai he drew heav­ily from the pro­gres­sive sec­tions of na­tion­al­ist tra­di­tions and tied them in a seam­less fashion with the po­lit­i­cal agenda of the Dra­vid­ian Move­ment. The fi­nal or­a­tory of the play, de­liv­ered by the pro­tag­o­nist from the gal­lows, drew heav­ily not just from the re­formist agenda of the D.K. but also from the life and death of Bha­gat Singh. When this play was staged at Krishna Theatre in Karun­thatan­gudi in Than­javur, Karunanidhi’s ear­li­est po­lit­i­cal idol, Pat­tukot­tai Ala­giri, con­ferred the ti­tle “Kalaig­nar” on him, which be­came vir­tu­ally his first name within a decade.

The un­rav­el­ling of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Peri­yar and An­nadu­rai was not the only cri­sis star­ing at and en­sured their rights to prop­erty.

Kalaig­nar passed laws in Tamil Nadu that gave women equal rights in fam­ily prop­erty, en­cour­aged widow mar­riages and pro­vided ex­clu­sive reser­va­tion for women in ed­u­ca­tion, in em­ploy­ment and in lo­cal body elec­tions. His ide­o­log­i­cal moor­ings in ra­tio­nal­ism had the trap­pings of Left ide­ol­ogy. He used to say, “Had I not met Peri­yar, I would have be­come a com­mu­nist.”

Take the con­cept of sa­math­u­va­pu­ram, in which Dal­its, who formed 60 per cent of the res­i­dents, shared a habi­ta­tion with 40 per cent of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries drawn from other caste groups. He made peo­ple think that an egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety had to be like a sa­math­u­va­pu­ram.

Though his ob­jec­tive was gen­uine, a few schemes did not reach all the tar­geted groups. But he went ahead with them hop­ing that they would cover all one day.

It was his strong per­se­ver­ance and vo­cal de­mand on the is­sue of State au­ton­omy and more pow­ers to States that has made other States to­day raise their de­mands.

We in the CPI crit­i­cised him strongly for his al­liance with the BJP. I wrote against it in the party or­gan. Later, when he came out of the BJP, he wrote in Mura­soli: “Nal­lakannu will sleep well to­day.”

I wrote a pref­ace for his po­etic ver­sion of Maxim Gorky’s Thaai, and also at­tended its launch func­tion.

He was a sub­lime Peri­yarist and an as­tute politi­cian. Kalaig­nar prac­tised pol­i­tics with no mal­ice.

(As told to Ilan­go­van Ra­jasekaran) R. Nal­lakannu is a se­nior CPI leader.

Karunanidhi. His wife Padma’s health de­clined rapidly and she died within six months. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Karunanidhi poignantly and vividly de­scribes the last days of Padma. Those were per­haps the weak­est mo­ments in his life where he felt ab­so­lutely pow­er­less and vul­ner­a­ble. He is, till date, re­morse­ful about his in­abil­ity to pro­vide for his par­ents and his first wife, any of the com­forts of life. S. Guhan, who was the Fi­nance Sec­re­tary of Tamil Nadu dur­ing Karunanidhi’s ten­ure as Chief Min­is­ter in the 1970s and later be­came Eco­nomic Ad­viser dur­ing 1989-91, on more than one oc­ca­sion had said that the so­cial spend­ing as a key marker of Karunanidhi’s ad­min­is­tra­tive model came di­rectly from his life ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween 1947 and 1949.

It was a pe­riod of great un­cer­tainty for Karunanidhi—po­lit­i­cally and per­son­ally. The rift be­tween Peri­yar and An­nadu­rai was widen­ing by the day.

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