‘An astute politician’: Nallakannu
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.