He was not limited by the past: Peter Alphonse
I FIRST met him in 1975 when I was the general secretary of the Madras Law College Students Union. [N.D.] Sundaravadivelu was the University of Madras Vice Chancellor, and the convocation was cancelled. Even as we were agitating in front of the university campus against this decision, some anti-social elements barged into the Anna samadhi [which was just across the road from the university] and vandalised some parts of it.
Naturally, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was angry. In spite of that, he called all student union leaders for a meeting. The police took 14 of us to his chamber. I was leading the delegation. He asked us if we were followers of Perunthalaivar [K. Kamaraj]. When we nodded, he asked us to go meet Perunthalaivar and do as he bid. We went to Perunthalaivar’s house. He told us we were wrong and asked us to return to our classrooms. He ordered an end to the agitation.
Karunanidhi was always available and accommodating of the many needs of people. Whatever he did, he spoke, and thought, he had three things in mind: His interest, his party’s interest and the cause of social justice.
With him, merit-based politics also ceased. In his time, he used to encourage people with talent and merit. Look at his team-building and the way he built his party. Each district secretary was a huge asset for
arrival of party cadres. Karunanidhi’s prolific output is the result of a combination of prodigious talent, strict discipline and good work ethic.
Murasoli Maran, Karunanidhi’s nephew, recalled the family’s early days in Chennai as the turning point. He said: “It was after a long gap we moved out of the lower middle class’ struggle to make ends meet. Thalaivar’s way of working was always inspiring. He did not permit any one aspect of his life to undermine other facets of his personality. He was simultaneously a writer; a political leader; a film personality, who wrote lyrics, stories, screenplays and dialogues; a journalist; a literary commentator; an orator par excellence; an editor; a doting father; and a caring brother who took care of both his elder sisters and their family. He always manufactured time so that everyone around him felt that they were getting his special attention. These qualities made him the quintessential organisational man of the party. He always worked much beyond his brief. If Anna was the pioneer, it was Thalaivar who helped Anna realise his goals by building internal organisational structures for the DMK.”
Maran said Karunanidhi had limitless energy him. Look at the people he sent to the Rajya Sabha: a Vaiko, a Viduthalai Virumbi, a Nanjil Manoharan.
He was an atheist. But he did not stand in the way of one’s choice. There is a powerful temple in my constituency, the Tirumalai Kumaran Koil. It is about 500 years old and is located on a hillock. There was no proper path to reach it. In order to get a path constructed I drew up a budget. The total project cost was Rs.6 crore. I went to the Chief Minister with an idea. I said that if six big temples could contribute Rs.1 crore each, the job could be done. He was receptive to the idea for two reasons: he knew that it was a popular temple and that I, a Christian, was asking funds for a Hindu temple. He ordered five of the six temples I had suggested to contribute Rs.1 crore each. I had to raise Rs.1 crore on my own. I managed this. There was no need for an atheist to do this. His reasoning was that this was the kind of politics that needed to be encouraged in this country: where no one looks at religion or caste before deciding to help out. He suffered a lot during the Emergency. But by 1980, he was able to get over this, invite Indira Gandhi to Tamil Nadu and say: “Nehruvin magale varuga, nilayana aatchi taruga” [Welcome, Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government].
( As told to R.K. Radhakrishnan) S. Peter Alphonse is a Congress party spokesperson.
because he did not see any activity as a work or chore; to him every activity was a pleasurable exercise. “He was, and is and will continue to be, curious about everything. He liked to play around with forms, genres and modes of articulation. One of the key elements that contributed to his public persona was the fact that he did not take his responsibilities lightly. He always prepared his speeches; he proofread all his writings; watched the shooting of his scripts and made on-the-spot improvisations wherever required; and was an eternal student in a relentless search of knowledge. He is not just my uncle but also my teacher. One of the best lessons he taught me was not to be an information accumulator but a scholar who can contextualise any information within the larger sociopolitical canvas.”
When the DMK decided to enter electoral politics in 1957, these qualities provided a firm ground for the ideology of the movement, a replicable mobilisation for the party and an organisational following for Karunanidhi that would stay with him for the rest of his life. $ Abridged from a forthcoming biography of