Deft double role
A look at M. Karunanidhi’s long political career with its colossal achievements and colourful moments, always marked by the circumspection and quick thinking that kept him afloat in times of adversity.
IN 1967, A MOVEMENT THAT SOUGHT SOCIAL justice for the people of what is now Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), announced to the world its first major victory by managing to secure a majority in the Madras Legislative Assembly, by winning 137 of the 234 seats. It was a huge deal, but there was a lot of work to be done: the promises made ranged from equal rights for women in property, an overhaul of the reservation system, and a better deal for the poor and the oppressed classes. There was no choice but to deliver on these promises or face obliteration in the next election.
Realising that there was no time to be lost, Chief Minister and DMK ideologue and president, C.N. Annadurai, set a furious pace for himself and for the rest of the Cabinet. But in just two years, Annadurai—anna to his supporters and followers—fell to cancer. The DMK was then a party with little experience in governance. A combination of luck, shrewd thinking and alliances with the likes of the movie star M.G. Ramachandran, the party’s crowd puller, helped Public Works Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi emerge as the new leader.
When Karunanidhi took over the reins of administration at Fort St. George in February 1969, the Dravidian revolution was barely two years old. As the DMK came to terms with the absence of its ideologue, the pressure of soaring hopes and expectations was piling up. New ground had to be broken in Centre-state relations; the State’s autonomy had to be fought for; the federal structure had to be redefined with more power for States; the Tamil language had to be protected and propagated; and a New Deal ensured for the intermediate castes. The tasks looked insurmountable.
Over the next half century, whether in power or not, Karunanidhi strived hard to make sure that significant progress was made in all these spheres. Increased scope
AUGUST 15, 1975: Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi with State Chief Secretary P. Sabanayagam after unfurling the national flag at Fort St. George. The year before, he had won for all Chief Ministers the right to unfurl the national flag on Independence Day.