He was not lim­ited by the past: Peter Alphonse

FrontLine - - EDITOR’S NOTE -

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

M. Karunanidhi.

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