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.

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