‘A trans­par­ent leader’: N. Sankariah

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THE spe­cial is­sue of Front­line on Karunanidhi is a fit­ting trib­ute to the great leader, with whom I have shared a sixdecade-long friend­ship. I con­sider the judg­ment of the Madras High Court or­der­ing the Tamil Nadu gov­ern­ment to al­lot space at the Ma­rina to in­ter his mor­tal re­mains an ex­er­cise in democ­racy. The ver­dict en­dorses the il­lus­tri­ous life Karunanidhi lived.

I knew him from 1952. The DMK and the Left had a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion when the for­mer held on to its “Dravida Nadu” de­mand. The Left in­sisted that the con­cept ran counter to the spirit of na­tional in­te­gra­tion and unity. As a re­sult of this the CPI (M) could not come to an elec­toral un­der­stand­ing with the DMK in the 1957 and 1962 gen­eral elec­tions.

Only af­ter the DMK dropped its de­mand for a sep­a­rate state fol­low­ing the 1962 elec­tions did the un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two par­ties be­gin in right earnest. The CPI(M) had an al­liance with the DMK in the 1967 gen­eral elec­tion. This led to a change in gov­ern­ment in Tamil Nadu.

As Chief Min­is­ter, Kalaig­nar en­acted many laws re­lat­ing to so­cial jus­tice, and among them the one on self-re­spect mar­riage was sig­nif­i­cant. He gave le­gal sanc­tity to such a mar­riage. To­day, a large num­ber of cou­ples are opt­ing for it in the State. I be­lieve that Tamil Nadu has been the torch­bearer in the coun­try in host­ing such mar­riages.

The CPI(M) and the DMK launched many joint strug­gles de­mand­ing more pow­ers for the State and its au­ton­omy. As a re­sult, re­gional lan­guages gained ex­ten­sive ac­cep­tance and sig­nif­i­cant im­por­tance. In

the as­sas­si­na­tion of the Ee­lam Peo­ple’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Lib­er­a­tion Front’s (EPRLF) K. Path­man­abha and a dozen of his com­rades by the LTTE in Choolaimedu in Chennai in 1990. It was the LTTE’S first big at­tack out­side Sri Lanka. The Karunanidhi gov­ern­ment, which had come to power in 1989 in the elec­tions fol­low­ing MGR’S death, was dis­missed in 1991, and the at­tack was cited as the rea­son. The real rea­son was that Ra­jiv Gandhi and Jay­alalithaa had struck a deal for an al­liance ahead of the 1991 elec­tions.

A few months af­ter the DMK gov­ern­ment was dis­missed, Ra­jiv Gandhi was as­sas­si­nated by the LTTE on May 21, 1991. The DMK was blamed for the as­sas­si­na­tion, and it faced the tough­est chal­lenge in its en­tire ex­is­tence. Two years down the line, the tallest sec­ond rank­ing leader of the party, V. Gopalasamy (later Vaiko), left the party, tak­ing with him al­most a third of the party’s pow­er­ful district sec­re­taries. Even worse, the DMK put Par­lia­ment, too, used to­day. This democ­racy.

In fact, he prompted me to in­volve my­self in the erad­i­ca­tion of un­touch­a­bil­ity. On my re­quest, he or­gan­ised a con­fer­ence on the is­sue of un­touch­a­bil­ity in Madu­rai, in which I de­tailed the forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion that were in prac­tice. He lis­tened care­fully and re­sponded to me with sta­tis­tics and what his gov­ern­ment had done so far and would do in the fu­ture. We or­gan­ised a sim­i­lar con­fer­ence in Neyveli in which he also took part.

Sim­i­larly, he in­vited me to at­tend the un­veil­ing of the Tiru­val­lu­var statue at Kanyaku­mari, to which he had in­vited lead­ers from all po­lit­i­cal par­ties. It showed his demo­cratic ap­proach. He played a sig­nif­i­cant role in pop­u­lar­is­ing the Tirukku­ral. He asked me to write the pref­ace to his Tamil work “Mother” (Thaai in Tamil), the work of Maxim Gorky, which Idid. It was in verse form. He in­vited me for its launch.

He was a sim­ple and trans­par­ent leader who re­spected the views of oth­ers. He never dis­cour­aged al­ter­na­tive views and al­ways sought facts and truths in them. He had a long po­lit­i­cal life from which the peo­ple of Tamil Nadu should learn and go for­ward. The sit­u­a­tion to­day is such that demo­cratic and sec­u­lar par­ties must unite. The voices in the north have be­come bolder and louder. In such a sit­u­a­tion the CPI(M) must con­tinue to keep sec­u­lar par­ties in its fold. Our friend­ship tran­scended po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. An epoch has come to an end.

As told to Ilan­go­van Ra­jasekaran N. Sankariah is a vet­eran CPI(M) leader. these lan­guages are is very im­por­tant in

up its worst ever show in the 1991 gen­eral elec­tion.

Karunanidhi ap­peared weak in ev­ery way, and the party seemed to be los­ing ground, and that, too, to Jay­alalithaa, who he thought was a po­lit­i­cal novice. He could never for­get this, and there be­gan the most vi­cious pe­riod in Tamil Nadu pol­i­tics, with the lead­ers of the two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties con­sid­er­ing each other en­e­mies. For the AIADMK, the DMK was not an op­po­si­tion party, it was an en­emy to be van­quished. This logic worked both ways. When a prom­i­nent busi­ness­man and his wife joined the AIADMK, Jay­alalithaa re­port­edly called the wife aside and told her: “I know you are a friend of Kan­i­mozhi. I am not say­ing you should not be in touch but you should re­mem­ber that our par­ty­men do not ap­prove of such con­tact.” AIADMK lead­ers did not at­tend even fam­ily func­tions of prom­i­nent DMK men, and DMK men did not at­tend func­tions or­gan­ised by AIADMK men.

This at­mos­phere of mu­tual ha­tred cost the State dear

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