‘A transparent leader’: N. Sankariah
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