‘Essentially a fighter’: Mulayam
THOUGH we spoke and worked in two different languages, I believe that Karunanidhi and I represent the significant historical process of the mainstreaming of regional parties in Indian politics. Karunanidhi and the DMK did this from south India, rooting his societal interventions in the big State of Tamil Nadu, while many of us, including me, did it in north India, focussing primarily on Uttar Pradesh, the most populous State in India. We had also worked together on many occasions, especially in the 1990s during the United Front governments that ruled between 1996 and 1998. Throughout our association we sought to work on the mainstreaming of regional political ideologies, although from nuanced positions.
Karunanidhi was essentially a fighter, a tenacious one at that, both politically and personally. There are many fellow politicians, besides observers and journalists, who have found similarities in our personalities. I also like to stand up for my beliefs, both personal and political. I remember seeing Karunanidhi’s fighting spirit in 1996 when the then President, Shankar Dayal Sharma, invited the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, just because the BJP was the single largest party. The post-election alliance of secular parties had a majority and the leaders of these parties had gone to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest. The President had organised a breakfast for the leaders that morning, but we had decided to boycott that. The leaders, including Karunanidhi and Communist
When Kalaignar became Chief Minister for a second tenure in 1971, the debates and discussions held in the Legislative Assembly were thought-provoking, with ideological narratives. The leader of the opposition, Dr. H.V. Hande, criticised the DMK government, calling it a “third rate government”.
When the members from the treasury were furious and were about to protest, Kalaignar asked them to remain calm, and replied, “The honourable member from the opposition mentioned our government as a third-rate one. I would like to say, in fact, I’m proud to say that our government is not a third-rate government but a ‘fourth rate government’. Yes, fourth in the hierarchy of the varnasrama dharma, viz. sudra. Our government is the government of sudras, by the sudras and for the sudras.” The opposition was tongue-tied. The statement made by Kalaignar with presence of mind, which bore the stamp of his ideology, reflects his unique style of interactive functioning. Periyar was happy and proud when he Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, were vociferous in their criticism before the President. It was a moment when our democratic polity asserted its credentials.
Indeed, we had our differences, especially when the DMK moved on to the Bjp-led National Democratic Alliance in 1999. However, Karunanidhi realised the mistake of that political position and returned to the anti-communal, anti-hindutva platform in 2004. Both of us had started our politics primarily on the basis of anti-congressism but had nuanced our positions later in order to confront bigger threats to democracy and secularism. This does not mean that we have given up anticongressism. We have only adapted to the new political realities keeping in mind the growth of communal politics perpetrated by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar.
There have been some comments that we had big differences on the language issue, especially Hindi versus Tamil. There was nothing like that. We always respected all regional languages of India. This respectful consideration had reflected in my interactions with the late CPI(M) leader and former Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar. I am sure the spirit of Karunanidhi will continue to guide Tamil Nadu to a great future. learned of this statement made by his disciple, Kalaignar, on the floor of the State Legislative Assembly.
All these go to prove that Kalaignar, as he himself claimed, was a Manamigu Suyamariyathaikkaran, meaning “Person of Self Respect”, first and last. As a Chief Minister, he was always interested in preserving the dignity of the lowest of the low in the social hierarchy and ran a “fourth rate government”, as he himself claimed. At the all-india level, as far as permitted by the Constitution, he held the flag of the State aloft, upholding its rights.
Kalaignar has acknowledged that he hailed from a socially backward, extremely oppressed community, with no claim to any honour. Economically, too, he belonged to a family with no affluence. He always remembered all this, which acted as the motivating force for all his initiatives through his career, as a politician, a man of letters and a valiant fighter for social justice. $ K. Veeramani is president, Dravidar Kazhagam.