End of An Era!

Karunanidhi, who never lost any elec­tion in his en­tire 80 years of po­lit­i­cal life, al­ways ac­knowl­edged fol­low­ers in speeches cit­ing, “My sib­lings are more dearer to me than life”

The Day After - - CONTENT - BY DANFES

It is doubt­ful if there can be an­other Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu for years to come. Hail­ing from a hum­ble back­ground, Karunanidhi was al­most the last of that gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers who had had to strug­gle to come up in life. Grow­ing up amid the Dra­vid­ian move­ment of the 1930s, he be­gan his life as an ac­tivist, jour­nal­ist, and later be­came a scriptwriter who used films as a medium to spread his mes­sage. His au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Nen­jukku Neethi gives a glimpse of his life and strug­gle.

De­spite not speak­ing English or Hindi, Karunanidhi played a cru­cial role in na­tional pol­i­tics. Dur­ing the 1969 Congress split, he sup­ported Indira Gandhi. When Jayaprakash Narayan launched the Janata Party, the DMK was part of it. He joined many coali­tions like the Na­tional Front, United Front, the NDA, the UPA and held power at the Cen­tre. He had a com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship with sev­eral na­tional lead­ers. He de­clined to be the Prime Min­is­ter in 1997 when HD Deve Gowda stepped down. Karunanidhi’s an­swer was, “I know my height.”

When asked in an in­ter­view what he would like in­scribe on his tomb­stone, M Karunanidhi is said to have quipped, “The tire­less worker rests here.” By all ac­counts, the iconic Tamil leader was a worka­holic. He scaled heights in pol­i­tics, lit­er­a­ture, and cin­ema. His or­a­tory was un­matched; his writ­ing will be un­ri­valled. How­ever, it is his po­lit­i­cal feat of win­ning all 13 leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly elec­tions that will prob­a­bly never be eclipsed.

Kalaig­nar, as he was known to his loy­al­ists and ri­vals, lived and breathed pol­i­tics. His party, its ide­ol­ogy and the cadres – whom he ad­dressed as sib­lings – meant ev­ery­thing to him. He would of­ten say that the DMK cadres were only born to dif­fer­ent moth­ers for it would have been im­pos­si­ble for one womb to bear so many chil­dren. He thus be­gan each let­ter with his trademark “an­bulla udan­pirappey (dear sib­ling)”.

Dur­ing ev­ery pub­lic meet­ing, there would be pin-drop si­lence when it was his turn to speak. In Tamil Nadu, it is cus­tom­ary to ac­knowl­edge the lead­ers and speak­ers on the dais at the be­gin­ning of one’s speech. Kalaig­nar al­ways fol­lowed this stage pro­to­col, but his open­ing se­quence

would con­clude with his trademark phrase ac­knowl­edg­ing his fol­low­ers as “my sib­lings who are more dear to me than life.” The crowd would al­ways reach a rap­tur­ous crescendo by the time he ut­tered these words, and this set the tempo for all his speeches.

Al­though rhetoric was pro­lific in his writ­ten and spo­ken word, Kalaig­nar was a prag­matic and effective politi­cian. Un­der him, Tamil Nadu per­fected the Dra­vid­ian eco­nomic model of con­sumer so­cial­ism. He gave im­pe­tus to in­dus­try by set­ting up the first in­dus­trial mega-es­tate in Ra­nipet spread over 730 acres, birthing 107 new in­dus­trial plants, in 1973.

His fourth and fifth terms as chief min­is­ter, in 1996-2001 and 2006-2011, saw the devel­op­ment of Tamil Nadu into an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy hub and an au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ing pow­er­house. The num­ber of check-dams and uni­ver­si­ties built un­der the DMK regimes far sur­passes that of other par­ties, which have gov­erned the state. The state has per­formed bet­ter than the na­tional av­er­age in all eco­nomic and so­cial in­dices over the last four decades.

It was the cause of so­cial jus­tice that was clos­est to his heart. Dur­ing his first term as an MLA, he raised is­sues per­tain­ing to land rights of agricultural labour­ers in Nan­gavaram. When he be­came the chief min­is­ter, he leg­is­lated the re­moval of hered­i­tary priest­hood in Hindu tem­ples. He cham­pi­oned sub­di­vi­sions within reser­va­tion quo­tas and pro­moted a caste­less so­ci­ety through multi-caste govern­ment hous­ing (the Sa­math­u­va­pu­ram scheme).

Dur­ing his fi­nal term as the chief min­is­ter, he over­saw the set­ting up of a wel­fare board for trans­gen­der six years be­fore the land­mark Supreme Court judg­ment in the NALSA ver­sus Union of In­dia case. Sim­i­larly, the state govern­ment’s in­surance scheme for life-sav­ing treat­ments pre­dated Modi­care by eight years. Tamil Nadu was, thus, al­ways ahead of the so­cial pol­icy curve.

It was, how­ever, his love for Tamil that has been his con­stant com­pan­ion through­out his life. When the first wave of Hindi im­po­si­tion un­der the newly elected Congress govern­ment hit erst­while Madras Pres­i­dency in 1938, 14-year-old Kalaig­nar had led mini-protest marches, scream­ing, “Let’s go to war if needed, to chase away this Hindi ghost; Let’s re­mind this Hindi witch, this is not a land of cow­ards.”

In June 1953, the four-year-old Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (DMK) party or­ga­nized protests against the use of Hindi names for towns and vil­lages in the state. Kalaig­nar would lead the protest to change the name of Dalmi­a­pu­ram train sta­tion to its orig­i­nal Tamil name – Kal­lakudi – by lay­ing his head down on the rail­way plat­form. In later years, he played a ma­jor role in per­suad­ing the Govern­ment of In­dia to rec­og­nize Tamil as a clas­si­cal lan­guage and set up the Cen­tral In­sti­tute of Clas­si­cal Tamil in Chen­nai.

The love be­tween Kalaig­nar and Tamil was mu­tual in some ways. The rich lan­guage and its flow­ery prose helped Kalaig­nar rise as the state’s un­par­al­leled po­lit­i­cal gi­ant; in re­turn, he re­paid his debt to the lan­guage in full. When asked what his re­gret as a politi­cian was, he was able to ad­mit that his ef­forts to make Tamil an of­fi­cial lan­guage of the Union of In­dia and the lin­gua franca of the Madras high court had not yet borne fruit. Nev­er­the­less, there is no doubt that he lived his life true to the fa­mous Tamil proverb, “The body is buried in the sand. But the soul is ded­i­cated to Tamil.”

DMK work­ing Pres­i­dent MK Stalin with fam­ily mem­bers Kan­i­mozhi and oth­ers dur­ing their fa­ther M Karunanidhi’s fu­neral cer­e­mony

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