DMK patriarch Karunanidhi no more; a peek into his life and times

Chennai: DMK chief M Karunanidhi breathed his last at Chennai’s Kauvery Hospital today. He was 94 years old and had been admitted in the hospital since July 26.

Earlier in the day, Kauvery hospital had issued a statement informing decline in Karunanidhi’s health. “He is extremely critical and unstable,” it read.

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Famous for his script-writing that catapulted him to political heights over his over six-decade-long career, the DMK president had immensely influenced the political narrative of Tamil Nadu for a long time.

Karunanidhi made his mark in the socio-political landscape for the first time when he led the famous “Kallakudi agitation”, lying over the railway tracks in 1953 seeking renaming of Dalmiapuram station.

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Born in Thirukkuvalai on June 3, 1924, a small agrarian village in the then composite Thanjavur District (now Nagapattinam), he was hooked to the Dravidian movement led by reformist leader Periyar EVR when he was still a teen.

Karunanidhi became an ardent follower of Dravidian ideologue CN Annadurai and joined the DMK when the latter founded it in 1949.

Endowed with brilliant screen-writing skills, he used it to further the ideology of DMK on-screen, primarily rationalism like his mentor Annadurai.

As its proponent, he too began rising as a star in films and politics and came to be hailed as “Kalaignar” (artist) in subsequent years by his supporters.

His sharp screen play in “Parasakthi,” (1952) a trendsetter Tamil movie, would illustrate how films were used by DMK to propagate its ideals and ensconce itself deep in public consciousness which eventually aided it in capturing power from Congress in 1967.

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Karunanidhi was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister five times between 1969-71, 71-76, 89-91, 96-01 and 2006-11.

Despite many ups and downs, he has not lost a single election himself. He debuted in Kulithalai in 1957 and went on to win in all the subsequent eleven elections he contested. He did not contest the 1984 assembly election since he was a member of the Legislative Council then.

With his screen-writing skills aiding him financially, Karunanidhi’s wonderful organising skills and oratory shone light on his prospects inside the party in the initial years. He became one of the favourites of DMK founder Annadurai and was made Public Works Minister in 1967.

He became Chief Minister after Annadurai’s death in 1969 in the face of tough competition from VR Nedunchezhiyan (VRN).

VRN was next only to Annadurai in stature within the party and in the government too. Karunanidhi outmaneuvered him to become CM and DMK president, a position he continues to hold on till date.

He also tried to consciously build an image of being the “leader of all Tamils (Tamilina Thalaivar),” crossing political boundaries.

Building Valluvar Kottam in honour of Tamil saint-poet Tiruvalluvar, building a 133-foot statue for him and changing the Tamil New Year to January were some of the initiatives.

On the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, though he stood by the pro-Eelam narrative like most other politicians did, he was accused of not making efforts to stop the war despite being in power both in the state and at the Centre when the conflict was at its peak in 2009.

Though he tried things like World Tamil Conference, it could not help much to undo the damage.

Karunanidhi displayed his determination when his party could not make a come back to power for well over a decade between 1977-89. During that period, AIADMK founder and his friend turned rival MG Ramachandran was Chief Minister.

During such trying times, he held the party flag high, leading a series of agitations to keep the political pot boiling targeting the ruling AIADMK.

He constantly kept his ear to the ground, engaging party workers through his ‘Kalaignar Kaditham’ (Kalaignar’s letter to cadres) in party mouthpiece ‘Murasoli’. Through his ‘Nenjukku Neethi’, a kind of memoir, he kept in touch with party functionaries.

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He came back to power in 1989, but suffered a setback when his government was dismissed in January, 1991. He weathered tough times be it the exit of MGR in 1972 or the expulsion of Vaiko by him in 1993 when the latter took alongwith him hordes of partymen including district secretaries.

After intra-family squabbles involving his sons MK Stalin and MK Alagiri, he chose to expel his older son Alagiri keeping in mind what he called party interests.

In his long political career, if there could be one single issue that has continued to trouble and cost him and his party politically it is corruption charges, beginning from the Sarkaria Commission’s indictment in the late 1970s’ to the infamous 2G Spectrum Scam.

As he had often said famously that he has done “politics with titans like Rajaji and Kamaraj,” he still had a tough time in dealing with arch rival AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa since the late 1980s when she was on the ascendance in the TN’s political arena.

A shrewd politician, he used all the issues Jayalalithaa utilised to target him when he was in power.

All through 2011-16, he hit her hard with the accusation that she did nothing for fishermen harassed by Sri Lanka besides writing letters to PM Modi, a charge levelled by AIADMK chief to target Karunanidhi during 2006-11. Also, he continuously targeted AIADMK for not coming up with any new power project during its tenure to shore up TN’s electricity generation capacity.

AIADMK successfully used power shortage issue against the DMK to come back to power in 2011. Aided by son and party treasurer Stalin, Karunanidhi took up the 2015 rain and floods issue in a big way against the AIADMK and its chief Jayalalithaa.

Against a background of a subdued clamour for making his son and party treasurer Stalin as Chief Minister if DMK was voted to power, he had said, “I will be the Chief Minister for sixth time. Stalin can become Chief Minister only if nature does something to me.”

Pic credit: Deccan Chronicle

Under his leadership, his party tasted power at the Centre too several times and became a party with significant pull at the national level, courtesy coalition pressures.

Notably, at the age of 92, he addressed more than a dozen public meetings during the run up to the polls besides “van-campaigns” when he addressed public from his luxury vehicle.

“I will continue to work for the people even if I cross 100 years,” the DMK chief had once said.

(With PTI inputs)