Dravidian veteran and five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Muthuvel Karunanidhi passed away due to prolonged illness at a private hospital on 7 August, in Chennai. Ninety four-year-old M. Karunanidhi, who touched great heights in his eight-decade long political career, was battling for life for last 11 days and finally breathed his last in Kauvery hospital on Tuesday evening.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) supremo M. Karunanidhi, also known as Kalaignar, is survived by two wives and six children including his political heir Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin.
DMK supremo Karunanidhi started off as a scriptwriter and propagated his ideas on evils of Brahminical culture and the hegemony of the Northern India. His work caught attention of Tamil Nadu’s cult figure Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar. Impressed with Karunanidhi’s sharp writings on Brahminism, Periyar appointed him as an editor of the magazine, Dravidar Kazhagam. Post-independence Karunanidhi helped C.N. Annadurai launch DMK. It was the start of the making of a charismatic politician who went on to dominate the political narrative of Tamil Nadu.
Through films he ignited a social movement against imposition of Hindi in Tamil Nadu. In 1967, Karunanidhi crafted the victory of DMK, the first non-congress party to win the state elections. Congress never made a comeback after that. In his towering political career, Karunanidhi shared the political space with cult leaders like M. G. Ramachandran, known as MGR, and J Jayalalitha( his political rival).
“The political movement against North hegemony, of which Karunanidhi was the front-runner is not just about Tamil politics. Karunanidhi stood for the state autonomy and protection of federal value of our constitution. Karunanidhi even projected himself at the national politics only to assert regional autonomy. He was a visionary leader and his ideas resonate with every non-Hindi speaking state who stand up for their regional identities,” pointed out R K Radhakrishnan a senior political journalist and winner of prestigious RedInk Journalism Awards 2017 in politics.
Born in a poor family in a small village called Thirukkuvalai, Karunanidhi was the last stalwart of the Dravidian movement and flag bearer of Tamil nationalism. Belonging to Isai Vellalar caste, considered to be Shudras, Karunanidhi realized the caste dynamics a very early age. At the age of 14 he joined Periyar’s Dravidian movement against the Brahminism. Fired with socialist ideas, Karunanidhi used films and songs to ignite a social movement against the evils of ‘Aryan’ or ‘Brahminical’ culture. He used his films to promote his newly-formed party DMK’s ideas.
While in his later years he toned down his criticism towards Brahminism, he continued the anti-Hindi movement. Although he remained committed to the Dravidian movement all his life, he bent his own rules by joining BJP and becoming part of NDA cabinet under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Political pundits say that Karunanidhi didn’t want to miss an opportunity to project himself in national politics and thereby ensuring survival of DMK, which was facing stiff opposition from AIADMK supremo J Jayalalitha.
Be it building anti-Hindi wave against the imposition of Hindi language by the Centre or getting Tamil Language rid of Sanskrit blend, fight for linguistic identity was at the heart of Karunanidhi’s career as a larger-than-life politician, filmmaker, poet, writer, and lyricist.
In 1952, his film Parasakthi received overwhelming appreciation from the audience and film critics. Famous books written by Karunanidhi include Sanga Thamizh, Thirukkural Urai, Ponnar Sankar, Romapuri Pandian, Thenpandi Singam, Vellikizhamai, among many others.
Karunanidhi believed in the robust infrastructural development. Being in power for five times( 20 years in total), Karunanidhi contributed greatly in developing roads and transportation system in Tamil Nadu. During his regime he’s believed to have brought major projects in the state that even contributed towards job creation. His good relations with the Centre helped DMK leader TR Baalu get transport ministry under UPA 1. Baalu interlinked every city in Tamil Nadu by Four-way highways.
During 2004-2009, under his leadership DMK brought in huge inflow of FDI in IT industries and manufacturing sector. As a result, score of jobs were created for the people.
Karunanidhi was also known as a populist leader and was championed for advocating for reservation for scheduled castes, providing electricity to all villages, providing free concrete houses for Scheduled Castes and Tribes, among many others.
All Tamil politicians have largely supported Tamil fishermen issue with the Sri Lanka. Karunanidhi was one of them. Karunanidhi raised voice over issue of alleged attacks on fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy. On many occasions he used his good relations with the Centre to push New Delhi for negotiations with Sri Lanka to find a lasting solution to the issue.
“Karunanidhi was one of the leaders who many times asked the Centre to negotiate with Sri Lanka to bring an end to the plight of Tamil fishermen who were being shot by Sri Lankan navy,” a scholar in Tamil politics told Youth Ki Awaaz.
With Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa gone it is hard to imagine Tamil Nadu’s assembly elections.