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The Dravidian Demi-God

The Dravidian Demi-God
Highlights

In terms of political presence, longevity in public life despite its debilitating ups and downs and responding to everchanging trends in Indian politics with alacrity, there has hardly been a better leader than Muthuvel Kalaignar Karunanidhi an immensely talented writer in Tamil whose film dialogues are still recited verbatim

In terms of political presence, longevity in public life despite its debilitating ups and downs and responding to everchanging trends in Indian politics with alacrity, there has hardly been a better leader than Muthuvel ‘Kalaignar’ Karunanidhi- an immensely talented writer in Tamil whose film dialogues are still recited verbatim.

The 94-year-old titan of Tamil Nadu politics who breathed his last on Tuesday was a formidable administrator, relentless foe and a strategist who always knew how he and his party- Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – would stand to benefit. Though he reportedly had Telugu origins, his supporters underplay it.

A five-time Chief Minister, he took over DMK reins from its founder C N Annadurai after his demise in 1969. It was a period when the political environment was rife with the whiff of the newly-minted Dravidian politics, a combination of rationalism and social justice for the downtrodden. Having appealed immensely to the local youth with its virulent campaign against the Brahminical traditions and North Indian mores and manners, the DMK enjoyed a superb run at the helm of affairs till the mid-1970s.

In spite of a working arrangement with the Centre led by the tough Indira Gandhi, Karunanidhi faced her wrath during the Emergency and his government was dismissed in 1976. The period afterwards was even more challenging, as the parent party split into two and saw the rise of M G Ramachandran (MGR) and his AIADMK, who beat the wily veteran at his own game, so much so that Karunanidhi spent nearly 13 years in political wilderness till his return as CM in 1989, masterfully holding onto the party machinery and keeping the cadre intact.

The bad times continued when during the post-Rajiv Gandhi assassination phase, his government was dismissed in 1991 under the charge of harbouring the dreaded LTTE, the guerilla warriors responsible for Rajiv Gandhi’s death. The successor to MGR, Jayalalitha too proved more than a match to Karunanidhi all through her political career.

During the brief tenure of V P Singh as Prime Minister in 1990-91, the DMK got an extended lease of life in national politics with Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran, bagging a ministerial berth. The years that followed saw the intensely parochial, Tamil- centric outfit abandon all its Dravidian pretensions and align itself with multiple political formations, including the BJP-led NDA during the rule of A B Vajpayee and, later, the Congress, which was a political also-ran and a convenient ally in the state. The DMK was crushed under the infamous 2G scam in recent times and received a devastating blow at the hands of Jayalalithaa in 2016 Assembly polls.

With the country’s oldest politician having passed away, the political twists and turns in the southern state would once again become the centre of attention as the 2019 polls are just a few months away. Especially, when there is no effective second line of leadership in Tamil Nadu in both the two regional parties – DMK and AIADMK – and the BJP leaning too heavily on the charisma of Narendra Modi, which has also come unstuck quite a few times in the last few years.

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