The sun sets on Kalaignar

R Balaji | | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

DMK Chief M Karunanidhi (file photo).

After a political career spanning six decades, a champion of the Dravidian movement rests

After a political career spanning 60 years, the 5-time Tamil Nadu CM finally rests.  M Karunanidhi, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and President of the DMK, passed away here today after a prolonged, age-related ailment.

He was 94. He is survived by his wives MK Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal, and four sons and two daughters. Fondly known as ‘Kalaignar’ to his peers and party supporters, Karunanidhi is among the last of the old guard of Tamil Nadu’s politicians.

When CN Annadurai broke away from the Dravida Kazhagam, the first of the State’s political rationalist outfits, to set up the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Party) in 1949, Karunanidhi was by his leader’s side, a fellow founder. When Annadurai passed away while still holding the office of chief minister, Karunanidhi took over both government and party. In the five decades since, he has been the DMK’s President, and chief minister of the State five times.

He will be mourned by lakhs of DMK supporters. Karunanidhi had been ailing for some time with health complications associated with his advanced years. In December 2016, he was admitted to hospital following an allergic reaction, and was discharged a week later. But he was rushed back only a couple of weeks later, following complaints of difficulty in breathing.

He never fully recovered from that bout of sickness. Till then, he had set a gruelling pace for himself, and even undertook a whirlwind, Statewide, campaign in the May 2016 Assembly elections. He won with a record margin from Thiruvarur, his native. Karunanidhi has never lost an election, a remarkable feat for someone who has been an active politician for over 60 years. The five-time chief minister was elected to the TN Assembly on 12 occasions, and was once a member of the State Legislative Council.


CM terms

The arc lights

 But that was just one of his many facets. He was also author, poet, journalist, playwright and screenplay writer. Murasoli, a paper he floated, celebrated the 75th year of its publication in 2016. Karunanidhi wrote screenplays for over 75 movies, many were watershed movies, influencing and aiding not just his film and political career, but also social change in the State. Some his landmark movies include Parasakthi, which saw the debut of VC Ganesan (who later became the legendary ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan), Poompuhar and Manohara.

Not rivals, but enemies

Karunanidhi’s death, coming less than two years after the passing of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa, his arch-rival and leader of the AIADMK, marks the end of a unique era in State politics characterised by unrelenting rivalry between the two — they were not just political opponents but enemies. That animosity took its toll on the State as policies were reversed after each election; the AIADMK and the DMK would, over the course of three decades beginning in 1989 — when the DMK came back to power defeating the AIADMK — rule Tamil Nadu alternately.

The long road

Karunanidhi was born in Thirukuvalai village, a few km from Thiruvarur town, which was then part of a composite Thanjavur district. Karunanidhi was always fond of saying that he had entered politics as a teenager, influenced by the rationalist politics and philosophy of ‘Periyar’ EV Ramaswamy Naicker, who founded the Dravida Kazhagam (DK). He was first elected to the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1957 from Kulithalai constituency, and he repeated the feat 11 times since, from various constituencies. Karunanidhi’s ties with parties at the Centre have vacillated — the DMK is currently an ally of the Congress, but has previously partnered the BJP, and the Janata Dal. From 1996, it has been part of various Central governments. However, the DMK supremo’s focus has always been on State-level politics, and he hardly cared for a role at the Centre. That he left to his late nephew, former union minister ‘Murasoli’ Maran, and his grandnephew, Maran’s son Dayanidhi, also a central minister.

Domestic wrangles

Karunanidhi’s last years were marred by the power struggles within his family, particularly the clash between his sons MK Stalin, the heir apparent, a former deputy chief minister and currently the DMK Working President, and the elder MK Alagiri, a former union minister, who is a major power centre in southern Tamil Nadu. His daughter, MK Kanimozhi, is a Rajya Sabha MP. The clash between the sons led to Karunanidhi disowning Alagiri and expelling him from the party. But in his final days, the family has been working towards a rapprochement. The infighting and the allegations of the involvement of DMK’s senior leaders in what came to be known as the 2G Spectrum Scam scuttled his hopes of coming back to power in 2011, and again in 2016. (In December 2017, all the accused in the 2G case, including Kanimozhi and former Union telecom minister A Raja were acquitted.) Karunanidhi also has other children: MK Muthu, from his first wife, the late Padmavathy; Selvi and Thamizharasu, children through Dayalu Ammal. The family has diverse business interests, especially in media and entertainment.

The journey

Published on August 07, 2018
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