Can the DMK take this hit?

NK Minda | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Kalaignar’s shoes may be too big for others to fill

With M Karunanidhi dead, what happens to the DMK? He was the glue that held the party together, steering it through trials and tribulations, and through some momentous triumphs, too.

It was Karunanidhi’s political cunning that saw him claim the Chief Minister’s chair in February 1969, after the death of DMK’s founder and then chief minister CN Annadurai. VR Nedunchezhian, who was Education and Industries Minister then, a virtual No 2 in Annadurai’s Cabinet and the Leader of the House, was widely tipped to take over. But that was not to be and Karunanidhi, who was the PWD Minister then, raced him to the job.

Feud with MGR

Karunanidhi led the DMK to victory in the 1971 elections. But very soon, the party ran into problems. Matinee idol MG Ramachandran, who was a star attraction at all DMK public meetings, even when Annadurai was alive, fell out with Karunanidhi, ostensibly over the maintaining of party accounts. MGR was soon expelled from the party, and he set up his own party, the Anna DMK (later the All India Anna DMK).

When the Emergency was imposed in the country in June 1975, Karunanidhi found himself out of favour with the Indira Gandhi government at the Centre, and his State government was dismissed in January 1976, two months before its term was to end. The Centre even constituted a commission of enquiry, headed by Supreme Court judge RS Sarkaria, to probe corruption charges against Karunanidhi and his government.

In the 1977 elections, held after Emergency was lifted, the DMK came a cropper against MGR’s newly-formed ADMK. From 1977, till his death in December 1987, MGR ruled the roost in Tamil Nadu, and nothing Karunanidhi did, could dislodge him or reduce his popularity among the people. Many senior leaders of the DMK, including stalwarts of the Dravidian movement like Nedunchezhian, deserted the party and hitched their fortunes with MGR.

But Karunanidhi held the DMK together, writing a daily column in the party mouthpiece Murasoli (Drumbeat), and addressing the cadres as udanpirappe (my kin). He was untiring in his efforts and would not lose an opportunity to launch a protest or address a public meeting. But he had to wait 12 years before he could taste power again, when in the elections of 1989, the AIADMK split into two.

That tenure was to last just two years, marked as it was by open support to the Sri Lankan Tamil militant group LTTE. Karunanidhi even refused to attend a reception held for the Indian Peace Keeping Force that had returned from duties in the strife-torn Sri Lanka. It was in June 1990 that the LTTE gunned down 13 top leaders of another Sri Lankan Tamil outfit, the EPRLF, in Chennai, and escaped via road to the Vedaranyam coast, from where they fled by boat to the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka. The Karunanidhi government was dismissed in January 1991.

The return

In the 1991 Assembly elections, held after former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur, the DMK was routed, and reduced to just two seats. Karunanidhi barely managed to retain his seat, but soon gave it up. Only five years later, the DMK would bounce back and form the government, highlighting Jayalalithaa’s acts of ommission and commission.

The DMK’s very core — seniors such as K Anbazhagan, Duraimurugan, Ponmudi, Veerapandi Arumugam, and KN Nehru — continued to be ministers in the new Karunanidhi dispensation.

When out of power, in 1993, the DMK was to go through a major upheaval. V Gopalasami (now Vaiko), once seen as Karunanidhi’s trusted lieutenant, was expelled from the party for dissent. Vaiko went on to form his own party, the MDMK.

Power partners

Through all these swings in fortunes, Karunanidhi ensured that the DMK stayed relevant in politics. If it was not in power in the State, the DMK occupied important portfolios in the short-lived VP Singh-led National Front Government at the Centre, and in the United Front governments of HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, with AB Vajpayee’s first NDA government, and for 10 years in the Manmohan Singh-led UPA governments. His nephew, Murasoli Maran, grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran, and son, MK Alagiri, have been Central ministers at various points in time.

Karunanidhi would remark that the kazhagam (referring to the DMK) was like a close-knit family. His critics say that he has made his family the kazhagam, what with MK Stalin being the Working President since January 2017, and daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP.

Stalin’s task cut out

Despite Stalin calling the shots now, things are not going to be easy for him. Stalin’s elder brother Alagiri, who was based in Madurai and was considered the party’s strongman in the southern districts, was expelled from the party for anti-party activities in March 2014. Alagiri has so far maintained a low profile.

It is no secret that there is no love lost between the brothers. With Karunanidhi no longer in the picture, Alagiri is bound to muddy the waters for Stalin. Though Stalin has managed to purge the party leaders in the districts of Alagiri loyalists, the elder brother still wields a lot of clout.

Overcoming Alagiri’s moves will be Stalin’s first major test. How Stalin accommodates his half-sister Kanimozhi will also have to be seen. What will the Maran brothers (Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi), who control the Sun TV network, do is yet another issue. The Sun TV wields enormous clout in Tamil Nadu.

In January 1991, at a public meeting in the then North Arcot district, with the air pregnant with rumours of his government’s imminent dismissal, Karunanidhi recalled Winston Churchill’s famous words during World War II, when London was repeatedly bombed by German fighter planes, that “London would take it.” Karunanidhi turned it around to suit the predicament he was in, and thundered, “the DMK will take it”. The question uppermost in everyone’s mind now is, how will the DMK take his passing.

Published on August 07, 2018
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