A little over a fortnight ago, on 27 July to be precise, M Karunanidhi had crossed a milestone that no other person is likely to come close to any time soon. He had entered his 50th year as the president of the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK).
On Tuesday, the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister passed away in Chennai after an illness, marking the end of an era where he steered the DMK as a powerful force in Tamil Nadu politics.
Popularly known as Kalaignar (artist), 94-year-old Karunanidhi had been admitted to Cauvery Hospital after a drop in blood pressure on 28 July. The medical status of the five-time Chief Minister, who had not been keeping well for the last few years, saw several ups and downs.
A bulletin issued by the hospital said that he breathed his last at 6.10 pm. Karunanidhi is survived by sons Muthu, MK Alagiri, MK Stalin (DMK working president) and Thamizarasu, and daughters Selvi and Kanimozhi.
Long Years Of Success In Electoral Politics
Born on 3 June 1924 in a village in eastern Tamil Nadu, Muthuvel Karunanidhi was drawn to the Dravidian movement that was catching on in the state when he was still young. From a local youth leader, he gradually came close to DMK founder CN Annadurai.
He won his first election to the state assembly in 1957 and gradually moved up within the party. He never lost an election that he contested from then on.
The DMK routed the Congress in the 1967 assembly elections, riding high on the success of the anti-Hindi agitation. Annadurai became the Chief Minister and Karunanidhi a member of his government. He was elevated to the CM’s post in 1969, after the party founder’s death. A few months later, Karunanidhi took over as the president of the DMK.
Annadurai, incidentally, had held the position of DMK general secretary. The president’s post had been left for Periyar EV Ramaswamy. Periyar had formed the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) as a non-political movement seeking an independent state in the 1940s; the two had later parted ways.
Karunanidhi soon emerged as the party’s most popular face and led it to a massive victory in the 1971 assembly elections.
The DMK saw a split in 1972, with cinestar-turned-politician MG Ramachandran (MGR) forming the All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagham (AIADMK). MGR was the Chief Minister between 1977 and 1987.
M Karunanidhi adroitly battled the AIADMK, with the two parties winning assembly elections almost by turn. So complete has been the dominance of these two parties that one of them has always been in power in Tamil Nadu since 1967.
M Karunanidhi, The Charismatic Leader
The DMK patriarch was fluent in Tamil and was a fine orator. This stood him in good stead during his political speeches and in his writings. Contemporaries have also referred to his quick wit and sharp memory.
He will be remembered for his fighting spirit. A recent article in The Hindu referred to this trait of his and pointed out that there were many “who believed that Mr Karunanidhi was at his best when fighting against the odds. They recall his leadership quality as he kept the party intact after the revolt of MGR, steering it through the Emergency and 10 years of MGRs’ reign and again in successfully tiding over a crisis triggered by Vaiko’s exit”.
Outside of politics, he was a prolific scriptwriter for the Tamil film industry.
DMK On The National Scene
The DMK has had understandings and alliances with the Congress as well as non-Congress parties since the 1980s.
His nephew Murasoli Maran was a minister in the National Front government led by VP Singh in 1989. Karunanidhi joined HD Deve Gowda’s United Front government in 1996. Three years later, the DMK was part of the Atal Bihar Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
The party was with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 and 2009.