English தமிழ்

Muthuvel Karunanidhi (born as Daksinamoorthy on 3 June 1924 to to Muthuvel and Anjugam) served India with distinction in several fields, both at the national level and in the State. A prolific Tamil writer and orator, Karunanidhi, fondly known as Kalaignar, was chief minister of Tamil Nadu for five terms, an MLA for consecutive terms from 1957, president of his party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for 50 years, and an active participant in politics for over six decades. He was a multi-faceted personality the likes of which India has not seen. Writer, lyricist, editor, cartoonist, orator, politician, administrator – Karunanidhi championed the cause of Tamil language and culture right from his teens.

He is survived by his wives Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal, and sons M K Muthu, M K Alagiri, M K Stalin, M K Tamizharasu, daughters Selvi and Kanimozhi. He married three times; his first wife Padmavathy was a sister of Chidambaram S Jeyaraman, a famous Tamil musician both in the Carnatic and film arenas.  She died young. M. K. Muthu, his eldest son was born to Padmavathy. His second wife was Dayalu Ammal. Former Union minister M K Alagiri, DMK working president and former deputy chief minister M K Stalin, M K Selvi and M K Tamilarasu were born to Dayalu. Rajathi Ammal was his third wife, who gave to birth to Kanimozhi, party’s Rajya Sabha member.

Karunanidhi was one of the vanguards of the Dravidian movement led by E V Ramaswami (Periyar), being a rationalist all his life. After the death of his mentor C N Annadurai, Karunanidhi took over as chief minister and party president in 1969, and led his party to electoral triumph in 1971 in alliance with the Indira Congress. However, differences with his film world associate and party treasurer MGR erupted, leading to MGR’s ouster from the DMK. The party split with MGR forming the ADMK. MGR submitted corruption charges against the Karunanidhi regime. Karunanidhi opposed imposition of Emergency in 1975, and his government was dismissed in 1976. The Centre also set up the Sarkaria Commission to go into corruption charges against his government. In the 1977 elections, MGR led the ADMK to victory, and Karunanidhi had to wait for 12 years and MGR’s death, to emerge again as CM in 1989. From 1991, Tamil Nadu saw the AIADMK and the DMK alternatively till Jayalalithaa managed to retain power in 2016.

During MK rule, Tamil Nadu saw the construction of several flyovers and bridges, introduction of welfare schemes like construction of tenements for slum dwellers, abolition of rickshaws, increase in reservation for backward classes and scheduled castes and tribes, concessions for the farm sector, and expansion of the noon meal scheme for school children.

During MK rule, Tamil Nadu saw the construction of several flyovers and bridges, introduction of welfare schemes like construction of tenements for slum dwellers, abolition of rickshaws, increase in reservation for backward classes and scheduled castes and tribes, concessions for the farm sector, and expansion of the noon meal scheme for school children.

However, the suspension of prohibition was roundly criticised by many opposition leaders including Rajaji, Kamaraj and MGR. Karunanidhi defended it saying Tamil Nadu was like a piece of camphor which was surrounded by fire on all sides (a reference to liquor being available in all the southern states barring TN). He later brought back prohibition but it was too late as the floodgates of liquor had been opened to a generation which had not known liquor before.

Karunanidhi fought for State autonomy and federalism besides secularism. His opposition to the imposition of Emergency was well-known and earned the wrath of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who got his government dismissed.

He was known for mastery and brilliance in Tamil, having written the commentary to Thiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural couplets. His poems and scripts for films earned him fame ahead of his powerful, politician days.

Karunanidhi rose to fame as a scriptwriter for the Modern Theatres Studio in Salem. Through his wit and oratorical skills he made a rapid rise as a popular politician and also as a script writer for films. His dialogue catapulted then young actors MGR, Sivaji Ganesan (especially Parasakthi) and SSR to fame. His historical plays and films espoused the cause of rationalism, social reforms, widow remarriage, self-respect and inter-caste marriages and also served as campaign against untouchability, Brahminism and superstitions.

During his term as chief minister, he got built the Valluvar Kottam (in Chennai) and 133-ft-high statue (in kanyakumari) in honour of Tamil sage Thiruvalluvar.

He was responsible for securing the Classical language status for Tamil, and held a massive conference for two days in Coimbatore to celebrate the event and hold an international Tamil meet.

Even his rivals conceded that he was an indefatigable leader who could amazingly apportion time for Tamil literature, party work and governance at the Secretariat. He would begin the day with a walk in the party office complex. He would visit the party office, Arivalayam, even after a hard day’s work as CM. At night, he would visit the office of Murasoli, the party organ. All his life, except in the last two years when he was unwell, he would write a daily column for the Murasoli, conveying a message to his party cadres and also to the public at large. This continued even during the Emergency.

He was the uncrowned leader of the Sri Lankan Tamils having supported Tamil Eelam from the seventies. In the mid-eighties, MGR developed a junior organization, the LTTE, to counter the other groups which often met Karunanidhi to seek his support. In 2009, he felt helpess during the Sri Lankan assault on the LTTE in northern and eastern Lanka though he was the CM, and undertook a fast to secure a ceasefire. However, his role then was criticized by opposition leaders in Tamil Nadu including J Jayalalithaa of the AIADMK who charged him with betraying the island’s Tamils.

Karunanidhi was also plagued by groupism in the party which emanated from the struggle among his family members, particularly between Stalin and Alagiri, while Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi Ammal often complained that her daughter got a raw deal. 

The Sri Lanka Tamils issue saw Karunanidhi having to change his stand often as the Centre was against formation of Tamil Eelam and wanted him to support a political solution within the framework of united Sri Lanka. The opposition used these instances to charge him with hypocrisy.

Karunanidhi was also plagued by groupism in the party which emanated from the struggle among his family members, particularly between Stalin and Alagiri, while Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi Ammal often complained that her daughter got a raw deal. The more he tried to do a balancing act by giving them what he thought was equal powers and importance in the party, the more he was accused of nepotism. The meteoric rise of Murasoli Maran and his sons, Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi Maran, and their growing wealth through Sun TV and film production, also irked a section of partymen, and invited criticism from a section of the media and the people. His fondness for his family ultimately proved to be his undoing, a mess which he could not set right, leading to the expulsion of Alagiri from the party. The charges of corruption in the 2G case, which touched Kanimozhi and Union minister of the party, A Raja, and the Maran brothers, led to poor performance of the DMK in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The lower court acquittal of Kanimozhi and Raja had come too late.

Karunanidhi died an unhappy man, unable to speak – once his asset – and write, while differences in the family continued unabated. Ultimately, this took a toll on his health. A voice of the South for federalism, socialism, pluralism and secularism, has gone silent

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