biography Reviews

‘Karunanidhi: The Definitive Biography’ review: The life of Karunanidhi and a history of Tamil Nadu

M. Karunanidhi (1924-2018), Tamil Nadu’s five-time Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s president for nearly 50 years, was a multi-faceted personality. Apart from being one of the most important political leaders of post-Independent India, Karunanidhi was a journalist-editor, playwright, film-maker, and a powerful orator.

It is an uphill task to capture essential aspects of Karunanidhi in a book, and Vaasanthi, a veteran writer-journalist, has made an earnest attempt.

In less than 275 pages, the author has covered, seemingly with ease and lucidity, many important events not only in the life of Karunanidhi but also of the contemporary political history of Tamil Nadu. She has given an engrossing account of the moments the leader spent with his first wife, Padma; the circumstances under which Padma died and the political context that influenced his thoughts in the formative phase of his long political career, besides his emergence as the DMK’s pivotal figure, post-C.N. Annadurai.

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Welfare politics

A substantial portion of Vaasanthi’s account of Karunanidhi’s political career is dedicated to the last 25-odd years of his life and it is a sympathetic view.

Measures taken by Karunanidhi across a range of fields such as agriculture (“uzhavar sandhai” — farmers’ shanties), social sector (health insurance scheme for the poor and “samathuvapuram” — habitation of equality) and technology (promotion of the Information Technology sector) get their due importance.

Yet, the author does not hesitate to compare the leader to Dhritarashtra in the Mahabharata, when it comes to matters concerning his family, or mention his naivety towards some of his party colleagues or his encouragement to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during one stint as Chief Minister (1989-91). On the killing of Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) chief K. Padmanabha and 14 others at a flat in Kodambakkam, a busy locality of central Chennai, on the evening of June 19 in 1990, she rightly states that the Karunanidhi government was “jolted out of its delusions [sic]” about the LTTE.

There are, however, some inaccuracies in the book. The rice scheme at ₹2 per kg was launched in 2006 and not 1996, as stated in the book. Also, the Sarkaria Commission of Inquiry, which went into allegations of corruption against Karunanidhi and some of his ministerial colleagues, submitted its final report in February 1978 which was made public three months later, and not 1988.


Some inaccuracies

During the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, Karunanidhi went on a fast on April 27, 2009, three weeks before the end of the war, whereas the book says he did so on May 18, 2009, when the war was over and the death of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran had been officially declared.

As for the breach of privilege proceedings executed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly against The Hindu in 2003, the author has stated that arrest warrants were issued against N. Ram (then Editor-in-Chief) and N. Ravi (the Editor). But, there was no warrant against Mr. Ram as the proceedings were initiated before he assumed charge.

Also, the warrant was issued against Malini Parthasarathy, (then Executive Editor), and three others.

Besides, the book does not offer a comprehensive analysis of the political factors that went against Karunanidhi in coming back to power so long as M.G. Ramachandran was alive or why the DMK suffered a rout in the 2001 Assembly election despite, to borrow the author’s own words, the “golden period” of Karunanidhi’s reign (1996-2001).

Notwithstanding these deficiencies, Vaasanthi’s book is a significant addition to the limited body of political literature on Tamil Nadu's leaders, available for non-Tamil readers.

Karunanidhi: The Definitive Biography, Vaasanthi, Juggernaut, ₹ 699

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 4:22:00 PM |

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