M. Karunanidhi, 94: the end of an era

The life story of Muthuvel Karunanidhi is also a history of Tamil Nadu politics. A five-time Chief Minister, and the longest serving legislator, winning 13 terms in the Assembly and not losing even once, Karunanidhi was the engineer of many of the progressive measures adopted by the State since Independence. As the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, an offshoot of the rationalist social reform movement, the Dravidar Kazhagam, he was an influential figure at both State and national levels, whether in or out of power. He excelled as both administrator and organiser, adopting different styles, but always displaying a clinical efficiency while interacting with bureaucrats and party workers. Although his administrative acumen was often contrasted with the welfarism of his political rival, M.G. Ramachandran, Karunanidhi was not beyond the draw of populism. Extending the Public Distribution System and increasing food subsidies were coupled with efforts at generating employment and encouraging industrial investment. Towards the latter part of his political career, he emulated his political opponents, MGR and Jayalalithaa, in handing out freebies indiscriminately to every household, rich or poor. He was a crusader for federalism, often standing up to the Centre for the State’s rights. He was one of the foremost opponents of the Emergency. In 1976 and 1991, his governments were dismissed by the Centre, the first time citing corruption charges, and the second time citing support to the terror outfit, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In his home State, he ran the DMK with an iron hand; at the same time, he provided some space for the second rung, even indulging the odd dissenter now and then, as long as there was no threat to his leadership. District secretaries and ministers had a long reign under him. His longevity permitted him the leeway to promote his immediate family members to positions of power within the party and the government. His designated successor, his younger son M.K. Stalin, had to work his way up the party ladder — from ordinary worker and youth wing leader before being accommodated in the top rungs of the party and government. But elder son M.K. Alagiri and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran were rewarded with Cabinet berths in their very first terms in the Lok Sabha. Karunanidhi will be remembered for being an astute politician, one with a quick wit and ready repartee; an able administrator with an uncanny eye for detail and a keen sense of the occasion; and as an elder statesman who could take the long-term view of events and issues. He straddled different generations and contrasting worlds with a reflexive ease. With his passing, less than two years after his rival Jayalalithaa succumbed to illness, Tamil Nadu is staring at a huge political void, one that that will be very hard to fill.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 1:33:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/m-karunanidhi-94-the-end-of-an-era/article24626668.ece

Next Story