Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Death Of The Atheist, Anti-hindi, Anti Brahminism Karunanidhi Quite Literally Marks An End Of An Era

 Karunanidhi’s legacy will not be seen as perfect. If his flirtations with the Tamil Eelam separatists cost India dear, the latter part of his life was marked by his proclivity to turn a blind eye to excesses committed by his family. Karunanidhi will be remembered “as someone who looked after his family very well: Late Cho Ramaswamy TO the Caravan magazine





Sometime in 1973, when M Karunanidhi was chief minister of Tamil Nadu, the chief engineer in charge of highways made a detailed proposal on the new roads that needed to be laid. Karunanidhi heard it for a while and then proceeded to reel off names of places in the countryside that needed to be connected by road instead. It was a commentary on his tremendous firsthand knowledge of the local landscape.


The following year, India decided to recognise Sri Lanka’s ownership of the Katchatheevu island on a conditional agreement. According to those who were privy to discussions at that time, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was apprehensive about how Karunanidhi would react. She sent a senior bureaucrat to gauge the CM’s mind. Karunanidhi told him that while political compulsions will make him oppose the decision, the Centre should go ahead.



“I have to protest but I understand your call,” Karunanidhi reportedly said.

What these two instances tell you about the man is that he was development-oriented and understood geo-political concerns. As opposed to a more pronounced welfare agenda that both MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa followed, Karunanidhi’s multiple reigns were marked with an emphasis on creating infrastructure.

But along with the physicality of what he helped create, it is the legacy of the Dravidian template that Karunanidhi helped bring to Tamil Nadu’s social ecosystem that he will be remembered for. With its controversial roots in atheism and anti-Brahminism, Periyar, CN Annadurai and M Karunanidhi fed into the desire among the Backward classes for political relevance and opportunities. The anti-Hindi agitation of which Karunanidhi was an integral part, gave Tamil and the Tamilian a distinct regional identity and established a rebellious streak of sorts against the hegemony of Delhi.

Being an accomplished poet and storyteller, Karunanidhi instilled in the Tamilian a sense of pride in the Tamil language. He knew exactly how to work a crowd, using the power and the beauty of his prose. A retired bureaucrat recalls how in the late 1960s, Karunanidhi regaled an audience in Karur district during a public meeting on the Cauvery issue, describing the river as a “playful maiden”.

In 2000, Karunanidhi took the effort of installing a 133 feet tall statue of Tamil poet and philosopher Tiruvalluvar, the author of Tirukkural, an ancient Tamil work on secular ethics and morality. At a personal level, a tad selfish, it was Karunanidhi’s attempt to position himself as a philosopher king-ruler of sorts. The World Tamil Conference that he organised in 2010 on a lavish scale was Karunanidhi’s way of glorifying the language.

In fact, sometime in 1990, a group of people approached him with an idea for a sound and light show at Poompuhar on the Kovalan Kannagi story. Kannagi is the central character from Tamil epic Silapathikaram, who took revenge on the Pandyan king of Madurai for wrongly putting her husband Kovalan to death. She curses the entire city of Madurai to be burnt.

“I will write the script, do not worry,” said Karunanidhi, to the team’s surprise and delight. The CM took just an hour to write the Tamil script for the show.

But Karunanidhi’s legacy will not be seen as perfect. If his flirtations with the Tamil Eelam separatists cost India dear, the latter part of his life was marked by his proclivity to turn a blind eye to excesses committed by his family, especially during his 2006-11 term as CM. 

The late Cho Ramaswamy who passed away in December 2016, told the Caravan magazine that Karunanidhi will be remembered “as someone who looked after his family very well”.

Indeed, thanks to the scams and allegations of his family tree controlling every sphere of financial activity in Tamil Nadu and using their clout in the national capital, the DMK was uncharitably referred to as `Delhi Money for Karunanidhi’ by brand consultant Suhel Seth. 

The 2G scam in which Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi went to prison, only reinforced that perception. The use of cash for votes during the Thirumangalam byelection in 2009, reportedly at son MK Alagiri’s insistence, showed the DMK as a party that could resort to corrupt electoral practises.

The decision of the AIADMK government to deny Karunanidhi a final resting place at the Marina beach, by the side of Annadurai, his political mentor is essentially an attempt to deny the DMK a chance to celebrate his legacy. The Gandhi Mandapam, the alternate site that has been offered, is not as high-profile a venue and a Karunanidhi samadhi there will never be able to match up to the MGR and Jayalalithaa memorials by the sea, in terms of optics.

Tamil Nadu has remained wedded to a Dravidian reign for over five decades now. Does Karunanidhi’s passing away mark the beginning of the end of the original brand of Dravidianism? Quite possible it does. Because in 2018, slogans of anti-Brahminism, anti-God and anti-Hindi are not as politically exploitable as they were in the previous century. Which is why when you say the passing away of Karunanidhi is the end of an era, it is so, quite literally.--NC



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