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Karunanidhi: The script writer who wrote Tamil Nadu's destiny

Press Trust of India  |  Chennai 

As a he would have lived a life of obscurity in the shadows of stars who enjoy cult status in

But sharp-tongued, quick-witted M Karunanidhi had other plans. He outshone many a celebrity, as he presided over the destiny of the Dravidian state along with his tinsel town co-travellers and arch rivals in politics--M G Ramachandran and his protegee J Jayalalithaa-- for decades.

That art and blended seamlessly in Karunanidhi was manifest from the sobriquets of 'Thalaivar' (The Leader) and 'Kalaignar' (The Artist) he earned from ardent followers.

A masterful practitioner of modern-day politics, he wielded considerable influence beyond his own state, in the corridors of power in New Delhi, for a long time, sewing up alliances with both the and the BJP, often drawing criticism from his rivals, who called him an opportunist.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who became the minister five times, cut his teeth in as a 14-year-old when he participated in the anti-Hindi agitation in 1938 at his native Tiruvarur.

Hugely influenced by the rationalist and egalitarian ideology of E V Ramasamy 'Periyar' and founder and the state's first minister C N Annadurai, Karunanidhi became one of the most enduring mascots of the Dravidian Movement, which aimed at seeking equal rights for the depressed sections and women, and was against Brahminism.

Elected to the 13 times, Karunanidhi, a political artiste, outmanoeuvred V R Nedunchezhian to become the minister for the first time following the death of Annadurai in February 1969.

M G Ramachandran, his junior and one of the most charismatic actors of his time, supported Karunanidhi in his endeavour to edge past Nedunchezhian, who was the number two in the Annadurai cabinet.

Years later, the two were to part ways, with MGR, as Ramachandran was popularly called, forming the AIADMK, the party which was to become a perennial thorn in Karunanidhi's side.

Karunanidhi was a for six decades since 1957, when he won for the first time from Kulithalai constituency, till 2016, when he emerged victorious from Tiruvarur as a 92-year-old, barring the period between 1986 and 1989.

In 1984, he was elected to the Legislative Council, which was abolished by the in 1986. He had resigned as MLA in 1983 over the Srilankan Tamils issue.

After assuming the reins of the government, Karunanidhi became the chief in July 1969, a post that he held till death.

He again became the chief minister in 1971, 1989, 1996 and 2006. When he lost power to friend-turned-foe MGR's protegee Jayalalithaa in 2011, he famously quipped "people have given me some rest".

Addressed as Mu Ka, Tamil abbreviation of his name, by his peers, Karunanidhi's letters to cadres in party mouthpiece Murasoli and his autobiography-cum-commentary on contemporary Nenjukku Needhi, are the favourite reading material for his supporters.

Karunanidhi's famous line "En uyirinum melana kazhaga udanpirappugaley (my dear brothers in party who are are above my life)," in his unmistakable baritone, used to send DMK workers into raptures.

Alongside Annadurai, who also had and theatre background, Karunanidhi used the medium for furthering his political ideology.

Incidentally, the screenplay and dialogue for MGR's debut movie as hero 'Rajakumari' was written by him. He also wrote the dialogues for 'Parasakthi', the debut of another tinsel town icon Sivaji Ganesan. The movie propagated the socialist and rationalist ideals of the Dravidian Movement.

While MGR rose to become one of the most popular public figures in Tamil Nadu's history, Ganesan dabbled in politics but faded from the scene quickly.

Karunanidhi penned screenplays and dialogues for over 50 movies. He also wrote the stories of some of them like Marudanattu Ilavarasi (1950) Mandiri Kumari (1950), Tirumbipar (1953), Arasilangkumari (1961).

A big political jolt for Karunanidhi came when MGR rebelled against him in 1972, accusing him of corruption and demanding details of the party's finances. MGR was expelled from the party the same year, and he floated the AIADMK, an event that marked the advent of bipolar politics in Tamil Nadu.

MGR led to victory in the party's debut Assembly polls in 1977, and in 1980 and 1985. He was the chief minister till his death in 1987, forcing Karunanidhi to cool his heels in the opposition as long as he helmed the state.

Karunanidhi was back in power in 1989, only to lose to J Jayalalithaa, MGR's protegee, in 1991. He led DMK to victory in 1996, but under Jayalalithaa trumped his party once again in 2001.

The Thalaivar struck back, wresting power from her in 2006, but the DMK lost successive Assembly polls in 2011 and 2015 to the under a charismatic Jayalalithaa.

Proving true the adage that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics, Karunanidhi, who denounced the Emergency imposed by in 1975, formed alliances with the several times, and the had several ministers from the DMK. The DMK was also a constituent of the BJP-led NDA and had ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet.

The DMK had walked out of the UPA 2 in 2013 over its "soft stand" on the atrocities on Sri Lankan Tamils in the

The wanted a strongly-worded resolution to be passed at the Human Rights Council, with inclusion of expressions like "genocide" and "war crimes", while seeking an international probe against Sri Lanka over persecution of Tamils in that country.

The UPA government, however, survived with the outside support of the and Mayawati's BSP.

Karunanidhi suffered a personal jolt when his daughter got embroiled in the 2G spectrum scam along with and DMK leader A Raja.

In 1980, when he joined hands with the Congress, he exuded warmth for with his remark, "Nehruvin Magale Varuga, Nilayana atchi tharuga (welcome, the daughter of Nehru, give us good governance)."

The comment encapsulated the intrinsic resilience of the who saw opportunity in every adversity.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, August 07 2018. 19:00 IST