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The importance of being Muthuvel Karunanidhi

Updated by admin on Friday, May 12, 2017 10:57 PM IST


The Importance of Being Muthuvel Karunanidhi

By R. Rangaraj

A DMK MP once woke up to a call. "Ennayya, periya desabhaktan aayittiya?" (Hey, have you turned a big nationalist leader?) His party leader M Karunanidhi was on the other end, he was referring to reports that said the MP in the Parliament had demanded the Grand Trunk Express be renamed Pandit Madanmohan Malviya Express. The MP said he was misquoted. He had wanted the train to be named after Bharatiyar (Subramania Bharati). Subsequently the news agency carried a correction.

The incident shows how acerbic Karunanidhi could get if partymen ever tried to toe the national political line. During the anti-Hindi agitation in the 1960s, the north was projected as an instrument of oppression and Aryan domination by the DMK. Karunanidhi himself led a series of agitations, including picketing of trains, on various issues against the Centre, with diatribes against the north-south divide.

But the political winds have changed since then, and the Dravidian die-hard Muthuvel Karunanidhi has emerged as a national leader in the past two decades. An important factor in national politics, Karunanidhi's 94th birthday fete on June 3 is being used to project him as a key player in the national scene in the run-up to the Presidential polls and a pillar for the platform against the BJP and the NDA in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

His national role began in 1996 when Karunanidhi and G K Moopanar brought about the United Front government at the Centre with Left support. His ascension as a national leader began sometime in 2004,   when Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who once wanted the ouster of the pro-LTTE DMK, turned to Karunanidhi to corner BJP. Karunanidhi used the opportunity to walk out of the BJP-led NDA along with the MDMK and the PMK, to join a new Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. The UPA swept the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in Tamil Nadu, paving the way for the UPA government at the Centre. In 2009 again, the DMK played an important role in fashioning an alliance with the Congress, and ensured that Manmohan Singh remained in power.

The DMK brought in a new coalition-based, political structure. This altered the bipolar national political scenario into a multi-level strategy, where the states held the trump card.

Karunanidhi and the DMK enjoyed the new role — of being in power both at the state and the Centre, something they didn't envisage when the party took up the secessionist demand till the 1962 Indo-China war. The party's metamorphosis meant its core ideology of an anti-north, anti-Centre platform was rendered irrelevant. The proximity of the DMK with the ruling party at the Centre, during V P Singh's tenure and the Manmohan Singh government, forced the party to soft pedal the Eelam issue and AIADMK's Jayalalithaa was quick to grab the opportunity.

Despite this, Karunanidhi is one of the tallest opposition leaders in the country, holding the record of having won every election he contested since 1957. Having completed 60 years as a legislator (12 terms as an MLA and a stint in the legislative council), including five terms as chief minister. In the absence of leaders like Jyoti Basu, Surjeet and A B Bardhan of the Left, the importance of Karunanidhi has grown further. Vajpayee realised this in 1996, Advani in 2004, and Manmohan Singh in 2009. Now, the death of Jayalalithaa has meant that Karunanidhi is the most powerful leader in Tamil Nadu. Nationally, regional satraps like Karunanidhi, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik and Chandrababu Naidu now have a crucial role in government formation at the Centre.

At 94, Karunanidhi may be frail but come June 3, Karunanidhi's Arivalayam could be the foundation for a new Third Front-Congress axis to contest the Presidential poll, a precursor for a national opposition alliance to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

(The writer is a veteran journalist)

Following is the link for the article published in The Times of India, Chennai edition.



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