Legacy of Karunanidhi and the future of DMK | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Legacy of Karunanidhi and the future of DMK

May 28, 2024 02:14 AM IST

Karunanidhi was both an engaging and energetic party-organisational man with remarkable communication skills

It is significant to recall the legacy of Karunanidhi as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its leadership is faced with the twin challenges of transition from within and the political challenge from the Edappadi Palaniswami-led All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the desperate resistance from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from outside. There are emerging signs of the end of an era of Tamil Nadu politics being a twosome game between the DMK and AIADMK with BJP making rapid inroads into the party politics of Tamil Nadu. The existence of anti incumbency factor and an element of discontentment among its allies against the ruling DMK about its discriminatory and dominant seat sharing strategy vis-à-vis the Congress and other parties in the state cannot be overlooked despite the compulsions of common front against the BJP.

There are many qualities of Karunanidhi that the current DMK leaders have to observe in order to overcome the dilemma and challenges facing the party in the future (File photo)
There are many qualities of Karunanidhi that the current DMK leaders have to observe in order to overcome the dilemma and challenges facing the party in the future (File photo)

There are many qualities of Karunanidhi that the current DMK leaders have to observe in order to overcome the dilemma and challenges facing the party in the future. Karunanidhi was both an engaging and energetic party-organisational man with remarkable communication skills. He was in charge of the election campaign for the Madras municipal corporation in 1959 and the DMK won 45 seats out of the 90 seats contested by the party even to the surprise of Anna and other leaders in the party. The Congress then refused to acknowledge the emergence of DMK and was stunned despite the denials. Though Karunanidhi gained the trust and confidence of Anna after the Madras municipal corporation elections in 1959 yet he was not among the top five leaders of the party. Five big leaders of DMK were CN Annadurai, EVK Sampath, R.Nedunzheiyen, KA Mathiyazhagan and Satyavanimuthu. Karunanidhi was ranked below NV Natarajan who was considered as one among the top leadership of the DMK.

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It was believed that Karunanidhi plotted the divide between Anna and EVKSampath and the scope for reconciliation was hardened by his tactics leaving Anna sad and inconsolable at the departure of EVK Sampath. In February 1969, Karunanidhi emerged as a Trojan horse surprise candidate against Nedunzheiyen, who was considered as an erudite scholar, intellect, brilliant orator, suave politician and well-known leader as well as a pronounced successor acknowledged by Anna himself. What more? But Karunanidhi’s ability to convince leaders like Mathiyazhagan, Satyavanimuthu, MG Ramachandran (MGR), Periyar and Rajaji besides the silent party-political networking with the district secretaries turned the tables against the foregone choice of Nadunzheiyan as the next chief minister of Tamil Nadu after CN Annadurai. What distinguished Karunanidhi from Nedunzheiyen was his ability to engage the party leaders and cadres as well as the potential for outreach with the masses. This was one of the most underrated political coups in Indian politics and the political history of Tamil Nadu.

It is this‘never say die’ attitude combined with the qualities of shrewd maneuvers, determination and tenacity helped him to carve his own future than being at the mercy of destiny. He created his own destiny. Karunanidhi’s political grit and organizational acumen served him well even during the most challenging times faced by him personally and the party. The simmering feud between Karunanidhi and MGR peaked in October 1972 resulting in the split of DMK and the establishment of Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) under the charismatic leadership of MGR. It was attributed openly by many that DMK would not even have enough volunteers to stick wall posters because of the large fan following MGR had and the role of MGR fan club in the success story of the DMK’s rise to power. There was also a visible shift in the women vote bank after the split. Though Karunanidhi could never wrest the power back from MGR until his death in December 1987 yet he never lost the momentum or quest for a valiant fight as well as preserve the organizational dynamism of the party.

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Karunanidhi and the DMK at large were more than stunned by the departure of V Gopalsamy (Vaiko) in November 1993 along with the majority district secretaries and the strong youth contingent. This was at a time when the tide of support for Tamil Eelam was high in Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi waited for the winds of change and restored the organisational strength of the party with a game of wait and watch although party was almost shaken at the roots and swept by the storm of resistance demonstrated by Vaiko. Karunanidhi dared to challenge Indira Gandhi and the Congress during the period of national emergency and was equally baffled at the outcome of the March 1977 parliamentary elections in Tamil Nadu with 34 seats out of 39 going in favour of the Congress (I), the AIADMK and the Communist Party of India (CPI). The results were confounding and made him ponder as the overall national trend revealed of the Congress (I) being voted out of power with great enthusiasm in the rest of the country. He understood the voting behavior of the masses because of the Congress (I) and AIADMK alliance rather than undermining people’s to the national emergency and the excesses committed during that period.

Karunanidhi was adept in making complex choices as revealed in two specific circumstances. Firstly, almost back to back after the success of DMK in the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 1967, Karunandhi made a shrewd alliance with the Congress (I) led by Indira Gandhi to fight the assembly and parliamentary elections in 1971 with remarkable performance by exploiting the divisions within the Congress and the polarization between the Congress (I) and Congress (O). In another occasion, Karunanidhi joined hands with the BJP before 1999 parliamentary elections after Jayalalitha walked out of the BJP alliance and the government at the centre in 1998. Though DMK continues to attribute the opportunistic decision to the democratic credentials of Vajpayee yet it was the Jayalalitha factor that convinced Karunanidhi for an alliance with the BJP despite the strong ideological contradictions between the DMK and BJP. The relationship between the DMK and BJP ended before the 2004 parliamentary elections. But the process of transition ensured that Jayalalitha could never make a comeback at the centre after her litmus decision in 1998 and the DMK enjoyed the uninterrupted reign in power at the centre from 1999 to 2014, for almost 15 years. This was also a period when corruption, ideological decay, family rule and the succession drama came to the fore in the party.

(Prof Ramu Manivannan is a scholar-academic-social activist in areas of education, human rights and sustainable development through an initiative “Multiversity.” He is currently the Special Community Scholar at the Institute of Comparative and Regional Studies (ICRS) at the University of Denver, Colorado, USA.)

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