Muthuvel Karunanidhi or Kalaignar as he was known, is perhaps the most popular mass leader from Tamil Nadu. Yes, Rajaji was a great leader and the first Governer General of Independant India. Kamaraj was the best chief minister of Tamil and very popular. MGR and his protage Ms. Jayalalitha were equally famous and mass leaders. But Kalainger’s longivity, close to seven decades in public life makes him unique. In an era of instant fame and equally faster ride to oblivion, he was a force to reckon with in the state and in the era of coalition politics in the national theater as well.
My first recollection of Kalaignar was from my dad. He considered MK as the best orator in Tamil Nadu politics and would talk about his oratorical skills very fondly. The speech he delivered after the demise of Anna, the first non congress chief minister in India, became so famous, people recited it for years afterwards, including the wannabe mimicry artists – “அன்பிற்கு மூன்றெழுத்து…..” My father remembered most of it and recited it often in our younger days. Anna himself was a great writer and orator. My translation of his story Red Banana is read by many, even in countries like Columbia and Mozambique.
MK was born in a poor family in rural Tamil Nadu, did not complete school and started his career as a dialogue writer for theater. Periyar, one of the earliest social reformers in India was impressed with his writings and asked him to work for the magazine he published. From theater, he moved to writing dialogues for films which paved way for his entry into politics (the connection between politics and filmdom in Tamil Nadu is too well known to repeat here).
Most of the teachers especially the language teachers in my school were ardent followers of Kalaignar, not necessarily for the policitcs but for his command in Tamil Literature and his oratorical skills. Of course our school was named after his mother – Anjuham.
To call him just as an astute politician would be an understatement. When the Dravidian Party split he sided with Anna to join the DMK, the party he served as chief for over 50 years. When Anna died, though he was not the senior most, he beat the competition to beome the chief minister in 1969. He became the CM for the fifth time in 2006, must be a record in Indian politics.
He could sense what would benefit him, his party and the state he served. A staunch oponent of Congress he waved black flag when the then Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi visited the state only to change his mind few years later and invited her, “Welcome dear Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government.” (நேருவின் மகளே வருக நிலையான ஆட்சி தருக).
He was in wilderness for more than 15 years when MGR remained the undisputed no-1 leader of Tamil Nadu. He bided his time, kept his party under control, kept encouraging the party workers through his speeches and writings, an herculean task which he could accomplish through his sheer drive, commitment and hard work.
Tamil Nadu is the most urbanised state in India today and second in GDP after Maharastra (which is a much bigger state). A lot of the credit should go to him and the other dravidian party ADMK. As a man who has travelled reasonably across the country I can say Tamil Nadu is No-1 state in India, if you take overall development into account.
Though my friends don’t agree with me (cheif among them Naga) who feels the credit for this should go to hard working nature of the people, it’s an undeniable fact that succesive governements in Tamil Nadu pioneered social justice through reservations. Education which led to economic prosperity was made accessible to people from across social strata. When MGR introduced mid-day meal scheme in a massive way he was ridiculed and derided. After 20 years economists commented this has changed the fate of millions of poor people of the state, who sent their children to school so that they would be fed at least one time. After Kerela, now Tamil Nadu is being forced to close primary schools for want of students. When people get educated especially women, the birthrate falls which is again a good indicator of social development.
The industrial development is spread across the state in Tamil Nadu which was possible because of the infrastructure (good accessible roads and ecnomical state transport). This again helped people to move to the nearest industrial town instead of everyone flocking to few cities and making them unliveable.
He was not without flaws, chief among them is, in his later years he put his family’s interest first and people second. He was also responsible for Tamil Nadu becoming a corrupt state. But for now, I would rather salute the leader who was one of the chief architect of Modern Tamil Nadu State. Muthuvel Karunathi – Kalaignar – Orator, Poet, Statesman and a Dear Leaderof Millions – RIP.