Brand Karunanidhi turns 84 Sunday


Chennai : The city virtually looks like a vast picture gallery with cut-outs of Tamil Nadu chief Minister and DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, who turns 84 Sunday.

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The pictures depict an era in the state's history and Karunanidhi's transition from a mustachioed young man with eyes open to a wrinkled politician with eyes hooded behind dark glasses.

The passage of time has periodically also thrown up transgressions that have demonstrated how Dravidian politics has remained feudal in nature, with Karunanidhi now representing a brand of political acumen and brinkmanship that finds no match.

Born to Muthuvelar and Anjugam Ammaiyar in 1924 in Thirukkuvalai village, about 400 km south of Chennai, Muthuvel Karunanidhi is the father of four sons and two daughters.

He entered politics at the age of 14 when he joined the Dravida Kazhagam. In 1949, at the age of 25 he became a founder member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (better known as DMK).

He was first elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly from Kulithalai near Thanjavur in 1957. He also started a newspaper Murasoli, which is now the DMK party's official newspaper.

On May 11, Karunanidhi was felicitated in a grand way at a function held in Chennai for completing 50 years a legislator. The occasion, which was attended by a host of renowned political leaders from across the party lines, was termed "historic".

The leaders also paid rich tributes to the DMK patriarch, saying he was "a scholar among politicians", "a patriot" and "a great poet".

About 10 years ago, Karunanidhi had famously said, "the people's court is bigger than the legislature or judiciary". He proved it by forcing the ouster of erstwhile union communication and IT minister Dayanidhi Maran from the union cabinet and on Friday, he led the list of MLAs who nominated his daughter Kanimozhi to the Rajya Sabha.

Karunanidhi became the DMK treasurer in 1961 and has been its president since 1969, when he became chief minister for the first time and won again in 1971.

He also earned a name as a writer. Among his most famous work is the script for the film 'Parasakti' and an annotation for the common man 'Thirukkural Urai'. Annamalai University conferred on him a doctorate in 1971 and he is popularly known as 'Kalaignar'.

Writes political historian Narendra Subramanian, "Karunanidhi revelled in confrontation, used shrill invectives against opponents… He had two wives, was reputed to employ prostitutes and wrote novels and stories which verged at times on the pornographic…."

But in 1976, an inquiry panel called Sarkaria Commission by the central government listed as many as 23,000 corruption complaints against the Karunanidhi government.

Karunanidhi always saw a threat from the popular film star M.G. Ramachandran (also known as MGR), who arrived on the Tamil screen in 1947 and was a great supporter of the Dravida Kazhagam and the DMK. In 1972, MGR too accused Karunanidhi of misappropriating funds for an international Tamil conference.

Instead of being upset by the charges, Karunanidhi saw an opportunity to expel MGR from the party.

In 1983, Karunanidhi resigned from the assembly in support of the Sri Lankan Tamils and was indicted by the Jain Commission for supporting the LTTE in the 1990s. However, he managed to oust Vaiko – the most vocal champion of Lankan Tamils and was seen as a threat to his son M.K. Stalin – from the DMK in the 80s.