An era in Tamil Nadu politics came to a definitive close on Wednesday as M Karunanidhi, former leader of the DMK and five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was laid to rest in Chennai. Almost 2 years after the death of his political foe and former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, the old guard of Dravidian politics has come to an end.
A veteran of politics for over five decades, Karunanidhi was uncompromising for his love of Tamil and Tamil culture in all its forms and complexities. As someone exposed to politics at a young age, it seemed destined he would follow the path that led him to the Chief Minister’s chair five times. Puducherry Chief Minister Narayanasamy has announced that a bronze statue of Karunanidhi will be set up. As a tribute to him, Dinamalar reports, one seat in his name will be created at Puducherry University.
As Dinakaran reported, his work on farmer’s welfare was noted by the Tamil Nadu Farmers Union president Rangaswamy, who said in part, “Karunanidhi was the first for announcing free electricity for the first time in the country. He saved farmers bank loans and helped reduce their debt during his tenure”.
Some of the memories and tributes that were shared cited his work outside of politics. He was a gifted writer, orator, lyricist, playwright and screenwriter. While simultaneously working on films, plays and being part of the DMK brass, the party and him were effective in propagating the DMK’s message through the films Karunanidhi was involved in.
Actor Siva Kumar in Vikatan recalls Kalaignar, what he came to be affectionately called, telling him about a play for the DMK titled “Parabrahmam”, “In 1952 we had a drama called 'Parabrahmam' for the DMK campaign. I wrote that verse for Shivaji.” The play was essentially party propaganda and was a response to those who criticised his style of writing and his ideology.
His talents as a screenwriter and playwright served him well in his political career, especially in the beginning. The definitive characteristics of his writing were a sharp wit, powerful and impactful dialogue and strong political undertones reflecting the struggles of the time. His first stage play was written and directed by him in 1940 titled Palaniappan for the Tamil Nadu Tamil Student’s Union fund. Another actor Rajesh recounts the personal relationship he had with the former Chief Minister citing his sense of humour and the interest he took in his career and life.
Veteran screenwriter Aroor Das, who has hundreds of film credits to his name, in Dailythanthi, called the former Chief Minister, a driving force for him. He calls Karunanidhi an “expert in story, literature and politics. These three are born to him”. He continued, “I started to follow Karunanidhi's writings…he guides me”.
In a Vikatan report, one of Karunanidhi’s schoolmate’s Ramadoss remembers his friend from their time in Tiruvarur Board High School. He said of Karunanidhi in part, “No other person has helped me and Tamil Nadu as much as he has. Anna’s (Annadurai) younger brother should be buried in his vicinity. This is my last wish”.
His time in the DMK began by organising cadres and fundraising. He along with 33 others were arrested for protesting and sent to jail for protesting the name change of a railway station. Four years later, he was elected as a legislator in his first assembly election from the Trichy district. This would begin a run of not losing a single election in which he contested.
Writer of modern Tamil literature, S. Ramakrishnan, speaking at the Dharmapuri book festival, paid tribute to the former Chief Minister saying in part, “Karunanidhi has done a great job for Tamil language and ethnicity. He respected literature, writers and artists. World Tamil Conference, Valluvar Kotham, Valluvar Statue etc are his great achievement”.
A life lived to the fullest is something one can gather with the range of tributes that have been expressed and will continue to be in the coming days and weeks. His mark on politics and cinema is not necessarily mutually exclusive. They’ve both played an important part in his life and in the evolution of the state. As artists and movie stars alike have noted, his contribution towards the state’s cultural evolution is striking. Another noteworthy point is his ability to connect with artists, young and old, and their work over the years.
More columns by Varun Sukumar