M Karunanidhi: The 'kalaignar' of Tamil politics

Last Updated: Wed, Aug 08, 2018 16:54 hrs

Few men have dominated the politics of one region for as wide a period and as deep an influence as Muthuvel Karunanidhi did in Tamil Nadu. The 94-year-old statesman was a fixture of Tamil Nadu politics for decades.

Born on June 3, 1924 at Thirukkuvalai in Tanjore District of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi belonged to a humble and poor family. It's been a long journey for his clan that made it to the top of his state's politics.

Karunanidhi entered politics when he was just 14, after being inspired by a speech made by Alagiriswami of the Justice Party in 1932.

The ascent of a legend

Karunanidhi was first elected to the Tamil Nadu assembly in 1957 from the Kulithalai assembly of Thiruchirapalli district.

He became the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham treasurer in 1961 and Deputy Leader of Opposition in the state assembly in the year 1962. When the DMK came to power in 1967, he became the Minister for Public Works.

After the death of CN Annadurai in 1969, Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He went on to hold various positions in the party and government during his long career in Tamil Nadu's political arena.

Following the death of Annadurai, Karunanidhi, with the help of Tamil cinema legend MG Ramachandran aka MGR became Chief Minister. In 1972, the party faced a split.

Stumbling blocks

MGR, unhappy with the way the party was being run, not being given a cabinet post and having differences with the new Chief Minister was expelled. He later formed the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) which was later called All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Thus began a rocky period for the DMK as MGR's popularity was on the rise. The AIADMK easily defeated the DMK and MGR became the Chief Minister in 1977.

It wasn't until 1989 -- two years after MGR's death -- that Karunanidhi would step back into the Chief Minister's chair. However, a shameful episode in the state assembly that year proved to be pivotal for Karunanidhi and his party.

Chaos and defeat

By this time, J. Jayalalithaa had become the leader of the opposition. A budget speech to be given by Karunanidhi quickly erupted into chaos over allegations of harassment and spying on Jayalalithaa. As the popularity of the DMK continued to wane, two years later in 1991, the DMK was easily defeated and Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister. In the two decades since, both parties and their respective leaders traded power every five years.

In the 1991 elections, the AIADMK ousted the DMK, with Karunanidhi as the sole DMK candidate to have been returned after the electoral battle. He too, resigned in disgust.

Triumphant times

In the 1996 elections, the DMK-led-front won the election and its leader M. Karunanidhi, became the chief minister. This was his fourth term in office.

Karunanidhi went on to become the Chief Minister again in 2006. In the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, he led the UPA in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and won 28 seats, even with a significantly smaller coalition.

Melee past midnight

In the decades since, he survived numerous corruption charges and scandals. A particular incident that comes to mind took place shortly after midnight on June 2001, when he was arrested in connection with a flyover scam. He was lifted and escorted out of his home, all the while protesting and screaming "They're trying to kill me!".

Key caretakers

His children have played a key role in the party, most prominently his son MK Stalin and daughter Kanimozhi. The latter, who shared a close relationship with her father, was involved in the 2G scam that eventually dragged the Congress party to defeat in 2014.

There are, however, divisions within the family. Azhagiri is someone who is seen as an outsider and has largely been kept at a distance. Stalin, currently the public face of the party, maintains that his father will always be the leader, but he's a Chief Minister in waiting.