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RIP Kalaignar

RIP Kalaignar

Humanitarian experts speak of the two waves of disaster. The first of course is the tragedy itself, the second is the aftermath, which, if mishandled could wreak lasting damage.

Kalaignar’s political ambitions having trickled down to the third generation, DMK cadres should be keeping their fingers crossed about the deserved one ascending the top post.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi died at 94, an established man – established as a screenplay writer, scriptwriter, actor, writer and poet with more than 100 books to his credit, an enormous intellect of our times and above all 5 times chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Dr. Karunanidhi, more than most others, knew what it’s like to come up the hard way. In a sense Karunanidhi’s fame was first cemented with his participation in the anti-Hindi agitations at the age of 14 followed by his maiden attempt as founder and editor of ‘Manavar Nesan’ (friend of students), a handwritten newspaper circulated among members.  A penchant for classic literature motivated Kalaignar to write screenplays for five epics marked by a caustic wit and elegant script that demeaned primitive ideas that subjugated women in particular.

That Kalaignar was a king maker is known to all. Call it theatrics or an opera or shrewd stances, ‘Namma Kalaignar’ simply rocked. Rewind to 2004.  This man managed to get one of the largest slices of the ministerial pie.  Dr. M. Karunanidhi knew to sing the “support from outside” song like none other in answer to appeals to help a government with stability. Who else but Kalaignar could have the cake and eat it too. Yes, he managed to get three cabinet ministers and four ministers of state for the DMK. Such was his clout. Whether the DMK patriarch played politics like draughts or chess, it was well played. He didn’t care to stop short of destabilizing a government if the promised portfolios weren’t given. Still, the then Congress President Sonia was deferential towards Kalaignar. Every effort of his had a reason. Then, Kalaignar was keen on getting revenue and Dr. Jayalalithaa had an income tax case pending against her in addition to a CBI enquiry into a $100,000 donation made to her. His mind was his ultimate battleground and positioning was all about getting into the voters’ minds. Kalaignar very well knew who and what to ignore.

The 2G scam that implicated A Raja and Kanimozhi as the state went into election mode didn’t show our leader perturbed. Through the trials, Dr. Karunanidhi maintained a stoic silence which broke after the much awaited verdict with his trademark response “Aram vellum” (Truth Triumphs). As if he foresaw the verdict, the DMK chief didn’t ask A Raja to step down in spite of hearing AIADMK’s knock at centre’s doors. The fact that governments at the centre simply stood by and waited on Kalaignar showed how wary it was to antagonize him.

Raging wars and making peace, making and unmaking of alliances for the sake of his ideologies was his forte. A deal maker in him remained because throughout the history of post independent India marked by fluid politics and coalition compulsions, an attribute such as this cannot but be at a premium.

Anytime, the centre was left clueless to gauge the volatile atmosphere that sweeps TN on and off especially during traumatic times. With such a strong leader as Dr. Karunanidhi whose focus was also on demolishing the Brahmin hegemony over society, it remains to be seen if other states have understood Tamil Nadu’s political dynamics. In whatever he did, there was a sense of social justice. No Tamilian took Kalaignar’s atheism seriously because they knew discriminating fellow beings in the name of religion and caste is inhuman. As for being an atheist, it’s not easy being something that society for generations has taught everybody is beyond the pale. At every gathering when he uttered ' En uyirinum melaana   Anbu udanpirapugale ' voices echoed as people pledged their solidarity with him.

Not only was a woman’s legal protection within a family was made true under the Tamil Nadu Marriages Act in 2009 but bearing the expenses of inter-caste marriages by the DMK was another move to weaken casteist  forces. ‘Suyamariadhai Kalyanam’ (self-respect marriages) is reflective of the man’s premeditated attempt to banish religious hierarchy.

Social reforms through his screenplays centred on the Indian widow and untouchability. No more breaking of bangles, no more disfiguration and maltreatment of a woman whose husband passed away and no more abuse excuse by conjoining the cultural, caste and property imperatives because a Mahatma named Karunanidhi walked this earth.

To appreciate Dr. Karunanidhi’s role as champion of the oppressed one need to take a glance at the so called holy place Vrindavan near Mathura and Varanasi. The sight of abandoned widows begging in addition to tolerating the cruel slings of societal indifference is pathetic. Can a widower survive on a dole of a handful of rice and Rs.8/ day by singing bhajans! How widows are treated is an open refutation of the belief that in our culture a mother occupies a higher position than anybody- Matru devo bhava, Guru dev bhava. These ostracized widows are living symbols of the failure of our already inadequate systems.

Social reform in the eyes of DMK chief centred on the secluded downtrodden people and widows. Social equality was DMK’s flagship. The two dozen and odd welfare boards set up during DMK’s regime aimed at equality. Reservations and quotas created were so sensitive to the plight of minorities that earned Tamil Nadu the pride of having the highest number of dalit entrepreneurs.

Through his writings, this stalwart implored a change in public values in favour of supporting everything from arts and literature to better living for the poor, and he compelled the governments at the centre to pay heed.  Is there any other regional party that had the guts to use the word ‘extremist elements’ against the mother organization of the ruling party at the centre?

Tamil Nadu has enough reasons to be grateful for his life. DMK Patriarch renounced religion and fought religious patriarchy tooth and nail because it worked as a means to coerce women into accepting gender oppression through religion. Even after being reformed, Hindu personal laws denied women of co-guardianship rights over her children, right to ancestral property and wealth. Whatever, movies ‘Panam’ and ‘Thangarethnam’ conveyed strong ideas with Dr. Karunanidhi being the screenwriter. The powerful wordsmith he was DMK’s ideals was conveyed loud and clear through the movie ‘parasakthi’ in 1952 that vindicated illiteracy, early marriage, social inequality, casteism, social dependency and stigma of widowhood, results of Manu Smriti.

Doesn’t matter if a few hated him for his imperious style of functioning but to countless supporters, Kalaignar is greater than God. For countless, the fact that they can boast of a lifestyle that was earlier considered a prerogative of the rich, upper castes is a matter of considerable satisfaction and pride without promoting ethnic antagonism.

There’s no question as to the enduring power of Kaliagnar’s legacy, how he turned his rivals’ taunts to his favour and presented himself as the saviour of the oppressed and downtrodden and how he set a precedent for the future.

Twelve years after the TN government’s order, a person belonging to the so called non-creamy layer has been posted as ‘Archaka’ at the famous Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai. The war has just begun and Dr. Karunanidhi’s soul will definitely RIP.

(Published on 27th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 35)