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The void left behind

The void left behind

Even though M Karunanidhi groomed his son M K Stalin as his political heir, the void left by his passing away will be difficult to fill in Tamil Nadu politics as much his absence would be felt in the power corridors of New Delhi. Karunanidhi was one of the most original voices of the Dravidian movement which sought to change the Brahminical hegemony in politics besides introducing the voice of Dalits and marginalised into the political mainstream. For seven decades since he entered politics, Karunanidhi continued refining and sharpening the political agenda that he began with. In the process, he not only emerged as a formidable political leader of the South but also enriched the Indian democracy by initiating a dialogue on the Centre-state relationship. He was the first Chief Minister in India to seek autonomy for his state, an example that was followed by Chief Ministers in other states. For the last fifty years since he became the Chief Minister for the first time in 1969, he dominated the political scene irrespective of whether he won or lost the elections. He was instrumental in making the Centre realise the importance of linguistic diversity of the country and give up the idea of imposing Hindi as the sole official language for the entire country. His towering and continued presence in Tamil Nadu's politics restricted the spread and expansion of Congress and BJP not only in Tamil Nadu but anywhere in south India. He championed the cause of regional autonomy and cultural and linguistic diversity of the states, which few could match. As the president of DMK, he provided the party the continuity of his leadership till his death.

It is not that his political dominance was not challenged. On the contrary, he faced extremely talented and well-entrenched political adversaries such as film star-turned-politicians MG Ramachandran (MGR) and J Jayalalithaa. But after every debacle, Karunanidhi's resolve to make a comeback became stronger and he did overcome the odds and emerged triumphant. The political tussle between him and Jayalalithaa is specially noteworthy. While he became the Chief Minister of the state five times, Jayalalithaa was sworn in six times. Even MGR was the Chief Minister for ten years. In fact, the politics in Tamil Nadu for last more than fifty years revolved around these three political figures. Their political manoeuvres, electoral wins, and debacles made national headlines, keeping people amused and anxious, depending on who they supported. Karunanidhi outlived his adversaries and left a rich legacy of public life, where political fortunes did not mean so much as living up to the aspiration of the people did. He began his career as a scriptwriter for Tamil films but soon got hooked to the popular political movement of his time. He was recognised for the political speeches and artful play of words. His sympathies primarily lied with the poor and marginalised sections of society. Soon, his political speeches captured the imagination of the people, who recognised him as a true artiste (Kalaignar) who embodied the spirit of the common man while seeking a solution to their pain and agony.

The passing away of Karunanidhi is a great loss for the Indian democracy and the way it has shaped over the past decades. The current lot of politicians in Tamil Nadu will take a long time to find their moorings. The issue of gender discrimination has been overexploited and become passe. Now, the real issue that can find favour with the common people is development. Living up to the people's aspiration in the fast-changing socio-political scenario will need a new breed of politicians to aggressively pursue a development-oriented agenda. That requires a paradigm shift from the way politics and governance have been practised in the past decades. The iconic presence of MGR, Jayalalithaa, and Karunanidhi is missing from the political firmament and with that, the strong voice emanating from the South is also a matter of history. Now, the new leaders will have the onerous task to regain the influence and stature that these leaders commanded during their political career.

As the void left by the absence of Karunanidhi will be hard to fill by the next generation leaders, it makes the condition extremely favourable for the mainstream political parties to try and make inroads in the region's politics. AIADMK with their 37 MPs is already hobnobbing with BJP and DMK was part of the last UPA government at the Centre. In the Lok Sabha election next year, these parties may be seriously considering an alliance with the national parties in order to further their influence both at the state and national levels.

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