Millennium Post

Stalwarts of the South

With 60-years of service in the Legislative Assembly, the tall legacy of M Karunanidhi will haunt Tamil politics for years to come.

Stalwarts of the South

M Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, popularly called Kalaingar, turned 94. He has been actively involved in legislative politics, since the last six decades, without any gap. In order to remember his contribution towards legislative politics, a programme was organised at Chennai, with the active participation of national leaders, recently. It is commemorative of the remarkable journey of a man, who hailed from obscurity without having any relevant background, be it caste or class or education, and reached the zenith of glory simply because of his multifaceted talent and hard work, coupled with commitment for the emancipation of the Non-Brahmins, despite many shortfalls in his political career. Had he known Hindi and joined national politics, he could have become an acclaimed national leader. From 1957 to the last general election held for the Legislative Assembly, he successfully contested, won and served in the Tamil Nadu Legislature for sixty years. A man who failed in his school final, without any background, emerged victorious in all the political struggles by contextualising himself from the period of C Rajagopalachari to J Jayalalitha and sustained in politics for eight decades. It is not a small achievement. It is a history of sorts. In this context, it is necessary to assess his commitment in promoting legislative democracy and deepening it by evolving legislative debates and making them more mature and meaningful. It is an unequivocal fact that M Karunanidhi stood for the cause of democracy by waging a struggle against the emergency. He faced the emergency with a brave face and he paid a heavy price for it.

He took politics to the people for social transformation of the Tamil community through his communicative skill and ability. He effectively used the media and films to reach out to the masses. Despite his poor formal educational background, he exemplified and excelled in promoting democracy through achieving social equality and social justice, in the last six decades. When he contested the 1957 general election with the rising sun symbol, he was in the fray as an independent candidate. He received the rising sun symbol and later, it became a party symbol. His devotion to legislative proceedings is evident from his astute preparation for speeches in the Legislative Assembly, both as Chief Minister and as opposition leader. His arguments, observations and speeches are always scientifically strengthened through appropriate evidence. His respect to the legislature is known through his presence in the Legislative Assembly, fully from morning to the evening and reaching the house before time and on time. His patient ear to the voices of the opposition and response to the arguments of the opposition members are evidence to prove how he valued the arguments of the members.
When he was the Chief Minister, he allowed the Assembly to function for more number of days compared to other periods. His response to the members, both through direct replies and arguments convinced the members, which enabled them to function more effectively and prepare for presentations. His listening capacity and methodology of taking notes from the speeches of the members and more specifically the opposition and providing appropriate replies to all the points and questions raised are always unique. He ensured the house enjoyed while he gave his response to the speeches of the members as the leader of the house. He naturally drew everyone's attention. He used to allow the opposition party members to speak for a sufficient amount of time and while giving his reply, he ensured that he responded to all relevant points raised by the other leaders. His consultative process in the decision making will prove amply that he was always open to learn and advise.
His thoroughness in preparation for legislative debate and deep involvement in listening to the voices of the elected representatives of the people are noteworthy. When the former Legislative Assembly secretary Delhi Durai interacted with me, he observed that M Karunanidhi's preparedness for Assembly meetings is extraordinary. He elaborated that during the Assembly session, he (Karunanidhi) keenly and closely watched the movements of the opposition leaders and he prepared himself to face any question in the assembly, in any form and at any time. In such a way, he took meticulous care in collecting authentic information from all sources to revert a reply to any issue raised by the members of the Assembly.
His political sagacity can be understood through his amiable approach towards his severest critics. He was sensitive to the issues of Dalits and women. He never lost his equipoise even when he faced criticism from the members of the opposition. His memory is very sharp and hence, while giving his reply or making an observation, he would extensively quote evidence from old records. He alerted the entire official machinery in preparing notes for his legislative work. His devotion to an argument is impeccable. He demonstrated his creative genius in keeping the Legislative Assembly transaction in complete order and dignity.
His 60 years of legislative activities and 80 years of political activities, without having a sound socio-economic and education background, made him the tallest leader of our time. Now, everyone feels the vacuum created by him in Tamil Nadu politics at a critical juncture since the demise of J Jayalalithaa.
(The author is Rajiv Gandhi Chair for Panchayati Raj Studies at Gandhigram Rural Institute. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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