Karunanidhi, a Tamil titan, passes on


Geopolitical Notes From India

M D Nalapat

AFTER years of deteriorating health,Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the longtime supremo of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (which means the “organisation for the uplift of Tamils) passed on during the evening of August 07. There are cases in India of political leaders who are in even worse physical shape than Karunanidhi. They are being kept “alive” in a very technical sense through machines and medication, although long since bereft of any benefit from the brain and from most of their other organs. These former leaders have been comatose in their bed for years, but such a fate was spared to the DMK chieftain, who was allowed to pass on in dignity after having seen 93 birthdays come and go. He leaves behind two households, each headed by a spouse and her children. The head of one of these two branches of the Karunanidhi family, M K Stalin, was designated his political heir by the Tamil Nadu titan himself. However, this decision was not to the liking of half-brother Alagiri, who believes that control of the party ought to have devolved on him.
While Stalin is a brilliant Organisation Man, able to run the party machine smoothly, Alagiri has his eye on the grassroots, and has strong support in the southernmost parts of the state. A third potential leader is Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, who is a poet with considerable charisma, and who was much loved by her father. Were the three to work smoothly together,both they as well as the DMK would be a formidable force, but this seems unlikely. After the passing away of Ms Jayalalitha Jayaram, who dominated the rival All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), that party split into three parts, one led by O Panneerselvam, the other by E Palanisamy, and the third by TTV Dinakaran, nephew of Jayalalitha’s constant companion, Ms Sasikala Natarajan.
The first two have come together against the third, but the split has weakened the AIADMK and affected its popularity sharply. Should the DMK split, that would weaken the party less than a year from national elections in May 2019. Should the Congress Party back son Stalin and the BJP son Alagiri, a split in the DMK would be certain. The faction winning the backing of daughter Kanimozhi would have an advantage,in view of her potential as a vote getter. The BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi already has the support of both the Paneerselvam and Palanisamy (who are presently Deputy Chief Minister and Chief Minister respectively of Tamil Nadu). Should Alagiri (and possibly Kanimozhi) join a BJP-AIADMK alliance together with a chunk of the DMK cadre, such a force may be strong enough to sweep the 39 Lower House parliamentary seats in the state. However, if the BJP were to contest on its own, it would be hard put to retain even the single Lower House seat from Tamil Nadu that it now has.
In 1965, for a few weeks it was almost certain that the English language would leave India in as comprehensive a manner as the British themselves did in 1947. Had this been the case, India (and Indians) would have not been at the vanguard of the Knowledge Industry the way it is today. The global CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, is an alumnus of Manipal University, just as is the worldwide CEO of Nokia and several others at the apex of companies across the world. Faced with anti-Hindi protests in Tamil Nadu, it was fortunate for India that Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri showed wisdom in retaining the English language together with Hindi ( chosen by Mahatma Gandhi as the national language) and other Indian languages. The consequence of this decision by a truly wise Prime Minister has been the rise of educational institutions in India that are world class, such as the Institutes of Technology and the Institutes of Management, besides first-class medical schools.
Manipal itself has medical campuses in Antigua, Nepal and Malaysia, and soon in Durban, besides other campuses in Sikkim, Dubai, Jaipur and elsewhere. Nearly 300 million citizens of India speak some variant or the other of the versatile International Link Language,making India second only to the US in terms of the number of people who speak English. Of course, given the backwardness of the mindsets of several politicians in India,who educate their own children in countries such as the US,Australia and the UK but deny the poor the opportunity to stidy English at a sufficiently early age in state schools, within less than two decades,China may have more English-language speakers than India. Those who have benefitted (including through migration to other countries) from their mastery of the English language should thank the DMK and the state of Tamil Nadu for the fact that this language is still so much in vogue in India.
Had the people of Tamil Nadu not opposed the abolition of English as strongly as they did during 1965, India would have been a very different country, with a much smaller Information Technology and Modern Education infrastructure. Among those who fought most fiercely for retaining English in India was Karunanidhi, and the agitation cemented his reputation as a politician to watch. Karunanidhi caught the eye of DMK founder Conjeevram Natarajan Annadurai when he collected what at the time ( 1967) was a colossal sum of Ra 11 lakhs. Indeed, Annadurai affectionately referred to him as “Mr Eleven Lakhs from Saidapet” and later made the young firebrand a minister. After the death of the DMK founder from throat cancer (caused by his habit of chewing tobacco) , it was Karunanidhi who took over the party, and now control has passed to his family members the way it often is in South Asia.
Karunanidhi was a champion of the so-called “backward castes”, coming from that group himself. Once the DMK took power in the state,burying the Congress Party on the issue of “Hindi imposition”(not entirely correctly), there was a deliberate effort to lessen the ubiquity of the Brahmin community in the state administration. Several Brahmins thereupon migrated from administration to business, becoming in the process the biggest entrepreneurs in the state. Across India,the success of the DMK in ensuring a high degree of representation for the “backward castes” in administration propelled similar efforts in other states. In Uttar Pradesh, when the Samajwadi Party was in office, a conscious effort was made to recruit Muslims and Yadavs to government agencies, while the Bahujan Samaj Party gave preference to Dalits. Muthuvel Karunanidhi was a giant in Indian politics, dazzling audiences with his “rhythmic” Tamil intonation and his mastery of the art of telling the people what they were hungry to hear. It may be a while before another leader of Karunanidhi’s stature emerges in Tamil Nadu.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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