An era has ended. May Kalaignar’s soul reach the abode of the Lord that he publicly announced to have despised.
Kalaignar will be remembered for all that he had said, stood for, and done. So, what did he stand for and what does his era signify?
Kalaignar’s era was characterised by nepotism, hatred towards Hinduism in general and the Brahmins in particular, funded by missionaries who never stopped short of calling him their saviour and benefactor, and any thing even remotely anti-India.
A quick thinker and a fast learner, he switched sides, without compunction, to stay in power at any cost. Having worked for and against the Congress party on three different occasions, he chose to ride with the right wing BJP to enjoy the fruits of power at the center and without any second thought, quit the right wing alliance towards the end of the term and switched back to supporting the Congress. He was called a ‘Chanakya’ but was actually a rank opportunist and a clinger to power.
He roused the emotions of the people on every issue and then reaped rewards from those. The anti-hindi agitation was one such.
Kalaignar did not have a single stand on any issue. He always had a minimum of two stands and was adept in reasoning out both ways. Sri Lankan Tamil cause is a case in point. He supported the Tamil rebel groups that opposed LTTE, for the latter was patronised by MGR. Later, when the LTTE eliminated all other Tamil groups, he didn’t feel shy to support the Tigers. From supporting India’s intervention in Sri Lanka to calling for IPKF’s withdrawal, to passing on classified secrets to the Tigers, to denying their existence in Tamil Nadu, in supporting secessionism, to occasionally standing for India’s unity when he found berths in the central cabinet, from ridiculing hindu rituals and symbols and castigating his party men from following hindu rituals, to turning a blind eye to his family members’ association with temples and rituals, from casting aspersions on hindu saints to welcoming Sai Baba home, he had a dualist approach in all that he touched.
His often touted contributions to Tamil are mostly over-hyped emotion tinged statements meant for public consumption. His reign saw the mushrooming of low quality English medium matriculation schools ( MGR and Jayalalithaa are no exceptions here), degradation of the state’s primary education infrastructure, and general apathy towards corruption among public servants. When the state’s educational infrastructure is often connected with K.Kamaraj, the state’s decline due to corruption and malfeasance is linked with Kalaignar. MGR and Jayalalithaa helped carry forward this legacy with the result that dravidian rule has come to be known as the reign of corrupt politicians.
It started with Kalaignar’s Veeraanam Scam in the late 60s. Justice Sarkaria’s report on the then government’s corrupt practices termed Kalaignar’s reign thus: ‘Scientific Corruption’. Tamil Nadu’s march towards decadence and rust was initiated by Kalaignar and carried forward by MGR and Jayalalithaa. Being corrupt is now not a cause for remorse or regret. That is the victory for the dravidian reign.
A defining aspect of Kalaignar’s rule has been a gradual lowering of standards in public discourse. Indecent words, swear words and double entendres, that ridiculed women in public, became the norm. Especially with Jayalalithaa as the arch-enemy, the volume and intensity of the talks increased. And the pity was, Kalaignar rewarded such talks with plum positions in government and in the party.
World Tamil Conference, espoused by his mentor Anna Durai, later carried forward by his arch rival MGR, became a pricking point for Kalaignar. He was not able to conduct a World Tamil Conference during his last term in office as that was not approved by the world organization that had to give a go-ahead. He brought about another festival – the Semmozhi Festival- at great expense to the public exchequer to ostensibly promote Tamil, but ended up promoting family ‘talent’. During his reign, academic research in Tamil became a thing of ridicule (he awarded a Ph.D to a ‘scholar’ who produced a thesis that said Thiruvalluvar was a disciple of St.Thomas).
Whenever Kalaignar assumed power ( five time Chief Minister), anti-national rhetoric gained traction and the government turned a blind eye to such nefarious activities. Debates in the legislative assembly were either verbal assaults on the opposition or singing competitions eulogising Kalaignar (Jayalalithaa wasn’t far behind in this). Rivalry between MGR and Kalaignar became so virulent that mere exchange of pleasantries between the ruling and opposition members were scoffed at. The trend continues to this day, to the merriment of the politicians from other states.
Kalaignar’s last term was characterised mostly by corruption, nepotism, and bland display of sycophancy at every level. Governance became a casualty, with his own children and extended family members fighting for the spoils of the administration, both at the state level and at the central level where the DMK had a say.
Kalaignar would be remembered for two schemes – Uzhavar Sandhai ( farmer’s market) and Valluvar Reading Rooms, both of which are now defunct. He would also be remembered for his attempt to sell arrack in polythene sachets and converting the state to a place of ugly statues. Another star scheme that helped attract many followers was the ‘First Graduate Scheme’ that has indeed helped many from the poorer sections to become graduates with a little push from the government.
Kalaignar Karunanidhi – A man who had very humble beginnings, yet raised his family’s wealth to stratospheric levels at the cost of the state’s administration and the country’s standing in the international comity of nations. That the party which suffered several splits during his term did not disintegrate into un-noticeable subgroups is a testimony to the organisational skills of Kalaignar. He kept his party together and the DMK stands tall as a cadre based party that has some potential left.
Kalaignar, who is called the ‘Last Dravidian Stalwart’, was a man who had all the chances to become a Lee Kuan Yew but gave up all those in pursuit of personal glory and family wealth to the detriment of the state and nation.