The 1924 born Karunanidhi is definitely among the oldest (if not the oldest) politicians in India today. The five times Tamil Nadu Chief Minister holds a record of sorts – he hasn’t lost a single election in his political career of 60 years!
Politics is not his sole claim to fame or Karunanidhi’s only career. His popular nickname is Kalaignar, which means ‘artist’ in Tamil. Even before actively joining politics, Karunanidhi dabbled in films. He was a scriptwriter (the Tamil megastar Shivaji Ganesan made his debut in a film penned by Karunanidhi) of note at one time: his movies were both, controversial and popular at the same time. With a socialistic bent of mind, Karunanidhi’s stories challenged caste and the zamindari system and also touched subjects like untouchability and widow remarriage; most of these subjects reflected the Dravidian philosophy. In the 1950s, his were radical social subjects inviting the ire of the censor board and even bans.
Besides scripts, Karunanidhi has been a writer almost as prolific as Jeffery Archer (albeit in a different plane). Poems, screenplays, novels (fiction and non-fiction), plays, letters, dialogues and songs, he has made a mark in almost all possible forms of writing. He has written about 75 screenplays and has published over 100 books and continues to publish poems etc. in the DMK magazine apart from other publishing platforms.
His literary outpourings have earned him the title Kalaignar.
The Controversial Romeo
An artistic temperament is often associated with a romantic one as well. Kalaignar is no exception. Married thrice, Karunanidhi’s philandering is neither unknown nor merely his past. The octogenarian alarmed most of his family and many in his party by his recent alleged relation with Tamil actress, Khushboo. (A failed Bollywood wannabe, Khushboo found incomparable success in Tamil films and is the only actress to have had a temple built for her. Ridiculous as it may sound, this is a fact – there was a Khushboo temple in Tamilnadu at one time. Her later liaisons led to the temple being demolished by angry fans – but she has already made history.)
His family reportedly fears that he may pull a Periyar. (Periyar was an important Dravidian leader who married a woman 50 years his junior.) While his family is up in arms against the alleged relationship, Khushboo has officially joined DMK and Karunanidhi has suggested Khushboo’s name for South Chennai parliamentary constituency in the 2014 parliamentary elections. How far Khusboo goes is questionable since last year she questioned the rise of Karunanidhi’s son Stalin thus earning widespread negative response.
Karunanidhi leapt into politics at the tender age of 14 by participating in the Anti-Hindi agitations (Tamilnadu was strongly anti-Hindi and even as late as the 1980s, it was easier to find locals like rickshawallahs who spoke English than anyone who spoke Hindi.). He founded a student organisation Tamil Manavar Mandram, which subsequently became the first student wing of the Dravidian Movement. He also started a newspaper in 1942, Murasoli, which is currently DMK’s official newspaper.
His rise in DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) has been steady since 1957, when he first won an assembly election. The DMK enjoyed unchallenged and unsurpassed popularity in the State till its founder, Annadurai was alive. In 1969 Annadurai passed away and Karunanidhi and M G Ramachandran (MGR), two of DMK’s most powerful seconds-in-command had a fallout. Karunanidhi became the head of DMK while MGR went on to found AIADMK. Since then, these two parties have been at loggerheads with each coming to power practically alternately.
As a scriptwriter, Karunanidhi has penned movies banned on accounts of socialism, rationalism and anti-Brahmanism. As a politician, he has questioned the existence of Ram and has participated in a rally where allegedly the sanctity of Hindu Gods was desecrated. He is accused of opportunistic pandering to appease minority sentiments by mocking Hinduism to earn votes.
The Father Accused of Nepotism
Stalin, Kanimozhi and the 2G Scam have been the biggest albatross around Karunanidhi’s neck. Tamilnadu politics has never been completely free of accusation of large-scale corruption against its politicians, but the national level of the 2G scam has been hard to cover. Yet, the astute spin-doctor rumouredly used his Congress connections and managed to get his daughter Kanimozhi reinstated into Rajya Sabha and now allegedly there are discussions around quashing all 2G scam charges against her.
What a charming family! Karunanidhi claims that his son Alagiri told him that his brother Stalin will die in 3 months. Fight over 2G money?
— Pritish Nandy (@PritishNandy) January 28, 2014
His son Stalin has always been contentious. Arrogance, anger issues, incompetence – endless charges have been leveled against him. Yet he is the deputy CM of the State – an ascendance that Khushboo questioned in her controversial interview.
Handling controversies and accusations become a second nature with most public figures and as he readies for the 2014 elections, Karunanidhi expects to continue his ‘forever winner’ record.
By Sujata Garimella