Karunanidhi: An evergreen ally of the Congress
Karunanidhi was always at ease in dealing with the Congress leaders though initially the DMK, under the leadership of CN Annadurai, came to power in Tamil Nadu fighting the Congress party in 1967
The first prominent political leader in India to recognise Sonia Gandhi as Prime Ministerial candidate was M Karunanidhi, the DMK President, who was always firmly committed to the political alliances that he forged with sagacity. Prior to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when he had just broken away from the NDA in 2003, the nation was at a crossroads, facing a challenge to find a viable secular alternative to take the country forward. It was then Karunanidhi identified the Congress as the only party capable of leading the nation and helped forming the UPA, which subsequently gave a glorious 10-year golden rule.
Karunanidhi has always been at ease in dealing with Congress leaders like Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi though initially the DMK, under the leadership of CN Annadurai, came to power in Tamil Nadu fighting the Congress party in 1967. For secularism was on the top of his political agenda, always. Mr Karunanidhi firmly believed that the Congress was the only party that can counter the growth of communal Hindutva forces at the national level. Though Karunanidhi leads a regional party, he had a national perspective and an agenda for the entire country. So he aspired to associate with like-minded national parties without compromising on his core values like secularism and federalism.
The first time Karunanidhi reached out to the Congress was immediately after the party’s split in 1969. That was the time when the DMK was ruling Tamil Nadu and had 25 of its members in the Lok Sabha. Indira Gandhi, who had broken away to form Congress (Indira) leaving the Congress (Organisation) under seasoned leaders like K Kamaraj, was finding the going tough and needed political support from outside to continue as Prime Minister. It was then Karunanidhi stepped in to extend the much needed hand of camaraderie to her and in return got Central government’s assistance for the state. In the subsequent election, in 1971, the DMK aligned itself with Congress (Indira) and reaped a bumper reward - DMK’s tally in the Assembly went up from 132 to a whopping 184 seats in the 234 member House.
While forming the UPA then, he took the lead role, guiding others with his long experience as a politician. He was indeed the senior-most leader in the coalition as one who took the plunge as a 15-year-old, bringing out a hand-written newspaper in Thiruvaiyaru, espousing the Dravidian ideology, propounded by his mentor, Periyar EV Ramasamy.
For Karunandihi, that election was important as it was the first time he was going to the hustings as the DMK chief, a post he got after the death of Annadurai and continued to hold without a break for over half a century. The alliance with Indira Gandhi’s party helped him retain his Chief Minister’s post with elan. His triumphant run in the state’s electoral politics was cut short in 1975 as his government was dismissed after the DMK took an open stand against the Emergency, brought in by Indira Gandhi. Since then the DMK could never win an Assembly election in the state till MG Ramachandran (MGR) passed away in 1987 but swept the 1980 Lok Sabha polls in alliance with the Congress. MGR, who had split the DMK and formed his AIADMK in 1972, joined hands with Indira Gandhi in the 1977 election for the Tamil Nadu Assembly but the relationship did not last long.
For the 1980 Lok Sabha elections, Indira Gandhi sought the support Karunanidhi and the alliance swept the polls taking away 37 of the 39 seats in the state. That was the time when Karunanidhi came up with the resounding slogan ‘Nehruvin Magazhale Varuga, Nilayana Aatchi Tharuga’ (Welcome Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government) that caught the imagination of the people of Tamil Nadu as the nation had just watched a few regimes imploding pre-maturely. The public mood in favour of a political formation that would complete its term and Karunanidhi, along with Indira Gandhi, lived up to the expectation of the nation, helping India regain its stability with the Congress at the helm of affairs.
Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, instability revisited the country, Karunanidhi hobnobbed with the BJP between 1998 and 2003, after his party had to rush in to save the NDA government that was facing an imminent fall, prematurely. But after travelling with the BJP close to a full term, Karunanidhi returned to the DMK’s traditional ally.
While forming the UPA then, he took the lead role, guiding others with his long experience as a politician. He was indeed the senior-most leader in the coalition as one who took the plunge as a 15-year-old, bringing out a hand-written newspaper in Thiruvaiyaru, espousing the Dravidian ideology, propounded by his mentor, Periyar EV Ramasamy. He had come a long way from Thiruvaiyaru, endearing himself to millions of followers, besides proving his extraordinary talents in statecraft, scholarship in Tamil and proficiency as a leader, remaining committed to the causes that primarily drew him into public life.