A Great Leader who stood above his State

A Tribute by the Editor

Muthuvel Karunanidhi was an astute politician, remarkable leader and a wonderful human being. In his passing on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, Tamil Nadu lost one of its greatest sons and in a sense, India lost one of its most revered elders.

He was 94 and was married thrice. He left behind four sons and two daughters and several grandchildren and grandnephews.

He was never a Member of Parliament and yet both houses (Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) were adjourned as a mart of respect. For, there was no political leader like him after his mentor and chief Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai died on February 3, 1969. He was a Member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for more than 60 years, Chief Minister for five terms (almost 25 years) and President of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for 50 years.

Pleasant encounters

I first met him with Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari in 1965 and thereafter in 1969, 1977, 1991 and last at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas hosted by him as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in Chennai from January 7 to 9, 2009. At each of these meetings, he demonstrated why he was a leader- always a step ahead of the person in front of him. “Thamizhal Valarthom, Thamizhal Onrupattom, Thamizhai Vazhavaipom’ (“We grew because of Tamil, we united because of Tamil and let us promote Tamil”) he would say at each of these meetings.

Such was his love for the language that he tolerated some of his worst adversaries, if they were to criticise him in Tamil. The films for which he wrote the story and dialogues are even today praised for their literary superiority, alliterations, metaphors and similes.

Film Career

Karunanidhi started his career as a screenwriter in Tamil films in 1947, but he was widely acknowledged for his story and dialogues in ‘Parashakthi,’ released in 1952. The film also marked the debut of Sivaji Ganeshan and was the story of a family that faces many trials during World War II. The film was criticised at the time for its ‘bold content.’

Karunanidhi was not afraid of expressing his thoughts. Many of his films spoke about widow remarriage, abolition of zamindari (feudal) system and untouchability, among other issues. A few of his plays were banned in the 1950s because of their content.

He considered cinema as a vehicle for presenting his political thoughts and ideologies.

His last film as a screenwriter was ‘Ponnar Shankar’ released in 2011.

Maverick Leader

He was a maverick leader who ushered in several changes, some of which have passed the test of time. It was he who changed the name of the Capital City ‘Madras’ to ‘Chennai,’ contending that there should be a Tamil name to the largest City in Tamil Nadu. No one dared tell him, and perhaps he was not aware at that time that ‘Madras’ was indeed a Tamil name, while ‘Chennai’ was a derivative of a Telugu ruler called, Damarla Chennappa Nayakudu.

He changed the Tamil New Year Day from April 14 to January 14 (or thereabout) to commemorate ‘Pongal,’ stating that the start of the year should not have any religious significance. This was later reinstated by Jayalalithaa when she became the Chief Minister.

Controversy followed

Even in his death, Karunanidhi was a subject of controversy. Chief Minister E K Palaniswami refused to grant permission for his burial near Anna Samadhi, the memorial of the DMK Founder. The EPS government cited legal reasons and instead offered two acres of land at Gandhi Mandapam. The DMK moved the Madras High Court demanding that Karunanidhi be laid to rest at Marina, where Annadurai, M G Ramachandran, and J Jayalalithaa are buried. The Court allowed Karunanidhi’s burial at Marina beach.

None of these would erode his status as a visionary. We bow as we pay tribute to perhaps the last of the greatest leaders.

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