Karunanidhi leaves behind a well-structured, organised, cadre-based party.
With the departure of Muthuvel Karunanidhi, it is now time for bit players and artistes aspiring to become leaders to occupy the centre stage in Tamil Nadu politics. In a span of just 20 months, the state has lost two larger-than-life politicians—Jayalalithaa in December 2016 and now Karunanidhi—who, between them, had determined the destiny of the Dravida movement and held complete sway over the Tamil populace for decades. If Jayalalithaa’s death was untimely, Karunanidhi’s life was one that was full, having headed a political party for 49 years, which no other leader in the world has had the fortune to do. In that way he was a colossus. It was in 1969 following the death of his political mentor C.N. Annadurai, that “Kalaignar”—king of art and literature—as Karunanidhi was fondly called by legions of his followers, took over the reins of the party and became Chief Minister of the state. But he faced a major setback following the revolt of trusted colleague M.G. Ramachandran who walked out of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to float his own Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972. More than being in the political wilderness for 13 long years, what must have pained Karunanidhi was that MGR put Annadurai’s picture on his party’s flag. Kalaignar withstood that until perhaps that Iyengar face of Dravida movement, J. Jayalalithaa’s police hauled him out of bed at 1.45 a.m. and put him behind bars, a month after she took over as Chief Minister in 2001. The cries of the 75-year-old were heartrending enough for him to come back to power five years later. Then onwards, more than his popularity, it was health that let him down. Still he continued to remain in charge of the party, only partially allowing favoured son M.K. Stalin to function as working president of DMK. Even when Stalin had been steering the party for the past one-and-a-half years on his own, the general belief among the people was that every decision taken by the son had the father’s stamp on it.
Unlike Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi, along with his legacy, leaves behind a well-structured, organised, cadre-based party, some say better than the communist parties in Kerala and Bengal. Stalin is lucky to have inherited such a party which is going to be his asset in the days to come. It is for everyone to see that after Amma’s death her party AIADMK is in tatters. Though a government of the party is in place, there has been absolutely no governance in Tamil Nadu for the past 20 months. Never in the history of the state, not even during the times of Congress stalwarts such as M. Bhaktavatsalam or K. Kamaraj, has the state government been so dependent on the Central government in Delhi. If a major chunk of the blame rests with Jayalalithaa, her followers too are to blame for the present predicament. Things have come to such a pass that even the state government’s objection to Karunanidhi being buried on the Marina was attributed to the BJP led Centre. This is not taken lightly by the people of the state. M.K. Stalin is sure to build on that. Though some say that the rise of T.T.V. Dinakaran, nephew of Sasikala, jailed companion of Jayalalithaa, may steer AIADMK out of troubled waters, but then he has no party apparatus backing him. All the party has got is its MLAs who have no roots whatsoever in their constituencies. They are there because of Amma, and in the absence of Amma their very political existence is in doubt. It is through such a party that BJP is trying to establish itself in this southern state. This will make Stalin’s future course much easier, all the more if Dinakaran joins forces with him. Such a scenario cannot be ruled out in the event BJP succeeds in officially breaking AIADMK.
According to rough calculations, at least 60 lakh members have deserted AIADMK after Amma’s death. But it is not sure whether DMK or Dinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam had benefited out of this. Added to this is the entry of cine star Kamal Haasan with his Makkal Needhi Maiam party. Megastar Rajinikanth has been talking of launching a political party for quite some time. The delay has only damned his prospects. Grapevine has it that Rajini is waiting for a green signal from the BJP, which in turn hopes to split AIADMK and then install the star at its head. Whatever be the truth, Rajini, after talking of turning his fan following into some sort of a political party, has now gone into a limbo. One thing Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth have not taken into consideration is the fact that their predecessors from the DMK stable were first politicians who used the medium of cinema to mobilise the masses. Not the other way around, walking into politics from celluloid. Plus leaders like Karunanidhi showed how language could be turned into a powerful instrument in influencing people. In modern day communication network perhaps this may not be of significance. At least in Tamil Nadu, political parties such as DMK, which stand for social justice, still matter. If nothing else this was evident from the lakhs that turned up for Karunanidhi’s funeral. The coming months will prove whether Stalin can hold the party together and live up to the expectations of the masses. Others may get a chance only if he fails.