50 years at the helm of DMK
Karunanidhi’s innings as president is unparalleled; son hails him as lynchpin of the party
DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi will cross a rare milestone in the country’s political history on Friday when he becomes the first leader to enter the 50th year as president of the party.
The former Chief Minister was elected president of the DMK on July 27, 1969. Five months earlier on February 9, 1969, he was elected the legislature party leader of the DMK and became the Chief Minister of the State following the death of the party’s founder C.N. Annadurai.
For a political party launched without a president — Annadurai held the position of general secretary, leaving the post vacant for his estranged leader Periyar E.V. Ramasamy — Mr. Karunanidhi’s achievement is unparalleled.
The party actually introduced the post of presidium chairman in September 25, 1960, and the late E.V.K. Sampath occupied the post. After he left the party, V.R. Nedunchezhian occupied the post. Even Mr. Karunanidhi was introduced as the chairman of the party at the Tiruchi district conference in 1970. Subsequently, he was identified only as the president of the party.
“Of course, there was an attempt to change the leadership in the party’s general council in Tiruparamkundram in the 1970s. But it did not materialise,” pointed out K. Thirunavukkarasu, historian of the Dravidian movement and author of a three-volume history of the DMK.
No paucity of leaders’
Asked whether Mr. Karunanidhi’s achievement was a matter of celebration since democracy would not be enriched by an individual occupying the top post in a party for this long, Mr. Thirunavukkarasu said if the party had decided to keep him in the post, others had little say in the matter.
“This does not mean there is a paucity of leaders. There were equally charismatic and talented leaders. But they could not shine since they were not elected to the party president’s post,” he said.
What made Mr. Karunanidhi stand out was his ability to steer the political course and general opinion in his favour, his far-sightedness, his quick wit, his command of the Tamil language, which was evident in his speeches and writing, and his extraordinary memory power (he is known for his ability to remember the name of even an ordinary party worker from a far corner of the State).
Mr. Karunanidhi perhaps sensed that there would be criticism against him in future for holding the post permanently. Hence, he had compared himself with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only U.S. President to be elected to a fourth term. In the second volume of his autobiography,Nenjukku Neethi , he had recalled the Esquire cartoon mocking Roosevelt. “Here also, some newspaper barons, mill owners, rich persons and aristocrats have discovered a bad word. In their view, Karunanidhi is a bad word,” he had recorded.
Adept crisis manager
Mr. Karunanidhi had also cited the article, ‘The task before DMK leaders’that appeared in The Hindu on February 4, 1969. K. Santhanam, the author of the article, had argued against dual leadership — one for the party and another for government — saying that such an arrangement had weakened the Congress and would prove suicidal for the DMK.
These opinions would have made an impact on V.R. Nedunchezhian, who was the interim Chief Minister and was in the race for the Chief Minister post after Annadurai’s death.
In a meeting held in Triplicane to commemorate the first death anniversary of Annadurai, Nedunchezhian said, “I stayed away from the contest for party leadership. Joining the Ministry is a matter of personal decision.”
Mr. Karunanidhi meticulously recorded all these speeches and opinions in his autobiography.
There are many who believe Mr. Karunanidhi was at his best when fighting the odds. They fondly recall his leadership quality as he kept the party intact after the revolt of MGR, steering it through the Emergency and 10 years of MGR’s reign and again successfully tiding over a crisis triggered by Vaiko’s exit.
DMK working president M.K. Stalin, in his message released to commemorate the occassion, called his father “the lynchpin of the party”