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‘An astute politician’: Nallakannu

Print edition : August 31, 2018

R. Nallakannu. Photo: R. Ragu

A specific trait I found in Kalaignar Karunanidhi was that one could discuss with him uninhibitedly any view, whether he liked it or not.

Our friendship began in 1967 when the CPI’s secretariat asked me to go to Madras to take over some responsibilities. Until then I was confined to party work in villages in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. From then our friendship remained strong amidst the ebb and flow of political uncertainties.

He allowed everyone, including his party men, to voice their views liberally. Any debate on any issue could be initiated in his presence. This characteristic had stemmed from the Periyarist school of rationalism of which he was an early student.

His politics was not without a purpose. He had a deep understanding of social justice and a genuine commitment towards it. His individuality in politics was striking.

Though he made political compromises a few times, he gave no concession as far as his principles were concerned. Take his social schemes and welfare measures. He was the first Chief Minister to abolish hand-pulled rickshaws and replace them with cycle-rickshaws. You can witness such modes of transport today in many States.

He accomplished what Dr B.R. Ambedkar wished. Ambedkar, as the first Law Minister of independent India, resigned when his Hindu Code Bill, a piece of legislation that attempted to empower women, was dropped by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru because of opposition from orthodox Hindus. Had the Bill been enacted, it would have empowered women to have rights on marriage, divorce and guardianship and ensured their rights to property.

Kalaignar passed laws in Tamil Nadu that gave women equal rights in family property, encouraged widow marriages and provided exclusive reservation for women in education, in employment and in local body elections. His ideological moorings in rationalism had the trappings of Left ideology. He used to say, “Had I not met Periyar, I would have become a communist.”

Take the concept of samathuvapuram, in which Dalits, who formed 60 per cent of the residents, shared a habitation with 40 per cent of the beneficiaries drawn from other caste groups. He made people think that an egalitarian society had to be like a samathuvapuram.

Though his objective was genuine, a few schemes did not reach all the targeted groups. But he went ahead with them hoping that they would cover all one day.

It was his strong perseverance and vocal demand on the issue of State autonomy and more powers to States that has made other States today raise their demands.

We in the CPI criticised him strongly for his alliance with the BJP. I wrote against it in the party organ. Later, when he came out of the BJP, he wrote in Murasoli: “Nallakannu will sleep well today.”

I wrote a preface for his poetic version of Maxim Gorky’s Thaai, and also attended its launch function.

He was a sublime Periyarist and an astute politician. Kalaignar practised politics with no malice.

R. Nallakannu is a senior CPI leader.

As told to Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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