Tribute

He was not limited by the past: Peter Alphonse

Print edition : August 31, 2018

Peter Alphonse. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

I first met him in 1975 when I was the general secretary of the Madras Law College Students Union. [N.D.] Sundaravadivelu was the University of Madras Vice Chancellor, and the convocation was cancelled. Even as we were agitating in front of the university campus against this decision, some anti-social elements barged into the Anna samadhi [which was just across the road from the university] and vandalised some parts of it.

Naturally, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was angry. In spite of that, he called all student union leaders for a meeting. The police took 14 of us to his chamber. I was leading the delegation. He asked us if we were followers of Perunthalaivar [K. Kamaraj]. When we nodded, he asked us to go meet Perunthalaivar and do as he bid. We went to Perunthalaivar’s house. He told us we were wrong and asked us to return to our classrooms. He ordered an end to the agitation.

Karunanidhi was always available and accommodating of the many needs of people. Whatever he did, he spoke, and thought, he had three things in mind: His interest, his party’s interest and the cause of social justice.

With him, merit-based politics also ceased. In his time, he used to encourage people with talent and merit. Look at his team-building and the way he built his party. Each district secretary was a huge asset for him. Look at the people he sent to the Rajya Sabha: a Vaiko, a Viduthalai Virumbi, a Nanjil Manoharan.

He was an atheist. But he did not stand in the way of one’s choice. There is a powerful temple in my constituency, the Tirumalai Kumaran Koil. It is about 500 years old and is located on a hillock. There was no proper path to reach it. In order to get a path constructed I drew up a budget. The total project cost was Rs.6 crore. I went to the Chief Minister with an idea. I said that if six big temples could contribute Rs.1 crore each, the job could be done. He was receptive to the idea for two reasons: he knew that it was a popular temple and that I, a Christian, was asking funds for a Hindu temple. He ordered five of the six temples I had suggested to contribute Rs.1 crore each. I had to raise Rs.1 crore on my own. I managed this. There was no need for an atheist to do this. His reasoning was that this was the kind of politics that needed to be encouraged in this country: where no one looks at religion or caste before deciding to help out. He suffered a lot during the Emergency. But by 1980, he was able to get over this, invite Indira Gandhi to Tamil Nadu and say: “Nehruvin magale varuga, nilayana aatchi taruga” [Welcome, Nehru’s daughter, give us a stable government].

S. Peter Alphonse is a Congress party spokesperson.

As told to R.K. Radhakrishnan

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