On his affinity to communist ideals

Print edition : August 31, 2018

When Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan came calling at Karunanidhi’s residence in Gopalapuram in Chennai on June 10, 2006. Photo: M. Vedhan

The expansion of the national movement, the trade union movement and communist politics influenced his evolution as a political leader.

Kalaignar Karunanidhi has left us. A personality that had dominated Dravidian politics and Tamil politics, arts and literature for seven decades, has bid farewell, leaving a void. Keeping aside the different occasions when I had to interact with him as Kerala’s Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition, it would only be appropriate to say I did not have any direct personal relationship with him. But I have always observed and studied his political life, just like a student of politics. I am not trying to go into the life of Karunanidhi or the chronological details of his political history. My attempt is to try and delineate the qualitative merits of that stream in Dravidian politics, and in Tamil Nadu politics as a whole, which included him and which he helped develop.

We both came into politics in our adolescent years. My belief is that an affinity towards communist ideals too had played a hastening role in Karunanidhi’s political development. The lot of the workers during that period and the growth of the working class communist left movement had influenced Karunanidhi. One of the main sources that moulded Karunanidhi was the Tamil literary skill and dexterous speaking talent of the brilliant orator P. Jeevanandham, an associate of Periyar who later became a communist leader. But Karunanidhi rose and grew in politics not as an activist of the Communist Party, but along with Annadurai as an activist of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

We can say that the decisive event that reinforced Karunanidhi’s future was a raging speech about the brave martyrdom of communists in the firing in the Salem jail, which he made at a DMK conference held in the wake of the incident. What needs to be read together is that the martyrdom of the 22 communist activists who were branded as “Danger Communists” and locked up in the Salem jail had shaken Karunanidhi terribly and that the firing incident had doubled the hatred in people’s minds against the administration.

Was it not Karunanidhi who sowed the seeds of politics and watered and nurtured it thereafter within M.G. Ramachandran, who in 1972 split away from the DMK and formed the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam? It was Karunanidhi’s pen that made M.G. Ramachandran an “Ezhai Thozhan” (Friend of the Poor) and, through fiery dialogues, made him so popular. It would be more correct to say that it was the communist influence in Karunanidhi that did this. Karunanidhi and his working class characters stole the hearts of the Tamil people through dialogues that were always right on target.

One can say without any doubt that it was rational thought that “seasoned” Karunanidhi. To the end he held the belief that it was individual effort and not divine grace that gave strength to human beings. There was indeed a pro-communist constituency within the heart of that poet who translated Changampuzha’s [celebrated Malayalam poem] “Vazhakkula” into Tamil.

In later years, Karunanidhi, who took pride in his south Indian identity and rose with Annadurai’s slogan “Dravidian Nation or Death”, became the leader of a more extreme Tamil movement. The political tactician that he was, the role of Karunanidhi’s shrewd brain in bringing up the Sri Lankan Tamil problem in India is very big. Karunanidhi even underwent rigorous imprisonment for burning the Constitution as part of the efforts to raise the issue of imposition of north Indian domination through the Hindi language as a matter affecting the self-respect of the Tamil people.

The Justice Party that took shape in Madras Presidency at the beginning of the 20th century had much similarity with the Malayali Memorial movement that came into being in Travancore. While the Justice Party was a non-Brahmin, upper-caste party, the Dravidar Kazhagam came into being as a social movement. After his resignation from the Congress following the Gurukulam controversy, Periyar formed the Suya Mariyadhai Iyakkam, or the Self-Respect Movement, and became active in it. Later, it became an out and out God-denying, rationalist movement. “We need not recognise the gods of the Brahmins”, was the exhortation made by Periyar. Moreover, after his return from Soviet Russia, he also argued for socialism. But the Self-Respect Movement withdrew from political activity yielding to the torture and persecution of the British government and continued as a social reform movement. Subsequently, it borrowed the class structure of the Justice Party and merged with it. In 1944 its name became Dravida Kazhagam. Annadurai, who formed a new political party after shaking himself away from the limitations of the Dravidar Kazhagam’s social reform movement, argued for a Dravidian nation. Even people who were part of the mass support base of the Congress and the Communist parties joined this movement. This was how the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, was born. It was into this DMK that Karunanidhi made his entry.

Even as we say all this, it cannot be forgotten that the DMK had vacillated many times in the cyclones of power politics. Yet, it can be seen that, at any juncture, Karunanidhi was able to obtain the trust of the minority sections. I think that we may not be doing justice to history if we do not read Karunanidhi’s evolution as a political leader together with the expansion of the national movement, the trade union movement and communist politics. Karunanidhi has now become part of that history. We cannot analyse the intrinsic strength of Tamil Nadu politics at all without linking it to Karunanidhi.

V.S. Achuthanandan, a former Chief Minister of Kerala, is Chairman of the Kerala Administrative Reforms Commission. This special article for Frontline was translated from Malayalam by R. Krishnakumar.

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