Tribute

‘Essentially a fighter’: Mulayam

Print edition : August 31, 2018

Mulayam Singh Yadav. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Though we spoke and worked in two different languages, I believe that Karunanidhi and I represent the significant historical process of the mainstreaming of regional parties in Indian politics. Karunanidhi and the DMK did this from south India, rooting his societal interventions in the big State of Tamil Nadu, while many of us, including me, did it in north India, focussing primarily on Uttar Pradesh, the most populous State in India. We had also worked together on many occasions, especially in the 1990s during the United Front governments that ruled between 1996 and 1998. Throughout our association we sought to work on the mainstreaming of regional political ideologies, although from nuanced positions.

Karunanidhi was essentially a fighter, a tenacious one at that, both politically and personally. There are many fellow politicians, besides observers and journalists, who have found similarities in our personalities. I also like to stand up for my beliefs, both personal and political. I remember seeing Karunanidhi’s fighting spirit in 1996 when the then President, Shankar Dayal Sharma, invited the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, just because the BJP was the single largest party. The post-election alliance of secular parties had a majority and the leaders of these parties had gone to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest. The President had organised a breakfast for the leaders that morning, but we had decided to boycott that. The leaders, including Karunanidhi and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, were vociferous in their criticism before the President. It was a moment when our democratic polity asserted its credentials.

Indeed, we had our differences, especially when the DMK moved on to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 1999. However, Karunanidhi realised the mistake of that political position and returned to the anti-communal, anti-Hindutva platform in 2004. Both of us had started our politics primarily on the basis of anti-Congressism but had nuanced our positions later in order to confront bigger threats to democracy and secularism. This does not mean that we have given up anti-Congressism. We have only adapted to the new political realities keeping in mind the growth of communal politics perpetrated by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar.

There have been some comments that we had big differences on the language issue, especially Hindi versus Tamil. There was nothing like that. We always respected all regional languages of India. This respectful consideration had reflected in my interactions with the late CPI(M) leader and former Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar. I am sure the spirit of Karunanidhi will continue to guide Tamil Nadu to a great future.

Mulayam Singh Yadav is the founder of the Samajwadi Party.

As told to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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