Happy birthday Kalaignar. But let's talk shop now: Oppn unites to celebrate Karunanidhi's 94th birthday
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M Karunanidhi’s 94th birthday should have been an occasion for a grand, non-partisan celebration. But his son MK Stalin has managed to highjack it and make it into a political affair by bringing together a host of anti-BJP national parties to mark the occasion.
Though wheel-chair bound for the past few years, Karunanidhi was mentally agile. Once known for his sharp wit and memory, he has, of late, had his health and memory forcing him into de facto retirement from public life.
DMK working president MK Stalin, while keeping his father Karunanidhi away from public gaze on strict doctors’ advice, has gone ahead and used the occasion well.
Considering that it was a celebration of not only Karunanidhi’s birthday, but the diamond jubilee of his parliamentary career, it ideally should have been a non-partisan affair. Stalin has, however, celebrated it to mark the party's anti-BJP posture.
Karunanidhi’s political career has spanned three or four generations. Since his entry into the State Assembly from Kulithalai in 1957, Karunanidhi has never lost a single election, which is a world record.
He has moved with leaders across the political spectrum – ranging from “Periyar” Ramaswamy to Rajaji and K Kamaraj at the state level, even though they were national level leaders as well.
His contacts also extended to national leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, his arch rival VP Singh, Ajith Singh and Devi Lal, communist veterans Jyoti Basu, AB Bardhan and EMS Namboodiripad, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister NT Rama Rao and former Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.
Through his nephew and former minister Murasoli Maran, he took the DMK to the national level. He was instrumental in forming the first national front of parties ranged against the Congress in the 1980s.
This came when Indira Gandhi was toppling one non-Congress government after another, starting from Sikkim and followed by Jammu and Kashmir (Abdullah), Andhra Pradesh (N T Rama Rao) and Pondicherry (DMK’s D Ramasamy).
It was Karunanidhi who took the initiative to forge an anti-Congress front in 1988 and named it the National Front. It led to the second non-Congress government under VP Singh, after the collapse of the Janata Party experiment of 1977, which cracked under the weight of its own contradictions.
When the BJP emerged as the alternative pole at the national level following LK Advani’s Rath Yatra of the 1990s the DMK, under Karunanidhi, was guided by compulsions of real politik.
At that time the DMK refused to support the 13-day old Vajpayee government because, as Murasoli Maran put it so eloquently, the DMK was the very anti-thesis of all that the BJP stood for – Hindi, Hindu and Hindutva.
The very same Maran took the DMK into the BJP camp when Jayalalithaa pulled down the second Vajpayee government in 1999. The justification was – “Vajpayee is the right man in the wrong party”.
Maran went on to hold a key portfolio in the NDA Government. The DMK stayed on in the NDA till the end of the term of the government in 2014, or till the death of Maran in office. It then quickly switched sides to the Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The DMK was part of the UPA Government for ten years and some of its ministers were indicted in the 2G and Aircel-Maxis scams.
Moving ahead, what now?
Given the chequered history of Karunanidhi’s political career, Stalin will find it difficult to justify the sudden opposition to the BJP, although the DMK-Congress alliance formed during the UPA rule endures.
The only reason he has given for not inviting BJP is that its state leaders, like Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, have been critical of the Dravidian rule.
Stalin’s initiative to forge a front against the BJP will have relevance only in the next Lok Sabha elections which are due in 2019.
However, given the unstable political situation in Tamil Nadu, Stalin reckons that the BJP may force a mid-term election to the State Assembly to take advantage of the vacuum created by Jayalalithaa's death and Karunanidhi's retirement.
Given the way the BJP has been browbeating the splintered AIADMK into toeing its line by using investigative agencies like the CBI and the income-tax department, Stalin will have every reason to believe he too will feel the heat once he takes on the BJP in the next election.
Hence the need to have allies at the national level to fight this threat.
But can he?
Though Stalin has neither the stature of Karunanidhi, nor the experience to lead a national front, Sonia has greeted Karunanidhi, with whom she has a good rapport and deputed her son Rahul Gandhi to attend the function.
Communist leaders like Sitaram Yechuri and D Raja, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien were among those present at the occasion.
However, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao, who are close to the BJP, were kept out.
State-level parties like Pattali Makkal Katchi of Dr S Ramadoss, Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) of actor Vijakanth, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s Thol Thirumavalavan, Tamil National Party of Seeman were also excluded.
But cutting across party lines, all leaders joined President Pranab Mukherjee in greeting Karunanidhi on the occasion.
The usual practice used to be for Karunanidhi to pay homage to DK patriarch Periyar Ramasamy and DMK founder C N Annadurai at their memorial on the Marina Beach and then receive a stream of visitors at Anna Arivalayam, the party headquarters. This was done away with this year.
Only family members and senior party functionaries like Stalin and Dayanidhi Maran and senior party functionaries like party general secretary K Anbazhagan, who is a year older to Karunanidhi, and Durai Murugan greeted him at his Gopalapuram residence on Saturday morning.