Muthuvel Karunanidhi the Octogenarian leader of India’s Dravida Munnetra Kazgagham (DMK) has a flair for creating controversy through provocative pronouncements. Karunanidhi known widely as “Kalainjer” or Artiste has been the chief minister of Tamil Nadu state for nearly 19 years serving five terms in office.
The latest controversy triggered off by the Tamil Nadu ex-chief minister is of direct relevance and significance to Sri Lanka. The DMK Leader has once again revived the call for a creation of a separate state for the Tamils of Sri Lanka. In a public statement released on Thursday April 19th Karunanidhi raised the demand for a “Tamil Eelam” comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Karunanidhi cited the recently created states of Kosovo, South Sudan, East Timor and Montenegro as examples in support of his demand for Tamil Eelam. He pointed out that these new nations came into being as a result of UN intervention and consequent referendums.
“The song of freedom is ringing in the ears of Tamils across the world. The blood and tears shed by Sri Lankan Tamils will not go in vain. If not tomorrow, it will come into existence one day,” he said in the statement.
The DMK had advocated the idea of a separate Eelam as early as 1983, and a resolution adopted in the general council meeting of the party on August 27 that year had stressed that “a separate Tamil Eelam shall be the only remedy and permanent solution.” Karunanidhi emphasised.
“At a public meeting on the Marina sands the next day, I said if the Indian Army entered Sri Lanka to create a Tamil Eelam, the Congress could rule the State and the DMK would not make efforts to come to power for the next 10 years,” he recalled.
The DMK leader said Sri Lankan Tamil leader SJV Chelavanayagam changed the name of Tamil United Front to the Tamil United Liberation Front in the 1976 conference in Vattukkottai with the objective of achieving a separate nation for Tamils. “Unfortunately, he died in a year,” Mr. Karunanidhi said.
He also cited some instances that showed the historical links between Tamil Nadu and ‘Eelam’ and quoted from poet Bharathidasan: “Whenever I think about the continuity of the history, I feel a longing for Tamil Eelam welling up in me.”
Karunanidhi did not stop with a single statement. He continued to follow up his Tamil Eelam demand with further statements, open letters in newspapers, answers to media queries and also through responses to statements made by other political leaders.
Karunanidhi’s demand struck a resonating chord among some groups in the Global Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora who have been clamouring for a UN supervised referendum in Sri Lanka to decide upon the creation of Tamil Eelam. The referendum demand was articulated again in Tamil media organs run by Tamil expatriates.
Responding to this , Karunanidhi also wanted the UN to intervene in Sri Lanka.Despite being , a constituent of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government at the Centre, the DMK leader on Tuesday April 24th urged the Union government to press the United Nations for a referendum on a ‘Tamil Eelam’ in Sri Lanka.
Karunanidhi, writing for the party mouthpiece newspaper “Murasoli” (founded by him in 1942)said: “The demand for holding referendum amongst Tamils for the creation of Tamil Eelam is welcome.”
Writing further he said “At the intervention of United Nations, some countries have been formed and got recognition. Similarly a referendum should be conducted amongst Tamils for the creation of Tamil Eelam and United Nations should take steps for that.”
Karunanidhi recalled his earlier remarks that if at all he had one unfulfilled desire, it was the creation of a separate State for the Sri Lankan Tamils.As such he said India should take up efforts in the United Nations for holding a referendum in Sri Lanka for creation of a separate Tamil Eelam. He wanted India to give necessary support and pressure for the measure.
Though Karunanidhi has raised the Eelam cry again, present day reality in the Island is not conducive to that. The Indian Parliamentary delegation which visited Sri Lanka recently had come away with a different opinion about Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka. The MP’s from both the Lower house Lok Sabha and upper house Rajya Sabha had understood from their trip that the Tamil Eelam demand had no takers among Tamils living in Sri Lanka. Furthermore Rajavarothayam Sampanthan, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader himself had stated that Tamils were striving for equal rights within a united Sri Lanka.
So people like the Indian opposition leader and MP from Bharatiya Janatha Party(BJP) Sushma Swaraj and TK Rangarajan,Communist Party of India(Marxist)MP refuted Karunanidhi’s assertion of Tamil Eelam to which the Dravidian movement patriarch retorted vehemently.
Reacting to the arguments of Sushma Swaraj and T.K. Rangarajan that Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka were not for a separate Tamil Eelam, the DMK president Karunanidhi claimed on Tuesday April 24th that “ Lankan Tamils will not settle for anything less than a separate Eelam as they had already paid the highest price towards achieving the goal.
“The prospects of a political solution and devolution of power remain only on paper and the Sri Lankan government does not even have the basic honesty of fulfilling the promises made on world forums. Sri Lankan Tamils have given lakhs of lives in sacrifice towards achieving the goal. Tamils have lost everything in their own country, lost their relatives and roam the streets of many countries as orphans and refugees. They have paid the highest price,” Karunanidhi said in a statement issued to the media.
The DMK leader said efforts made by moderate Tamil leaders, such as A. Amirthalingam to find a peaceful solution, were nipped in the bud and agreements with them were thrown to the winds.
“The armed struggle was crushed by unprecedented military deployment. Sinhalese majoritarianism does not show an iota of interest in giving equal rights to the Tamils,” Karunanidhi further said.
Karunanidhi said as far as the Sri Lankan Tamils were concerned, he had not asked India to intervene the way it did in Bangladesh. “I just want India and the United Nations to intervene and conduct a referendum for the formation of a separate Eelam,” he explained.
The DMK followed through on its leader’s revival of the Tamil Eelam demand in the Indian Parliament .On Wednesday April 25th the DMK announced in Parliament that India should prevail upon the United Nations to help carve out a separate Tamil Eelam from Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka.
Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha during zero hour, DMK parliamentary group leader T.R. Baalu said tyranny in the Tamil areas was continuing and Sinhalese army men were roaming around Tamil habitats in Sri Lanka and “thousands of people have been kept behind barbed wire fences.” He said the Indo-Sri Lankan accord was not being ratified and the 13th Amendment (devolution of powers to ethnic Tamils) was not being implemented.
Noting that DMK chief M. Karunanidhi had underlined the need for a referendum for a separate Tamil Eelam, Mr. Baalu said India should prevail upon the U.N. and other international fora to endorse such a state for ensuring peace and tranquility for Tamils. Mr. Baalu regretted that though the parliamentary delegation had returned from Sri Lanka, there had been no statement from the government.
It could be seen from these happenings that there is a systematic pattern in Karunanidhi’s revival of the DMK demand. Currently the DMK chief seems determined in his efforts to call for an establishment of Tamil Eelam through UN Offices and Indian cooperation. Once again a major Tamil Nadu political party and its experienced veteran leader have chosen to revive the call for Tamil Eelam.
The respected Indian English daily “The Hindu” that had published several of Karunanidhi’s utterances on Tamil Eelam had an editorial that was extremely critical of the DMK leader. The newspaper referred to in lighter vein as the “Maha Vishnu of Mount road” came out with the following hard-hitting observation – “Tamil ‘Eelam’ is for Tamil Nadu politicians what the full moon is for hungry wolves. All their howling is indicative, not of any yearning for a distant, dreamy Eelam, but of the baser urges of the politics of the here-and-now”.
“The Hindu” went on to say as follows –
“Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who heads the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a prominent constituent of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, gave a call last week for the creation of a separate nation for Tamils in Sri Lanka, on the lines of Montenegro, South Sudan, East Timor and Kosovo. Far from forcing the Sri Lankan government into reaching a settlement on devolution of powers to the minority Tamils, Mr. Karunanidhi appears to have further aided the politicisation of this sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu”.
“Political parties in the State have quite rightly looked up to the United Nations as the instrument to ensure the political and economic rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils. In no small measure, pressure from the parties in the State contributed to the shaping of India’s stand on the recent resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva”.
“But to suggest that the U.N. conduct a referendum for the division of Sri Lanka on ethnic lines can only have the effect of prompting the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to resist all international efforts to speed up the peace and reconciliation process. Unreasonable demands and suggestions articulated on their behalf will achieve little other than worsening an already bad situation for the Sri Lankan Tamils”.
“In any case, Kosovo or Montenegro, South Sudan or East Timor is not comparable to Sri Lanka. But then Mr. Karunanidhi was only looking for instances of new nations formed on the basis of referendums or external intervention, and not seeking to make a cogent case for the resolution of Tamil grievances in Sri Lanka. In 2000, the model of political division he cited was that of Czechoslovakia, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Mr. Karunanidhi’s words, this was “separation without bloodshed”, a peaceful resolution of a conflict in a country with sharp divisions”.
“ However, instead of making loud noise to no purpose in Tamil Nadu, the DMK leader would do well to raise the Sri Lankan Tamils issue with the Centre, quietly or otherwise, and help in the formulation of a foreign policy approach that can yield quick results for the long-suffering Tamils in the island while preserving the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. For good reasons, India has a firm position on seeking a solution within a united Sri Lanka. Political parties in Tamil Nadu should see the sense behind this”.
The Editorial in “The Hindu” encapsuled the opinion of most right-thinking persons in India about the Sri Lankan situation and Karunanidhi’s political stuntmanship. But it was not this enlightened constituency that the DMK chief was targeting. He had invoked “Tamil Eelam” to evoke support from a different constituency comprising Tamil nationalists and ultra-nationalists in the state and abroad. In the process he also provoked public opinion across the Palk straits.
Predictably, Karunanidhi’s Eelam demand angered many in Sri Lanka. Newspapers published editorials and columns condemning it. Indian newspapers carrying news reports about Karunanidhi’s views found their comments section flooded with critical posts from Sri Lankan readers. Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa went public asking Karunanidhi to get an “Eelam” for Tamils in India instead of Sri Lanka as the number of Tamils in the Sub-continent was much greater than in the Island.
The Defence secretary’s hard-hitting response summed up the feelings of many Sri Lankans who resented this unwarranted “interference” by the DMK leader. The long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was over and the estranged sections of the Tamil people were slowly re-integrating into mainstream Sri Lanka. Why was Karunanidhi suddenly raising this demand now?
There are no definite answers but a brief assessment of the political situation in Tamil Nadu along with an appraisal of DMK party politics may help to provide an understanding of what may be motivating the Dravidian patriarch. Despite the perceived unreasonableness of the demand there are certain reasons for its revival by “Kalainjer” at this juncture.
It must also be noted that unlike the empty rhetoric of political lightweights in Tamil Nadu the statements expressed by the veteran DMK leader carries much importance and weight. Moreover there is a slight chance of the course of Tamil Nadu politics being transformed as a result of this demand gaining momentum in the near future.
Karunanidhi who was named Dakshinamoorthy by his parents Muthuvel and Anjugam was born in 1924. Born in the village Thirukkuvalai in what is now known as the Thiruvaaroor district he will celebrate his 88th birthday on June 3rd. The DMK patriarch who changed his name to Karunanidhi in his teens is currently in the twilight of his long and eventful life.
The Dravidian movement seized power for the first time in Tamil Nadu in 1967 when DMK founder CN Annadurai became chief minister.Karunanidhi was public works minister. After Annadurai’s death in 1969 ,Karunanidhi became chief minister. In 1972 the actor –politico MG Ramachandran known as MGR split from the DMK and formed the All-India Anna –Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIADMK or ADMK).
MGR became chief minister in 1977. After he died in 1987 his wife Janaki was made chief minister. The AIADMK fragmented with MGR’s paramour and ex-heroine on screen, Jayalalithaa Jayaram leading a faction of the party. Later both factions united under Jayalalithaa as Janaki retired from politics. In 1991 Jayalalithaa became chief minister for the first time. Therafter the post has been held in turns by her and Karunanidhi.
What is important to note here is that the state of Tamil Nadu has been under Dravidian party rule in the form of DMK and AIADMK from 1967 onwards. The Congress that ruled for 20 years since Independence has not been able to recapture power for the past 45 years.
In a significant development the AIADMK and the DMK despite the secessionist roots of the Dravidian movement began to share power at the centre by being partners in coalition Governments led by the Congress as well as the BJP.
Karunanidhi enjoys the distinction of never suffering defeat at a Tamil Nadu legislative Assembly election . He was first elected in 1957. He became chief minister for the first time in 1969 and held office till 1971. He became CM the second time from 1971 -76. After a long lull of 13 years Karunanidhi became Chief minister for the third time in 1989 and held office till 1991. He was chief minister for the fourth and fifth time from 1996 -2001 and 2006 – 2011 respectively. Altogether he has been Chief minister for 19 years in Tamil Nadu.
Sadly for Karunanidhi the DMK was trounced at the last state elections in 2011 by his arch rival and political nemesis Jayalalithaa. The AIADMK won 150 seats in the assembly of 234 while the DMK got only 23. The party failed to get even leader of position status as the Desiya Mutpokku Dravida Kazhagham (DMDK) led by actor –politician Vijayakanth won 29 seats.
The DMK formed in 1949 has a vibrant,proud history but today it is in the doldrums. The taste of power at the Central and state level has led to immense corruption at multiple levels. Nepotism and family bandyism is obscenely rampant. The ideals and policies that inspired and sustained the Dravidian movement are now jaded and seemingly out dated. There is an increasing disconnect between the party and the electorate.
The octogenarian leader confined to a wheel chair is unable to relinquish party leadership and hand over the reins to younger and active successors even if he wants to because of an internal crisis within the family and by extension the party or vice versa.
Karunanidhi used to describe the DMK as a Family those days saying “Kazhagham oru Kudumbam”. Today his family dominates the party and through intra-family squabbling threatens to tear it apart.
Karunanidhi’s third son Stalin was for many years earmarked and nursed as the political heir apparent to the father. The second son Azhaghiri also in Politics was relegated to the periphery and placed in charge of the southern districts of the state. For many years this situation prevailed with Azhaghiri based in Madurai and Stalin in Chennai.
Azhaghiri called by his followers as “Anjanenjan”(with fearless heart) has begun rebelling against his second class status. He demanded and got the post of Southern zone administrator within the party structure. Stalin is treasurer and youth wing leader of the DMK. He also held ministerial posts when the DMK was in power. Azhaghiri on the other hand got himself elected to the Lok Sabha and is now a cabinet minister in the Congress led central Govt.
The rivalry between the siblings is intense despite being nurtured in the womb of Dayalu, the second wife of Karunanidhi. Both have their support bases and lead factions. Azhaghiri has been firmly opposing Stalin as the next leader of the DMK. If Karunanidhi quits and Stalin succeeds him , elder brother Azhaghiri is sure to challenge it and cause a party rift. So Karunanidhi clings on in a futile bid to avert the split. It seems a foregone conclusion that the party would fragment after Karunanidhi’s death.Until then “Appa” remains party leader.
Karunanidhi and DMK family troubles do not end there. Karunanidhi’s second daughter born to his third wife Rajathy is the poet-writer-feminine activist ,Kanimozhi. She is currently a Rajya Sabha member. She was allegedly involved in the 2G spectrum scam involving thousands of crore rupees. Kanimozhi was imprisoned at Thihar jail for many months and is now out on bail.Another former DMK minister Aandimuthu Rajah is also allegedly involved and is still in Jail. Karunanidhi’s grand nephew and former minister Dayanidhi Maran is also under investigation for alleged corruption and abuse of power in a different case.
Under these circumstances it is imperative for the DMK to remain within the Central Govt. If it leaves the Govt the DMK will lose the little protection it has against further investigation and possible conviction of party stalwarts. A whole heap of further charges against other DMK personalities may also be levelled.This may even include Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu in whose name majority shares were held in the family owned TV.
There was a time when the DMK accused the “Aryan” North of flourishing while the “Dravidian” south was decaying. The DMK also modified its separatist goal to full autonomy and devised the slogan “Maanilathil Suyaatchi, Mathiyile Kootaatchi” (Autonomous rule in state, joint rule at the Centre)Ironically when the DMK did achieve state rule and joint rule at the centre what emerged has been family bandyism and related corruption of a massive scale.
Thus the DMK is in an unenviable position now. Having lost power in the state it is forced to hang on to the “Saree potha” of Sonia Gandhi controlled Congress Govt because it is the only protection (however weak) it has. More importantly it is necessary for DMK not to vacate the corridors of power in New Delhi beause such a space if created could be occupied by Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK. If that happens the lady is very likely to bring about a flurry of cases against DMK personalities and virtually demolish the party in the long run.
The enmity between Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa is of a personal and political nature. There was a time in 1974 January when Karunanidhi wrapped a golden shawl around Jayalalithaa and praised her while the then glamour girl of Tamil movies bent low and deferentially touched his feet. Such an incident is unthinkable and impossible in the present situation.
The occasion then was the function celebrating Jayalalithaa’s 100th movie “Thirumangalyam”. MGR had broken away from the DMK and was highly critical of Karunanidhi. Jayalalithaa and MGR were having a tiff and actress Latha had replaced Jayalalithaa as leading lady in MGR films. So there was a convergence of interests between Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa in slighting and annoying MGR.
Although Jayalalithaa had acted in the most number of films with MGR (28) he was not even invited for the function. Chief Minister Karunanidhi was the chief guest. Karunanidhi was full of praise for Jayalalithaa. Recalling that his erstwhile leader and mentor, Annadurai had presided over at a similar function decades ago, Karunanidhi told his audience that Anna had then paid glowing tributes to another actress Bhanumathy.
Karunanidhi compared Jayalalithaa to Bhanumanthy as talented, versatile , accomplished actresses and stated that Annadurai had then described Bhanumathy as “Nadippitku Ilakkanam Vahuthavar”(one who had compiled the grammar of acting). Likewise he would describe Jayalalithaa as “Nadippukku Ilakkiyam vahuthavar”(one who had compiled the literature of acting). Jayalalithaa sat enraptured as Karunanidhy showered encomiums of praise.
The times changed and MGR replaced Karunanidhi as chief minister.Jayalalithaa retired from acting. MGR reconciled with his favourite “Ammu” (Jayalalithaa’s pet name). Jayalaithaa joined the AIADMK and was made Propaganda secretary and Rajya Sabha MP. Later she was elevated as Party administrative secretary. It became evident that Jayalalithaa was being groomed politically for higher posts.
Despite being politically experienced and articulate, Karunanidhi could not topple MGR from his dominant position as long as MGR was alive. After his death, Karunanidhy sought to re-establish himself as the undisputed Tamil Nadu leader. But there was a hitch. Jayalalithaa had daintily stepped into MGR’s shoes.The actress –politico was a formidable political rival.
Jayalalithaa minced no words in attacking Karunanidhi. Karunanidhi was referred to even by his critics as “Kalainjer” respectfully. None including MGR called him Karunanidhi in public. But Jayalalithaa was different. She shocked the state by calling the DMK leader as “Karunanidhi” instead of Kalainjer.
In 1989, Karunanidhi was chief minister and Jayalalithaa opposition leader.When Jayalalithaa questioned Karunanidhi over an issue at the legislature, the chief minister replied “Go and ask Shobhan Babu”. The reference was to Telugu actor Shobhan Babu with whom Jayalalithha had been romantically involved in the past.
An infuriated Jayalalithaa egged on her loyalist Sengottayan to punch Karunanidhi in the nose. In retaliation, some DMK legislators surrounded Jayalalithaa and a minister Thuraimurugan tugged at her saree. Jayalalithaa accused Thuraimurugan of trying to disrobe her as “Duchathana” had done to “Draupadi” in the “Mahabharatha” epic and boycotted legislative assembly proceedings thereafter.
Jayalalithaa had her revenge in 1991 when she triumphed with a gigantic majority . The DMK won only one seat out of 234. This was held by Karunanidhi who won the Chennai harbour electorate. Reluctant to face the hordes of the AIADMK led by Jayalalithaa alone, Karunanidhi resigned his seat. In the ensuing by –election Parithy Ilamvazhuthi won the seat on the DMK ticket.
These events of the past are related here to convey an idea of the deep seated enmity and rivalry between Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. Today Jayalalithaa hailed by her supporters as “Ithaya Theivam”(Goddess of the heart) and “Puratchi Thalaivi” (revolutionary leader) is Chief minister. The politically vanquished Karunanidhi is hoping for a comeback but age is not on his side.
The unkindest cut as far as Karunanidhi is concerned is the fact that Jayalalithaa has been able to woo and wean away the Tamil ultra – nationalist and nationalist constituency away from him. There was a time when the adherents and proponents of the Tamil Eelam demand looked up to Karunanidhi as their champion in India. That state of affairs exists no longer.
The DMK leader’s pathetic performance during the final phase of the war against the LTTE has disappointed this constituency and aroused much hatred against him. His refusal to exert pressure on New Delhi and save the LTTE from defeat is seen as a gross betrayal. He is openly flayed as a “thurogi” or traitor.
Jayalalithaa on the other hand has changed her stripes. The woman who cracked down ruthlessly on Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu after Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination is now going soft on them announcing many boons to the refugees there. The woman who was instrumental in getting the LTTE proscribed in India and got the Tamil Nadu legislature to pass a resolution demanding the arrest and extradition of Veluppillai Prabhakaran is now the darling of the LTTE and pro-LTTE elements in Tamil Nadu and abroad.
Jayalalithaa is even being called “Thamih Eezha Annai” or mother of Tamil Eelam by tigerish sycophants in the Diaspora. Karunanidhi on the other hand is blamed as being responsible for the deaths of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The reference “Kalainjer” (artiste) is being twisted with a change in one aplphabet to describe Karunanidhi as “Kolainjer” or murderer. This is unbearable for the man who was (and is) a devout Tamil Nationalist.
The Revival of the Tamil Eelam demand by Karunanidhi must be seen against this backdrop. It is a desperate cry of a Political leader in the twilight of life and career. The song of Tamil Eelam that is being warbled by Karunanidhi may very well be his political swansong.
NEXT: Autumn of the Dravidian Patriarch
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org