Friday, August 10, 2018

Muthuvel Karunanidhi and his Politics of Hate Identity and Corruption

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Muthuvel Karunanidhi (1924-2018) was a politician par excellence. A gifted orator in what is called medai Tamil (Platform Tamil) he was elected to the State Assembly 13 times and has the record of not being defeated in a single election. He became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu after the death of C N Annadurai who led the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam to a resounding victory in 1967 after defeating the Congress. In fact even the stalwart Kamaraj faced the humiliation of defeat and Tamil Nadu has remained thankfully Congress Mukth since.  Karunanidhi out maneuvered the chosen successor of Annadurai, Nedunzhelian who was the Finance Minister and the de facto Number 2 in the Cabinet. Karunanidhi was the Public Works Department Minister and was in the fourth position. Deft political moves, timely alliances and a relentless drive for power made Karunanidhi successful in the race. Having acquired the post, Karunanidhi went on to be the Chief Minister for 3 full terms. He was also dismissed, once by Indira Gandhi and again once by the interim Prime Minister, Chandrasekar. Karunanidhi had two very important qualities which saw him through. First, he was not encumbered with moral scruples of any sort. Second, he was an indefatigable worker capable of long hours of arduous work and had a fantastic memory for texts, faces and names. It is said that he remembered the names of all the prominent leaders of the party from across the state.

Karunanidhi was the product of the Non Brahmin Movement which saw the coalition of all intermediate landed castes and kin groups and communities uniting against a minuscule minority, the brahmins. Accusing the brahmins of being Aryan, an absurd and  an absolutely disingenuous assertion, the Justice Party and later the Dravida Kagzhagam launched a vicious campaign of terror against the Brahmins. This was also the time when Fascism was ruling Europe and many of the techniques used by the anti brahmmin Movement were directly copied from the play book of the Nazis. Brahmin women were harassed on the roads when they went around their daily work. Brahmin priests who wore the tuft were forcibly deprived of their tufts and men who were suspected of wearing the janevu (sacred thread) were forcibly made to remove it. Such atrocities had a permanent impact on the brahmin psyche and I dare say it has not healed until this day. Upon, the death of Karunanidhi some commentators asked why there is no visible sense of loss felt among the brhmains. A simple answer to that question is that Israel will not mourn for Hitler. A racist attack against a small insignificant minority in the name of a glorious imagine civilization of the dravidian people was the hallmark of Karunanidhi and his mentor. After the DMK came to power discrimination against Brahmins became institutionalized and public employment became impossible and many families, including mine, just left Tamil Nadu. The Indian liberal who is quick to point out instances of discrimination, is silent when it comes to the systematic exclusion of brahmins from the public sphere in Tamil Nadu. It will be accurate to say that there has been no brahmin MP from Tamil Nadu for the past 50 years except Venkataraman. No brahmin Minister of Vice Chancellor for the past 60 years. Such systematic persecution is a crime against humanity.

Caste politics was buttressed by the meanest kind of rent seeking. Government contracts were given only to persons who would plough back the proceeds to the Party and the first family. Right from the start, the DMK has practiced corruption as an attribute of statecraft. The TNPSC became for all intents and purposes a collection house for the DMK. A fixed sum of money was collected from the aspirants for government posts. A Class I Officers post carried a premium of around 50 lakhs and a constable carried a price tag of around 3 to 5 lakhs. Medical Education and Technological became increasingly privatized. The anti NEET agitation is only a reflection of the staranglehold acquired by politicians on professional education.

Karunanidhi led a very colourful personal life and that does not concern me. As our Lord and Saviour has said: Judge Not, Lest ye be judged. However, the fact that his two sons are openly contesting each other for both the Party and the Moohla that goes with it shows that private decisions can have public consequences. The manner in which his third son, M K Stalin alias Ayyadurai choreographed the public spectacle of Karunanidhi's funeral by completely air brushing his elder brother Alagirio from all public appearances shows that funerals in Dravidianist Tamil Nadu are a political theatre. Stalin received the Prime Minister and was shown in public as the Chief Mourner, accompanying his fathers body to the burial site and this has consolidated the public sympathy in favour of Stalin. I do not know if Alagiri will be able to recover.

Corruption Crime and Communal incitement were not the only arrows in the quiver of Karunanidhi. He flirted with the LTTE and when he was in power in the early 1990s the LTTE had acquired a free run over Tamil Nadu. The Kodambakkam Massacre in Zakharia Garden is proof of the absolute breakdown of law and order in the tenure of Karunanidhi. The assasins were allowed free passage to Vedaranyam from where a waiting dingy took them to Sri Lanka. And to prevent him from talking, the DGP, Durai was silenced.

The end of Karunanidhi brings to a close a dangerous and socially repugnant chapter in the history of India. Identity politics in the name of Race, Language, Caste, Creed were all weapons used for political patronage and power. I do not think Alagiri or Stalin possess the same level of chutzpah.

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