Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Ode To Karunanidhi

As Tamil Nadu rejoices (including me) at the fall of the DMK government (quite possibly the most corrupt ever in TN's history) and as Muthuvel Karunanidhi prepares to warm the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister's seat one final time, it is time to pay our respects to arguably one of the greatest political brains of India in the 20th Century. Oh yes, MuKa is definitely not bidding adieu to politics any time soon, nor am I predicting that he will kick the bucket in the next year or so, but it's evident that he has (dis?)graced the CM's chair one final time.
2 things I will *not* be doing in this piece -

  1. Recapping his political history inch by inch.
  2. Bashing him (as the title very well indicates).

Good friend Nikunj Mehta nicely summed up MuKa in this tweet of his.
MuKa, at different points of time during his political career, has been one or more of the following -

  1. Leader of men.
  2. Social reformer.
  3. Efficient administrator.
  4. Literary genius (though this has definitely helped him in his political career, I wouldn't count this too much in the big picture).
Yes, we have had a few on whom the above characteristics would sit nicely, but what made MuKa Muka was one definitive attribute - he was a political strategist extraordinaire.
I will not indulge in (any more? :P) hyperbole here and elevate him to the levels of Chanakya or Machiavelli, but if you do a case study on Indian politicians of this past century whose political strategies belonged to the Chanakya/Machiavelli School to a large extent, MuKa will be right up there (just below Sonia Gandhi, maybe ;-). That he chose Machiavelli over Chanakya is the tragedy that I will remember as MuKa's legacy. (Obviously my memory is not the only legacy that he leaves behind, still, I would like to think a fair few would share my thoughts on this).

Ok I may be a Brahmin and all that, and I will also *not* forget the thousands of economically-lower-class citizens who have benefitted from his pro-poor policies, but you know, when you have a man of such stature, your standards are that much higher. Even for a Machiavelli, your damage should be wide-reaching and long-lasting.

When it comes to people, MuKa seems to have started on a great note (thanks to Anna) with Dravidianism as the plank. Then, somewhere in the middle of the journey, the glint of metal and the smell of currency seem to have realigned the focus of his eye to ensure that all his political strategies ended up being ways to garner wealth and spread influence.

So his Dravidian movement predominantly became an anti-Brahmin tirade without actually causing any significant dent to casteism in Tamil Nadu. With the net result that the only far-reaching and long-lasting effect of his warped brand of Dravidian politics happened to be removing Brahmins from a lot of top positions in the political/educational hierarchy and giving rise to a new generation of self-hating Brahmins. Yes, a significant number of non-FC folks have benefitted immensely from educational reservation, but I doubt if Anna would be happy at where we are today, specifically wrt "social upliftment of the downtrodden" and "getting rid of the evil caste system".

And then family families happened, and that's when all semblance of governance, people, social concern, etc. became ways solely to remain in power so he/his family could benefit. We all know what followed - from the Sarkaria Commission to Raja kaiya vecha.

Still, if you will see, in spite of his shift in focus, Tamil Nadu has moved forward. Significant development has happened to the state during his tenures (to rival Jayalalitha's). Of course, it is another fact that at the end of his tenure, he hands over mostly-empty coffers to the poor lady who has to take some strict measures to bring the state's finances back in order, ending up earning the wrath of the people.

And that's what really saddens me - how much *more* Tamil Nadu could've moved forward if he had been more committed to the state's cause and been only marginally less corrupt.

Not to speak of how much forethought he had in ensuring that his (extended) family ventured into all fields of money making - Cinema, Politics, Land, Television, etc. Truly astute.

Then there's his unique brand of acerbic public remarks, something that used to shock me till very recently - be it his questioning of Lord Rama's engineering qualifications or his abuse of Tamil people as "Sotral aditha pindangal" or his tried-and-tested Aryan Conspiracy Theories, he had sufficiently gauged the pulse of the people to know what would effect them and what would remain in memory. Quite amazing, really.

Sadly, it all had to end this way. Yeah, the technical possibility that he might still come back to power at 92 years of age exists, but hey, who are you kidding? A man who fought his way up from the lower rungs of society to such a position of power and a man who was not overwhelmed by power, ended up misusing it, all for money.

And that is how M Karunanidhi will be remembered.
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