Lovingly dubbed kalaignar, the ex-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Dr. Karunanidhi has been without question, the most prominent person of Indian political history. He is seen as a patriarch of modern Tamil Nadu, who has fiercely defended his language by people of the last generation. Tamil people have always placed him as a stalwart of protests against Hindi and him being an atheist hasn’t helped the cause of mostly religious North Indian politicians. He is the torch-bearer of Anna’s and Periyar’s Dravidian ideologies of communism and atheist principles. For the previous generation, Kalaignar Karunanidhi is a defender of Tamil rights, but for the millennials, however, with internet and age of digital information, the image is slightly distorted.
To them, Karunanidhi is a man of corruption: the perpetrator of one of the biggest corruptive activities of modern India: 2G.
Although the verdict by the Supreme Court says otherwise, the image that was tarnished by opposition media has never really taken a back-seat. Most millennials blame Karunanidhi for not being able to understand Hindi themselves, or watch any movies of the North, or acquaint a posse that has claimed India’s mighty Himalayas. The sense of anti-Hindi is so strong and rooted in Tamil soil that for, at least next hundred years, nobody would oppose Karunanidhi’s Dravidian ideologies and win a single seat in any of the elections in Tamil Nadu (pray note that BJP consistently loses elections). Most millennials think that because of this, state welfare measures are being slightly partial to Tamil Nadu that come directly from the center. This is true: take for example, the recent Cauvery verdict by the Supreme Court and lack of consistent support from Shri Shri Narendra Modi Ji for Tamil cause. Karunanidhi, with a purpose, alienated Tamil Nadu from the rest of India.
Karunanidhi has also been in war with religion, particularly Hinduism, but he willfully sides with minority religions. He has constantly ran for elections joining hands with Muslim league parties. The modern generation, although indifferent to changes in theist fabric, has not turned a blind eye toward this hypocrisy. To the youth of Tamil Nadu, barring slight exceptions, religion is not a decisive factor at all, nor will it ever be, but with the Modi wave and saffron-bath that modern Rest-Of-India is going through these days, it is, unfortunately, seen as a disadvantage.
To me, however, it came as a big surprise that for a man who has been so against Hindi and anything related to the language, there has been a great number of Hindi-speaking officials that came to visit him as was ailing in the hospital. And then I remembered, Karunanidhi was against Hindi, not Hindi-speaking people: the underlying philosophy of atheism. From Rahul Gandhi to Amit Shah, people with immense responsibilities came running down to India’s forgotten south in search of a man; to them, what has been attractive is not what he was against, but what he was pro with: consistency in principles, a great vision, and above all, political diplomacy that stone by stone redefined the future of Tamils and Tamil Nadu once and for all.
Since Karunanidhi has been in the hospital, there has been a spike in interest toward him in social media and news channels. Amazon notes a 20% increase in sales related to Karunanidhi’s books and young people are getting drawn toward the ideas that once inspired him and the likes of him. Since his death, Twitter has been buzzing with posts related to him and his works. It is not without question that death of a stalwart that had an immense grasp on language will never eclipse what he left us behind with. This is evident in an eerie silence that has gripped Tamil Nadu: thousands of people camped outside of Karunanidhi’s hospital for over a week; 21 people have reportedly died over the news of his demise; theaters, wineshops, malls are all closed indefinitely; people march toward gas stations in fear that gas will run out; all forms public transportation are suspended–all in name of a titan that took his last breath a couple of hours ago.
Karunanidhi said this about his death a while ago: “death will engulf me at some point, but while I am alive, I will never let this society die by religious nationalism. Because I am borne out of Periyar’s ideas; because I defend Anna’s principles. While you fear for the death that occurs once, I have been murdered multiple times. Run and tell death: don’t fear Karunanidhi.”
Now that the last of the Titans has fallen, there is one thing that can be said for certain: leaders like Kalaignar are hard to come by.
Rest in peace, Thalaiva!