Resistance to imposition of Hindi was an article of faith for Karunanidhi. The agitation against the Hindi was launched by the Dravidar Kazham even before independence and it was carried forward by its offshoot the DMK.
It was the student agitation against the imposition of Hindi by the Cente, plus mishandling of the rice scarcity by the Bhaktavatsalam Government, which catapulted the DMK to power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, barely 11 years after it entered the electoral politics.
The agitation had resonance among the students as the Centre tried to do away with English and make Hindi the sole language which would give an inherent language in competitive examinations to native speakers of that language over others.
It brought the DMK to power. It also led to then Lal Bahadur Shastri Government agreeing to abide by Nehru's assurance that English would continue as associate official language until the non-Hindi States were ready to accept Hindi.
As a result of the agitation, the UPSC and other competitive examinations are now being conducted in all the 14 national languages, thereby providing a level playing field.
It is one thing to resist imposition of Hindi on Tamils. Quite another to deny a chance to those who want to learn the language. The DMK and the AIADMK followed the two-language formula in schools, shutting out Hindi altogether.
When Rajiv Gandhi wanted to start navodaya schools, institutions of excellence, all over the country to bridge the rural-urban divide, the DMK and AIADMK Governments resisted it as a means to bring Hindi through the backdoor. In the end, students lost out.
Those migrating to other states, including Delhi and Mumbai in search jobs, now feel handicapped as they cannot understand Hindi, unlike those from other southern States and even West Bengal and north-eastern States who are equally proud of their mother tongue.
Karunanidhi tried in vain in to revive the spirit of 1965 in 1986. It flopped. The demand was that all the 14 languages listed in the Constitution should be given official language status. Not only was the demand rejected outright. It also led to disqualification of 11 DMK legislators by then Speaker P H Pandian on the ground that Karunanidhi and other participants in the agitation had violated their oath by burning copies of the Constitution.
Their explanation it was only a symbolic protest and they burnt only the language chapter of the Constitution found no takers. The then Chief Minister, M G Ramachandran, prosecuted Karunanidhi and others. A sessions court awarded one month imprisonment to Karunanidhi.The judgment was given on a Saturday and MGR got all of them released on Monday, using his executive powers.
Coming out of jail, Karunanidhi said:”Anything can happen in this Thuglak durbar. I do not know why was put in jail or why I have been released”.
There was a delicious irony in his opposition to Hindi. When his daughter Kanimozhi got married at a grand function in Arivalayam, the DMK headquarters, in 1990, the chief guest was Devi Lal, then Deputy Prime Minister in the V P Singh Government. He spoke in chaste Haryanvi Hindi to the bewilderment of those who had gathered there.
Karunanidhi's hatred of Hindi was as pronounced as his love for Tamil. He got the Centre to give classical language status to Tamil. he also erected a gigantic statue of Tamil savant Thiruvalluvar in the Kanyakumari, eclipsing the Vivekananda memorial .