An epoch was over last Tuesday with the passing away of the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. One was glued to the television set switching channels from 5 in the evening onwards and when channels announced the inevitable at 6.10 few old visuals flashed in the mind. Prominent among them was watching the Tamil film “Parasakti’ from the ‘box’ in my grandfather’s theater ‘Hindustan’. Those were days when very few Malayalam films were released and mostly Tamil films were screened. At least a dozen of us cousins would go by the time the ‘first show’ was almost nearing interval. We would sit through and watch the ‘second show’ too. Well past midnight we would be woken up to amble home led by our silver haired and stately grandfather. This was a daily routine for us, all through the summer holidays.
We did not know much of Tamil but picked up songs and even dialogues from films like ‘Parasakti’, ‘’Manohara”, ‘Mantri Kumari’ ‘Malaikkallan’ to name a few. If one’s memory serves right, ‘Parasakti’ came to our theater somewhere in the summer of 1954 and the character of Sivaji Ganesan as Gunasekharan was an instant hit with us. When he delivered an impassioned dialogue in the famous court scene we joined the ‘gentry’ sitting on the floor right in front of the screen in cheering Sivaji. We were admonished for such behavior!
It was when one was in the university in Thiruvanthapuram that, the Sivaji dialogue from ‘Parasakthi’ and many more we heard in the 1950s and sixties were penned by M. Karunanidhi. To know Karunanidhi’s contribution as a writer is to understand the origin and spread of the Dravidian movement itself spearheaded by its founder Periyar E.V.Ramaswmi Naicker. Periyar infused pride for the great Tamil literary heritage and dignity of the Tamil people by challenging social evils. The Tamil society dominated by upper castes, divided and ravaged by fierce inter caste rivalries was quick to respond to Periyar’s ideology and take on the existing social order. Karunanidhi was one of the most effective harbingers of the Dravidian movement. As a powerful and prolific writer, he also chose to write dialogues and scripts for Tamil films besides other literary forms..
He perfected the art of propagating Dravidian ideology by very subtly messaging it through his dialogues in films. He succeeded in propagating anti caste, anti upper caste, anti ritualism and anti- theism. His dialogues built up Sivaji Ganesan as a very popular actor and M G Ramachandran or MGR as a virtuous young man and youth icon who stood for the marginalized. Delivering Karunanidhi’s lines soon MGR was projected as a political leader and a worthy heir to the legacy of their mentor C N Annadurai who founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam [DMK] .It is another matter that later MGR and Karunanidhi parted ways and became bitter political rivals. MGR founded the breakaway All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1972 and promoted the political career of his long time co star J Jayalalithaa who also later became the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and a bit noir of Karunanidhi. The irony is that behind the humongous success as stars of both MGR and Jayalalithaa was Karunanidhi and his powerful dialogues!
As one followed the passing away and all round accolades to Karunanidhi, a sordid, vengeful and avoidable controversy was witnessed on all channels. Karunanidhi’s children had approached the state government to provide space near the resting place for their father next to that of his mentor C N Annadurai. Instead of granting the permission the EPS government threw the rule book and legal hurdles at them. This, one feels was the ‘unkindest cut of all’ and smacks of vendetta politics and pettiness if not churlishness shown to the bereaved family. It would have been magnanimous on the part of the state government to give permission instead of the unnecessary judicial process when the veteran Tamil leader’s body was lying in state. Of course the Madras High Court gave permission, even as leaders from across the political spectrum flew down to Chennai to pay homage to the departed leader.
Such an uncalled for spectacle, one feels was avoidable for the mark of a man who struggled from his teens for the Dravidian pride. As a sea of humanity waited to know the venue of his burial, it looked like a continuation of struggle even for his children for what they considered legitimate to give their father a decent burial and resting place besides his mentor in Marina beach. Kalaigner as he was affectionately referred to, Karunanidhi never had rest as the epitaph he himself penned years back. This was inscribed on the wooden casket in which he was buried- “One who worked hard without rest, rests here! The dramatic effect and poignancy of the Tamil words, one feels, is perhaps lost in translation.
What happened to the struggle for a final resting place for Karunanidhi raises questions about political magnanimity in today’s India. Mutual trolling, abuses, insults and ridiculing seem to be the toast of the times. The level of public discourse and unfortunately even parliamentary debates reflect negativity and partisan approach. There was a time when public discourse was subtle and edifying. My Guru and former boss Gururaj once recalled an interesting exchange between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajaji or C. Rajagopalachari after Rajaji parted ways with the Indian National Congress and floated his own Swatantra party. Nehru, an agnostic if not an atheist, remarked that ‘if there is God, he must be sleeping’! To this Rajaji reacted that, ‘Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’! Pat came a repartee from Nehru that he would go by the New Testament and that God has to be loved and not feared! How would today’s politicians react to two Brahmins quoting Jewish and Christian scriptures?
In December 2014 or ’15, one was asked by All India Radio to do a feature on former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on his birthday on Christmas day. One had collected recordings of his speeches for the programme and heard them very intensely. One of Vajpayee’s speeches in Hindi in the Parliament talks about the days when political decency was the hallmark. He said that his friends in the Congress may not believe this. There was a portrait of Nehru in the corridors of South Block which Vajpayee used to see occasionally. He recalled how he used to have a fair share of arguments with Nehru in the House. He was young and used to sit in the back. Sometimes to speak in the house he had to stage a walk out! But slowly and steadily he made a mark as a young parliamentarian. Later when he became Foreign Minister he found that suddenly Nehru’s portrait had disappeared. He asked where it was gone but nobody was prepared to give an answer. He got the portrait back on the wall. Vajpayee wondered where such sentiments have disappeared. Despite very serious political differences during parliamentary debates there were hardly any bitterness, ridicule or personal attacks.
The political ethos seems to have changed today. Days of leaders who believed in tolerance, mutual respect and appreciation have been forgotten. Vajpayee also spoke about how he had taunted Prime Minister Nehru in the Parliament. Vajpayee once told Nehru in the parliament that Nehru had a dual personality and was a combination of Churchill and Chamberlain. But Nehru never got angry. In the evening at a banquet Vajpayee met Nehru. ‘’Aap ne bade jordar Bhashan diye the”[you gave a very powerful speech] ; Nehru commented and just smiled and merged with the guests. Vajpayee pointed out that today, to criticize someone like that would mean inviting lifelong enmity of the person; people would stop talking to you…
Here is another one from Vajpayee. When Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister he chose Vajpayee to head the Indian delegation at the Geneva Human Rights Conference in Geneva; Pakistan had raised the Kashmir issue and It was for Vajpayee to oppose it. The Pakistanis were surprised and said that Indian democracy is strange [vichitra] and wondered how the leader of the opposition was representing India. Some Pakistanis even said that in their country the opposition would create obstacles even in international fora. There were comments in Indian political circles that Rao being a shrewd [ chatur] person wanted to make Vajpayee a sacrificial goat[Bali ka bakra], if India had failed to stall Pakistan in Geneva. Vajpayee added that he did not believe this theory.
Allegations and counter allegations; shouting and stopping others from speaking; abusing and mounting personal attacks have all become part of political discourse today. When senior leaders themselves indulge in such outbursts, will the rank and file be behind? If worst forms of their violent words and deeds are condoned or even justified by top leaders, their followers will continue to indulge in violence. Patronizing or promoting people who have been responsible for the worst forms of violence on the defenseless seem to have become the new normal. Aren’t bitterness and hatred towards political opponents becoming all pervasive phenomenon? There is a suspicion that violence, even murder of people opposed to certain political ideology is often ignored? Haven’t abusing or denigrating freedom fighters who occupied constitutional positions become a pastime?
‘’ P M Modi’s Remark about B K Hariprasad, expunged from Rajya Sabha records.”
[Headlines from India Today.in , New Delhi August 10, 2018]