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From Nehru to Sonia: Karunanidhi’s bittersweet relationship with Congress

The five-time chief minister M Karunanidhi would often proudly claim that he had even organised a black flag demonstration against Nehru.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2018 15:05 IST
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Former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi presenting a shawl to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at Neew Delhi in June 2006.(HT File Photo)

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) patriarch M Karunanidhi shared blow hot-blow cold relations with the Congress during his six-decade long political career.

When he took over as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time in 1969, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called him “confrontationist” and wondered if he will cooperate with the central government.

Eleven years later, Karunanidhi or Kalaignar (a scholar of arts) to his supporters supported Indira Gandhi in the 1980 general elections after opposing her bitterly during Emergency, which also brought him close to the Janata Party founded by Jayaprakash Narayan.

The animosity between the two sides peaked in January 1976 when Indira Gandhi citing corruption charges against Karunanidhi dismissed the DMK government.

Kalaignar would often cite his famous phrase of 1980 -- “Nehruvin Magale Varuga, nilayana aatchi tharuga (Welcome daughter of Pandit Nehru, give a stable regime)” -- to emphasise his party’s deep and strong ties with the grand old party.

On many occasions, Karunanidhi talked about the great regard the DMK had for India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and the cordial relations he shared with his daughter Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and their family members despite having political differences.

He showered praises on Rajiv Gandhi for his efforts to bring back democracy at the grassroots level by empowering local bodies.

Kalaignar kept personal relationships away from politics.

The five-time chief minister would often proudly claim that he had even organised a black flag demonstration against Nehru.

During his political career, Kalaignar had played a key role in stitching alliances in Tamil Nadu and also at the national level.

He was instrumental in the formation of the National Front, a rainbow coalition led by the Janata Dal, in 1989.

But the Karunanidhi government was dismissed again in January 1991 – this time by the Chandrasekhar government on the ground of breakdown of constitutional machinery and accusing the DMK leader of not doing enough to crack down on the Tamil Tigers in his state.

File photo of late DMK chief M Karunanidhi (R) with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in Chennai. (PTI)

The DMK was also a part of the United Front government from 1996 to 1998. The Jain commission report on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination had concluded that the DMK was giving “tacit support” to the LTTE whose militants had killed the former Prime Minister.

However, the IK Gujral-led United Front government fell in November 1997 after the Congress withdrew its support after its demand for removal of the DMK ministers was rejected.

This pushed Karunanidhi towards the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1999 and his party joined the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government till December 2003 when it quit the coalition over POTA.

After being political adversaries for nearly seven years, the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi got the DMK on board the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2004 by calling up Karunanidhi to oust the BJP-led NDA from power in the Lok Sabha elections that year.

The DMK remained an important constituent of the UPA till March 2013 when it quit the coalition over the Manmohan Singh government’s stand on the Sri Lanka human rights issue at the UNHRC session at Geneva.

After contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections separately, the two parties again came together for the 2016 assembly polls.

But the period between 2014 and 2016 saw bitter exchanges between the two parties with Karunanidhi calling Congress an “ungrateful” party for sending DMK leader A Raja and Kanimozhi to prison in the 2G spectrum scam.

But that did not prompt Kalaignar to go to the BJP fold again. In fact, he is said to have rejected repeated overtures from the BJP because he considered “the BJP of Atal Bihari Vajpayee different from the BJP of today”.

He would often describe Vajpayee as “a humane leader” and “a gem among the masses” but at the same time reaffirm his stand that the DMK’s ties with the BJP had ended once the former Prime Minister took a backseat in politics following his illness.

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 19:50 IST