The early years of the stalwart of Dravidian politics, Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, were emblematic of the idealistic, firebrand politician he would become.
Born on June 3, 1924 in Thirukkuvalai village in Nagapattinam district, Karunanidhi’s politics took shape in his teen years. He was inspired by the ideals espoused by the Justice Party and EVR Periyar and participated in several students’ movements, including the growing anti-Hindi agitation at that time. He founded student clubs and was part of the self-respect movement that worked to dismantle caste hierarchy. His experience as a member of the Isai Vellalar, a lower caste, influenced his views on the oppressive nature of the caste system and the need to end caste-based discrimination. At 15, he ran a handwritten fortnightly called Manava Nesan, which would go on to become Murasoli, the official mouth piece of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Fresh out of school, Karunanidhi — who had failed Class 10 — was sought after by the likes of Periyar and Annadurai for his oratorical skills. When the Dravida Kazhagam split, Karunanidhi joined the breakaway faction led by Annadurai, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in 1949.
Karunanidhi with parents Anjugam and Muthuvel
Karunanidhi straddled a burgeoning career in Tamil cinema as an acclaimed screenwriter while nursing larger political ambitions. The iconic film Parasakthi served as a platform for the budding politician to articulate his Dravidian ideology to the masses. Through his films, Karunanidhi popularised the themes of women’s empowerment, widow remarriage and abolition of untouchability. He helped bring messages of social reform and social justice to the fore throughout his writing.
MK with wife Dayalu Ammal
At 33, he became one of the 15 MLAs of the DMK to be elected during the state Assembly elections in 1957. He rose through the ranks to become a trusted aide of then-Chief Minister, the much beloved Annadurai. He became the DMK treasurer in 1961 and Deputy Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly in 1962.
Karunanidhi took up the mantle of consolidation of party cadres and the key task of fundraising, leaving the execution of schemes such as the midday meal scheme to the veteran CM. He earned goodwill across party ranks and cemented his reputation as a Dravidian leader of the masses.
In the years between the formation of the DMK and its first electoral victories in 1957, Karunanidhi used the medium of cinema and literature as a tool to propagate the Dravidian way of life among the people of the state. He worked to dismantle Brahminical hegemony and aimed to give voice to the oppressed and downtrodden.
During one of Karunanidhi’s birthday celebrations
When the DMK was able to pip the Congress to power in Tamil Nadu in 1967, Karunanidhi was made the Minister for Public Works in the Annadurai cabinet. After Annadurai’s unexpected death due to cancer, two years after assuming office, Karunanidhi rose to the rank of Chief Minister in 1969. He is said to have deftly overcome internal politics and bypass Navalar Nedunchezhian, then second-in-command, to assume the highest office in the state, with the help of then-friend and future political rival MG Ramachandran.
The first stint as Chief Minister came under the scanner from the Congress and Swarajya parties in the opposition but Karunanidhi handled all brickbats in his own style, cementing him as an icon of Dravidian politics.
Born to Muthuvel-Anjugam couple of Tirukuvalai in Nagapattinam. Karunanidhi had two sisters,
Periyanayagam and Shanmugasundarathammal.
The family got together during the wedding of MK Alagiri’s son Durai Dayanidhi
First wife – Late Padmavathi
son M K Muthu (wife Sivagamisundari) grandson Dr Arivunithi and granddaughter Thenmozhi
Second wife – Dayalu Ammal
1) Son MK Alagiri (wife Kanthi) -grand son Duraidayanithi and grand daughters Anjugam Selvi (settled in US) and Kayalvizhi
2) Son MK Stalin (wife Durgavathi) – grandson Udhayanidhi (wife Kiruthika) and granddaughter Senthamarai (husband Sabarishan)
3) Son MK Tamizharasu (wife Mohana) – Grandson Arulnithi and grand daughter Poonguzhali
4) Daughter Selvi (married to Murasoli Selvam – brother of Maran (senior) – sons of sister Shanmugasundarathammal)
Third wife - Rajathi Ammal
Daughter Kanimozhi (married to Aravindan) – Grandson Athithyan
Sister Late Periyanayagam Ammal
Son Amirtham (ran Kalaignar TV) and Son Sornam
Sister Late Shanmugasundarathammal
Son late ‘Murasoli’ Maran
(wife Mallika) is survived by sons Kalanidhi and Dayanidhi Maran and daughter Anbukarasi (settled in US).
Murasoli Selvam is the husband of Karunanidhi’s daughter Selvi. Settled in Bengaluru