14 May, 2021

Canoe In A Sea Of Opportunities

Illnesses may have turned him into a figurehead, but the nonagenarian M. Karunanidhi has made sure the DMK can’t be imagined without him

Canoe In A Sea Of Opportunities

Among the leaders of modern India, Dravida Munnetra Kaghazagam (DMK) patriarch M. Karunanidhi, who turns 94 on June 3, has an enviable record of 60 years of a legislative career and 20 more in public life. In the Tamil literary tradition, aram paaduthal is when an intended or unintended poetic prophesy comes true. Karunanidhi, a poet among other things, may have done just that, albeit in verse, when on May 10 last year he declared he would retire “only if nature does something to me”. Only months later, age-related illnesses would turn the nonagenarian leader—whose life until then had been characterised by prolific writing, speaking and intense political activity—into a figurehead of the party he has led since July 27, 1969.

Today Karunanidhi is emblematic of World War II-era US General Douglas MacArthur’s famous words: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Until nature overcame him, Karunanidhi was known for his phoenix-like ability to rise from his political ashes. In 1971, when he was at the zenith of his first...

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