About The Book
Wearing his characterstic dark glassed and draped in a yellow shawl. M. Karunanidhi has been a pillar of Tamil Politics for over six decades He has been the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam since 1969 and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu five times. With the death of J. Jaylalitha in 2016, he is undoubtedly the tallest leader in the state, even though his party is not in power and he is in poor health at the age of ninety –four.
Karunanidhi: A Life in Politics looks at the pioneering social justice and welfare schemes that the leader is identified with, as also the work he did to champion the causes of Dravidian identify and Tamil culture. It document the DMK's fraught ties with a string of central governments. At the same time, it also analyses the controversies he has been embroiled in, including his party's alleged support for the LTTE, which assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and the involment of DMK leader in the 2G spectrum scandal.
It depicts in dramatic detail his relationships with the who's who of Tamil politics from megastar and friend –turned –foe M.G Ramachandran to Jayalalitha and her infamous vengeful raid of June 2001, when lightweights have assumed power and demigods like Rajnikanth and Kamal Haasan are waiting in the wings.
The is a timely account – the first in English –of the trailblazing life of one of India's most important politicians.
Sandhya Ravishankar is a journalists based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. She has been working since 2005 across media and states. In 2014, she decided to go solo and began to freelance. Her investigate stories and political analyses have appeared in a variety of national and international publications. She covers politics, social inequality, human rights, development and policy.
She has a number of ground breaking stories to her credit, including her extensive expose of illegal beach sand mining in Tamil Nadu as well as that of the flawed arithmetic in J.Jayalalithaa's acquittal in the Karnataka High Court in a corruption case.
Sandhyaya has worked as a news reporter and producer for ten years with national television news platform such as CNN News 18, Times Now, CNBC –TV 18 and others.
As a freelancer, she has written for the Guardian, Al Jazeera Online as well as The Wire, Firepost, Economic Times, Hindustan Times and others.
Biography exists in different epistemogical spaces. From being regarded by historious as something of a stepchild and the stuff of academic whimsy, the relevance of biographical writing to an analytic understanding of our past is much better accepted today. As a form of writing, biographies are not always contained by explainations of their subject's actions in the context of the prevailing social or political environment. Insofar as they explain the motives of peoples in an individualistic manner, biography are, particularly when written well, a form of creative non –fiction. They allow for the freedom, to the select the stories the biographer wants to relate or highlight and provide the licence for the biographer to set the tone, the pace and the pitch in the telling.
Inevitably perhaps, Sandhya Ravishankar's biography inhabites all the three spaces. Her Book, which follows an unusual structure, is cleaved in two halves. The first is a largely linear account of Karunanidhi's life, beginning with his birth, tracking his political rise, and his years as Tamil Nadu's chief minister. The second half has a thematic quality, dwelling on topics such as Karunanidhi's complex relationship with his supporter –turned –political rival.
MGR –subjects that author has apparently chosen because of the interest they hold and the light they throw on Tamil Nadu's politics.
The other distinguishing feature in the structure of the book is framed around a series of incidents or events, some disparate, many interconnected. Interspersed with quotes, this is very much a journalist's work –one in which it is possible to read sections of and event –filled life. It is a reminder that while human lives are a linear continuum, the stories distilled from them are the ones we belive make up their very essence.
Think Tamil Nadu, and images of beautiful ancient temples, the third longest coastline in Indian and Bharatnatyam dancers come to mind. Tamil Nadu is also the rice bowl of India, its Cauvery delta region plush with the rich green paddy fields.
Tamil Nadu is the eleventh largest state in India. It has the second largest gross state domestic product (GSDP) in India, after Maharastra, contributing $ 210 billion to India's $ 2.6 trillion economy.1 With a projected growth rate of 7.94 per cent in 2017, it is one of the Tamil Nadu is urbanized. The abject poverty seen in states such as Jharkhand and Chhatishgarh has long been eradicated from the southern state. With a per capita income of Rs 1,28,3662 as opposed to the country's average of Rs 86,879 in 2014 -15,3 Tamil Nadu has raced ahead of most states in terms of well –being and welfare of its 72.1 million population as per the 2011 census. And this phenomenal success story features M. Karunanidhi in large part.
Ask just about anyone in Tamil Nadu and they will have a little story to tell about 'Kalaignar'. Autorickshaw drivers, agricultural labourers, small shopkeepers, lawyers or any of the 10 millions cadre of the DMK, the oldest Dravidian party in the state – all have an aneadote about the old man that they have heard or personally experienced. Generations of babies have been named by him. Karunanidhi's influence, though, is not limited to the prosperous and large state of Tamil Nadu. Five-time chief minister of the state – first in 1969 and even as recently as 2006 -11 –Karunanidhi has also called the shots at the Center as a crucially, both of the Congress and the BJP at different times. He has also been at the forefront of important social justice movements, Tamil. In these multiple hats that he donned lie Karunanidhi's genius and cunning.
A Movement For Social Justice
In 1916, as the struggle the British occupation of India was gaining ground all over the country, the seeds for a social revolution were sown in the south. In November that historic year, Sir P. Thyagarayar, Dr T.M. Nayar, Panagal Arasarand Dr Natesa Mudaliyar formed the South Indian Welfare Right Association in what was then Madras.
The association was meant to be a pressure lobby to demand rights for south Indians of the Madras Province, a combination of the southern states which would be divided only after Independence. Magazines were launched by the Association in an effort to spread awareness among the masses. In English, Dr Nayar edited a magazines called Justice. Bhaktavatchalam Pillai edited a Tamil magazine called Dravidan. And A.C. Parthasarathy Naidu was the editor of the Telugu counterpart Andhra Prakashmi.
The South Indian Welfare Rights Association would slowly become the Justice Party and enter electrical politics.
In November 1920, the Montagu –Chelmsford Reforms came into effect, allowing the introduction of self –govering institutions by the British in India. Self –rule or swaraj was gradually ushered in. The justice Party leapt at the opportunity and decided to contest elections. Its main opposition was the Indian National Congress led by Annie Besant. Lord Willington, then Viceroy of India, invited Sir P. Thyagarayar to form the provincial government. He declined. The first ministry of the Madras Province Araser as the Second Minister and K.V. Reddiar as the Third Minister. The Congress's C. Rajagopalachari would be the Leader of the Assembly.
The concept of Dravida identity began to gain prominence with the rise of the Justice Party: the awareness that the southern part of the country had its roots in Dravidian nativity, as opposed to the Aryans of the north, and every aspects of life in the north, and every aspect of life in the south –from food to languages to culture –was that of the Dravidian Tribes, the original inhabitants of the south. E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, a wealthy land –owning farmer in Erode, jumped into this ideological fray for social justice to the Dravidians, with his Self –Respect Movement Launched in 1926. Naicker's was a battle against the evils of the deep –rooted caste system in his land, where a minority of Brahmins held power and suppressed the masses on the basis of caste. He would drop his last name –Naicker, a caste identity –and urge everyone to do the same. Periyar (the Elder), as E.V. Ramasamy eventually came to be called, propagated atheism, arguing that the Hindu religion was at the root of the caste system and its discriminatory ways. He called for scientific temperament among his people and equal rights for women. His clarion call was for 'suryamariyadhai' (self –respect) and 'samadharmam' (social justice).
Periyar's movement captured the imagination of young passionate students like C.N. Annadural and later Karunanidhi. Periyar, who despised electoral politics, was eventually overridden by the emerging leaders of the Dravidian movement. From periyar's Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) was born the Dravida Munnestra Kazhagam (DMK), the political party which would sweep, twist and turn Tamil politics on its head forever. And Karunanidhi would shine –in terms of his political acumen, cunning and passion, going on to virtually take over the party and establish it firmly as a political giant to be reckoned with in India.
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