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Kalaignar: An Embodiment OF The Dravidian Movement And A Nation Builder

A multifaceted personality, he had an enviable reputation as a poet, a scriptwriter and an accomplished man of literature.

Shri M.Karunanidhi, reverentially known as Kalaignar, is no more. He was one of the tallest leaders produced by modern India. A part of the Dravidian movement for social justice and equality for the deprived and excluded, he shaped the destiny of Tamil Nadu and India through his manifold and lasting contributions. With his sad demise, an era has come to an end.

He was more than a leader of national importance who never lost an election and was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for five times. A multifaceted personality, he had an enviable reputation as a poet, a scriptwriter and an accomplished man of literature. To understand and assess Kalaignar is an attempt to assess the historic Dravidian movement and its leadership which is responsible for reclaiming human personality, empowering victims of caste discrimination and putting into practice the ideals of equality and equal opportunity. It also mandates rigorous research and study of that far-reaching movement,the enduring narrative of which is associated with progressive social and economic order woven around equality, dignity and social justice for the marginalised.

A towering leader,Kalaignar translated the ideals of the Dravidian movement into public policy and implemented them for the benefit of those who were deprived and exploited for centuries on account of a rigid caste hierarchy and debilitating patriarchal order. He took into account the enlightened interests of the people of Tamil Nadu and nationalised buses as Transport Minister in 1971. He was the chief architect of the Land Ceiling Act of 1972, referring to which the communist leaders of that time famously stated,“What we could not do by shedding blood,Kalaignar did by shedding only ink.”

It was Kalaignar, who, as the Chief Minister, came out with theinnovative scheme of giving priority in education and employment to the first graduate of each family. He had also ensured that Dalit Christian students get scholarships equivalent to the scholarships given to an SC student. His inclusive measuresallowed thousands to lead a dignified and prestigious life, which otherwise would have been a distant dream.

Kalaignar’s sensitivity towards women and children was central to the formulation and implementation of many policies. One such policy was adirection  that women teachers would be recruited for primary schools across Tamil Nadu. For improving nutritional standards of children in schools and mitigating hidden hunger, it was he who mandated the provision of five eggs a week in mid-day meals to school childrenThe history of women’s self-help groups, which are a fine example of the economic empowerment of rural women, can also be traced back to Kalaignar. In the same context, he implemented 33 per cent reservation for women in all jobs.

His lifelong commitment to ensuring social and economic justice for Dalits and OBCs in the state is well documented. A remarkable example of his direct efforts is of the panchayatelections inPappapatti, Keeripatti and Nattarmangalam. While the three panchayats were reserved for backward castes,Dalits were being denied the right to file nominations for elections.For years, the prevalent order dictated that even if Dalits were elected to head thePanchayats, they had toforgo office. When Kalaignar became the Chief Minister in 2006, one of the first decisions he took was to hold elections in the panchayats and put the state machinery behind empoweringDalits to file nominations and to enjoy all legitimate power and authority when they were elected. Heupheldtheir right to political empowerment, reaffirming constitutional and democratic values in the process.  His vision combined with positive action, flowed from the legacy of the Dravidian movement of which he was an integral part, and for which he continued to live and die for.

Today, when we are lamenting the commercialisation of education,it is instructive to note that it was Kalaignar who stood against MGR when the latter had opened up the education sector to private players. Kalaignar’s opposition reflected his values –privatisation would make education costly and inaccessible to the lower sections of society.

One occasion, I was invited by Shri Tiruchi Siva, MP, Rajya Sabha, to address a meeting in Chennai in presence of a galaxy of the top leaders inTamilNadu. Someone at that meeting had rightly said that the country should have been headed by a leader like Kalaignar. He was a statesman and his statesmanship manifested in full measure when he expressed his desire for the unification of the two Dravidian parties for the greater good of the people. It is indeed unfortunate that such an outstanding and socially sensitive leaderoften faced vilification campaigns from his opponents. Secular to the core, his life and work assumesignificance in the struggle to stem the tide of majoritarian tendencies and counter-revolution based on reactionary values.

Kalaignar’sstature,owing tohis many contributions to art, culture, governance and human development,makes Tamil Nadu and the whole nation is justly proudHis sad demise has created a void in the public life of the nation, a void that will be impossible to fill.The best way to pay tribute to Kalaignar is to perpetuate his legacy and translate his vision into reality. May his legacy endure and inspire the whole nation.

Shri Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K.R.Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in Prime Ministers Office from 2004 to 2009.