Author: G Olivannan
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 6, 2017
It was sometime in March 1978 at Periyar Thidal. People were paying their last respects to Periyar’s wife EVR Maniyammai. I was seated next to my father in the third row.DMK chief and the then opposition leader M Karunanidhi was seated in the first row. Suddenly there was pin drop silence. The then chief minister MGR had arrived. After the CM placed a wreath on the body, Karunanidhi moved towards him. MGR placed his hand gently on the DMK leader’s shoulders and murmured something into his ears. “Look, he is talking to him,“I had screamed out at the sight. As a small boy, my understanding was that they were bitter enemies and fought fiercely and hence had shouted with astonishment.
That was the level of friendship the duo had at the personal level in spite of the acrimony exhibited in political life.Political decency , however, slowly diminished in the 90s and ever since, bitterness has been expressed openly between political parties. openly between political parties.
Post MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into two and there was an identity crisis for them in opposing the DMK.
Congress was keen to fill up that space. After the debacle in 1987 elections the groups merged under the leadership of J Jayalalitha and became vociferous against the DMK; the abhorrence between the two major parties just didn’t end at the political level, but extended to the personal level.
I am reminded of an incident that happened a few years ago at the wedding of a prominent person’s son. The groom’s elder brother was absent in the marriage hall, but was seen only at secluded areas, sporting a beard. The reason was that both the brothers belonged to different political parties and if by chance anyone had identified the presence of the elder brother, the younger would have lost the coveted position he enjoyed in the government.
There have been innumerable such incidents in TN in the last two decades. Many families have been broken due to animosity between the two Dravidian parties and marriages cancelled at the eleventh hour due to varying political affiliations.
This was not the tradition in TN. Periyar and Rajaji were arch rivals ideologically, but on a personal level, both maintained a cordial relationship. When Rajaji’s final rites were performed, Periyar, on his wheelchair, sat through the end, with teary eyes.
Post 1967 election results, when elated partymen told Anna that Kamraj had lost to a lesser known Srinivasan in Virudhunagar, Anna was upset and advised his party men, “If people are ready to defeat great personalities like Kamaraj, it wouldn’t take them long to unseat us.“ The moment he was sworn in as chief minister, Anna visited people who had campaigned against his party, including Periyar and Baktavatchalam.
The recent trends in Tamil Nadu politics, however, gives us hope for a revival of the lost glory, with A ADMK’s O Paneerselvam and op position leader M K Stalin leading the way .Stalin paid homage to former CM Jayalalitha while AIADMK men led by Thambidurai visited the ailing DMK chief at the hospital. Recently on their way to St.
George Fort, both Stalin and Paneerselvam slowed down their cars to let the other pass -a symbolic gesture for politics of accommodation.
As Booker T Washington, a spokesperson for blacks in Atlanta once said, while addressing whites, “we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress“, the AIADMK and the DMK should work together for TN’s progress.