India-Tamil Nadu Power Structure

Political Expediencies within India-Tamil Nadu Power Structure

Karunanidhi and Rajiv Gandhi: Posthumous Reconciliation

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, December 2007 (ID. 2007-12-02)
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1. Far Back in the Memory Lane

2. Fast Forward to 2007

3. The Big Lesson

1. Far Back in the Memory Lane

Year 1953. Muthuvel Karunanidhi was one of the upper level leader in the almost four-year old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). DMK opposed the renaming of Kallakudi town as "Dalmiapuram" in honor of the north Indian industrialist Dalmia, whose company built a cement plant there. Why was DMK opposed to this renaming? "Dalmia is a north Indian. Renaming a town in Tamilnadu in honor of a north Indian is an insult to Tamils", so said DMK. There was nothing else against Mr. Dalmia except that he was a north Indian.

Karunanidhi headed the demonstration at the Dalmiapuram railway station on July 15, 1953. A train came and stopped at the station as usual. Demonstrators shouted slogans and, as the train was about to leave the station, Karunanidhi and four others laid on the rail track in front of the train. Police arrested them. More demonstrators lied on the rail track in front of the train. They were also arrested. At no time was there any danger of the train running over the demonstrators. Everyone knew that police would remove them from the track. But it was an effective and dramatic means of publicizing DMK's opposition to changing the name Kallakudi to Dalmiapuram. It was front page news all through Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi's fame shot up and his position within the DMK hierarchy rose.

Fourteen years later, in 1967, DMK swept to power in Tamil Nadu state in the wake of the 1965 anti-Hindi agitation. The new DMK state government changed the name Dalmiapuram back to Kallakudi. (A part of the town is still called Dalmiapuram.)

2. Fast Forward to 2007

On August 20, 2007, at a commemoration ceremony of the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's sixty third birthday, Tamilnadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi told the audience that his government would rename the Old Mahapalipuram Road (OMR) to Rajiv Gandhi Road (in Tamil, "Rajiv Gandhi Salai"). This is an important road that runs right through the information technology corridor adjacent to Chennai (Madras), with lot of traffic from local people and visiting business people, industrialists, engineers and scientists.

We cannot but recall the events of 1953 when we heard of Karunanidhi renaming an important road after Rajiv Gandhi. Karunanidhi's objection to renaming Kallakudi to Dalmiapuram in 1953 was that Mr. Dalmia was a north India; there was nothing he did against Tamil Nadu or Tamil people. What about Rajiv Gandhi? Like Dalmia, Rajiv Gandhi was also from north India. However, unlike Dalmia, Rajiv Gandhi's hands are stained. 

It was Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India in 1987, who sent Indian military into Tamil regions of Sri Lanka to disarm the Tamil militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for minority Tamil rights. It is well documented by impartial, international human rights organizations that the Indian military killed hundreds of Tamil male, female and young civilians (including execution style cold blooded murders) and raped Tamil women. When the Indian army returned back to India in 1990, Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He refused to attend the "welcome back ceremony" to the returning Indian soldiers although it was held in Chennai (where Karunanidhi lived and worked). He said that he would not attend the ceremony because of what the Indian military did in the Tamil regions of Sri Lanka.

Now, this same Karunanidhi is renaming an important road after the Rajiv Gandhi who sent the Indian military to Sri Lanka. Why would he do that? Answer: Political expediency.

When Karunanidhi refused to welcome back the Indian soldiers in 1990, some labeled him anti-Indian and called for his dismissal. Indian government had the power to dismiss any state government (even without a valid reason). The then Prime Minister V. P. Singh did not do so because he had a political alliance with Karunanidhi's Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Political patronage in high places in New Delhi probably saved Karunanidhi. Less than a year later, in 1991, the then Prime Minister Chandrasekhar in fact dismissed his government claiming that it was allowing LTTE facilities in Tamilnadu.

What Karunanidhi fears most is loss of political power, and he knows that state chief ministers, although elected by state people, hold power at the "mercy" of the Indian government. He never again criticized Indian policies in Sri Lanka lest he be called anti-Indian again and thrown out of office. He, a past critic of India's Sri Lankan policies, went to the extent of saying that Tamil Nadu state government's policies are identical to that of the Indian government.

In spite of Karunanidhi publicly accepting India's Sri Lankan policies, still northern Hindi politicians had not forgotten his refusal to welcome back Indian soldiers in 1990. Now and then it is mentioned in the Indian press. By renaming Old Mahapalipuram Road after Rajiv Gandhi who sent those soldiers to Sri Lanka and watched quietly even as some of them committed atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils, Karunanidhi is paying atonement for his 1990 action and sends a message to New Delhi. By this action he is also humoring Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who is now the most powerful politician in New Delhi (as the president of Congress Party). Karunanihi and other top Tamilnadu politicians know that it is not enough to be elected by the people of Tamil Nadu, they also need powerful friends in the northern Hindi belt to hold power in Tamil Nadu State.

So, why did a man who demonstrated against the renaming of Kallakudi after a northern industrialist Dalmia rename Old Mahapalipuram Road (OMR) after a northern Hindi politician? Political expediency and survival. Why did the man who refused to attend the ceremony welcoming Indian soldiers back from Sri Lanka honour the man who sent those soldiers to Sri Lanka? Political expediency and survival.

3. The Big Lesson

What is the "big lesson" for Tamil people from this episode? 

Indian political system is framed such that political power is tilted heavily in favour of the Indian (central) government. Hindi belt politicians dominate the Indian parliament because of their large numbers (although not a majority) and control the Indian government. These Hindi belt politicians could dismiss Tamil Nadu state government even if it came to power with an overwhelming majority of votes in Tamil Nadu. Even powerful Tamil politicians like Karunanidhi, who has Tamil in his heart, has to sell out Tamil interests if it conflicts with the interests and wishes of Hindi politicians in order to stay in power. As an astute politician, Karunanidhi knows this and had to grudgingly "sell out" on many fronts--Hindi imposition, economic discrimination and Sri Lankan Tamil issue--although there is Tamil at the depth of his heart.

Interests of Tamil Nadu and Tamil people cannot be protected under the Indian political structure and constitution. Hindi politicians would never allow a change to the current political structure because it benefits Hindi people enormously.


1. 1991: Rajiv-Karunanidhi Duel of Words (by A. Muthuraman), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2001.

2. More Archived Articles

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