Who was Muthuvel Karunanidhi?

• Born on June 3, 1924 near Chennai, Muthuvel Karunanidhi was an Indian writer and politician who served as chief minister of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu for five terms and 20 years between 1969 and 2011.

• A long-standing leader of the Dravidian movement and 10-time president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party that he founded in 1949, Karunanidhi also made immense contributions to Tamil literature, having written stories, plays, novels and a multiple-volume memoir.

• Like his mentor and Tamil Annadurai, Karunanidhi used his writing skills to further the ideology of the Dravidian movement through Tamil cinema. Before entering politics he worked in the Tamil film industry as a screenwriter, and was popularly referred to as Kalaignar or the artist.

• Known for his political astuteness and manoeuvring abilities, Karunanidhi became chief minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time on February 10, 1967. In his 60-year political career, he never lost an election.

• The DMK party was founded on the basis of opposition to the centralising nationalist politics of the Congress party dominant at that time — typified by the imposition of Hindi as a unifying language and north Indian politics as the political strand. But as a pragmatic politician, Karunanidhi later formed alliances with Congress factions of Indira Gandhi in 1971 and 1980.

• Karunanidhi brought a law in Tamil Nadu giving women the right to claim equal share in their ancestral property as men, even before India passed a similar federal law.

• A lifelong atheist, Karunanidhi never invoked religion in politics. A strong defender of equality, Karunanidhi banned the hand-pulled rickshaw and provided alternative income to the people involved.

• He strongly opposed the imposition of national emergency by then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975. As a fallout, his state government was dismissed on charges of corruption in 1976.

• In 2006, Karunanidhi pioneered the Tamil Nadu formula of winning elections — free distribution of colour TV sets to every household and selling rice for Rs1 (5 fils) per kg.

• He founded Murosoli at the age of 14, which grew into DMK’s official newspaper. His family also owns Sun TV group, one of Tamil Nadu’s biggest media companies.


The Self-Respect Movement or Dravidian Movement in southern India was founded in 1925 by EV Ramaswamy. The idea of Dravidian nationalism first germinated in what was then Madras Presidency between 1930s and 1950s by a series of small movements and organisations that contended that the south Indians (Dravidians) formed a racial and a cultural entity that was different from north Indians. This particular movement claimed that the Brahmins or the highest caste among Hindus, were originally from north India who imposed their language (Sanskrit) and heritage on the south. The majority of political parties in Tamil Nadu, such as Karunanidhi’s DMK and his now deceased rival J Jayalalitha’s AIADMK, owe their origins to the Self-Respect Movement.


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