Updated: March 24, 2021 2:28:46 pm
Responding to Opposition leader M K Stalin’s remark that Edappadi K Palaniswami became the Chief Minister by “crawling” in front of V K Sasikala, the CM Sunday shot back saying it was Stalin’s late father, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, who had grabbed the CM post after C N Annadurai’s death in 1969, by “deceiving” party leader V R Nedunchezhiyan, or “Navalar”.
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Who was Navalar?
Not a mass leader or organiser, Nedunchezhiyan was, however, much respected across the politics spectrum for his oratory and knowledge, so much so that he came to be seen as next only to Annadurai. During his term as CM, Annadurai often indicated Navalar would be his successor, saying famously “Thambi vaa, Thalaimai erka vaa (My younger brother, come and take the leadership)”.
While a minister who held crucial portfolios in the Annadurai government, Karunanidhi was at the time considered not among the top five-six leaders in the DMK. His rivals often pointed out that it was Navalar and not he in the famous photograph taken at Robinson Park in Royapuram in north Chennai when the DMK was founded in 1949.
The rise of Karunanidhi
Contrary to what EPS hinted at, the power transition in the DMK after Annadurai’s death was peaceful and organic. Karunanidhi emerged as the choice due to his image of a grassroot leader who could mobilise the masses, raise money for the party, especially courtesy his links with the film industry, and for his strategic skills. Politically, he was considered a safer pick than Navalar, with his elite and scholarly demeanour.
Also, even as Navalar had had only an average run as education minister under Annadurai, Karunanidhi was considered one of his best ministers.
Moreover, Karunanidhi had the backing of powerful second-level DMK leaders, including the popular heavyweight MGR.
A DMK veteran says it may be technically correct to say that Karunanidhi’s ascension was “not democratic”. However, he adds, “If Navalar was the leader after Annadurai, the DMK wouldn’t have survived this far.”
EPS vs Karunanidhi
EPS’s comparison was also misplaced as, unlike the power tussle after J Jayalalithaa’s death, no MLAs had to be kept in captivity for Karunanidhi to rustle up numbers — unlike the Koovathur episode in February 2017 where the V K Sasikala faction led by Palaniswami and T T V Dhinakaran cloistered AIADMK MLAs for days together, denying O Panneerselvam a chance to emerge as the CM.
After he became the CM in 1969, Navalar was inducted by Karunanidhi into his Cabinet.
The theory of Karunanidhi having “deceived” Navalar emerged only in 1972, around the time of MGR’s exit from the party to float the AIADMK, following differences with Karunanidhi. Amid charges that Karunanidhi had sidelined MGR, claims emerged that he had done the same to Navalar.
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