“You are our leader, please do something,” Lalu Prasad had requested M Karunanidhi on his and SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav’s behalf some eight years ago. A rustic politician from the Hindi heartland making an SOS call to the one-time fiery anti-Hindi crusader from Tamil Nadu. It was a rare connection.
But that was Karunanidhi’s stature in national politics. And this was not the first time Lalu had sought his help. He had dialled him for help 20 years ago, when the United Front government was at the Centre, of which the DMK was a key component.
The DMK chief played a major role in formation of the United Front government and in defusing a crisis that befell one of its constituents. In 2010, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was keen to push the Women’s Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha. Lalu and Mulayam were opposed to it. They wanted quota for deprived and weaker sections within the 33 per cent quota for women in the Bill.
Lalu and Mulayam were backing the UPA government from outside and could not influence its decisions much. Finally, Lalu dialled Karunanidhi from Mulayam’s office in Parliament and told him “You are our leader, please do something”.
Twenty years ago, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury recalls, he and other leaders of the United Front coalition stayed up till the wee hours at Andhra Bhawan ironing out differences over ministry formation hours before I K Gujral was to take oath as PM, succeeding H D Deve Gowda. The meeting went on till 2 am and finally it was suggested that the previous cabinet take oath along with Gujral, who had left by then. Karunanidhi green-flagged the suggestion that resolved the issue.
But when the ruling Janata Dal split, with Lalu walking out and forming the RJD, Karunanidhi again played a role to prevent an immediate crisis in the Gujral government. The issue was whether Lalu’s ministers — Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Jai Narain Nishad and Kanti Singh — should remain in the government or not.
“Don’t resign,” Raghuvansh recalls Karunanidhi as having told him. Raghuvansh was keen to resign immediately, but Lalu was against it. He had to dial Karunanidhi to prevail upon Raghuvansh. They ultimately resigned but an immediate crisis was averted.
Be it Lalu, Mulayam or Ram Vilas Paswan, the leaders of the Hindi heartland who championed the cause of social justice always viewed Karunanidhi as an icon and guardian. Paswan said the DMK patriarch had a major role in implementing the Mandal Commission report.