In his eight-decade-long career, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Muthuvel Karunanidhi, who passed away on Tuesday, never tasted defeat, winning every time he contested.
Under his leadership, the party suffered a number of defeats, including remaining out of power for 12 successive years when his arch rival MGR was the Chief Minister. But on the 13 occasions he has contested as an MLA, that is, from his electoral debut in 1957 up until 2016, Karunanidhi was given the vote of confidence by the people.
Karunanidhi catapulted to fame following the 1937 anti-Hindi agitations. He was first elected to the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 1957 from the Kulithalai seat of Tiruchirapalli district and was among the 15 DMK legislators elected. In 1961, he was appointed the Treasurer of the DMK. He got a cabinet berth in 1967 when he was made the Minister for Public Works and Highways.
Despite the multiple electoral wins, the only time Karunanidhi did not contest was in the 1984 Assembly elections. Having been elected as a member of the legislative council in April 1984, he chose to give the polls a miss. Karunanidhi and K Anbazhagan had resigned from their MLA posts a year before to express solidarity with Sri Lankan Tamils, following the riots in the island-nation.
In hindsight, sitting out the 1984 Assembly Elections may have also been a tactical move on Karunanidhiâ€™s part. The elections saw AIADMKâ€™s MGR re-elected as Chief Minister despite convalescing from a kidney transplant at a New York hospital throughout the partyâ€™s poll campaign. It also saw AIADMKâ€™s poll partner, Congress, win a significant sympathy wave following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In sitting out, Karunanidhi escaped the embarrassment of having to lose an Assembly election, since MGRâ€™s victory was a foregone conclusion.
This is an updated version. It was first published in 2016 as part of TNM's series 'Dravidian Chronicles'.