“Kalaignar was not just a fatherly figure to the cadre. He ensured that he showed that fatherly affection towards his cadre,” says Rajya Sabha MP TKS Elangovan.

Secret to his long life was his discipline DMK leader recounts Karunanidhis mentoring
news Karunanidhi Wednesday, August 08, 2018 - 17:46

DMK President and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi passed away in Chennai at the age of 94. Spending 80 years in public service, one of the last Dravidian leaders, his political career was unparalleled. The five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was a legislator for over 60 straight years and the President of the DMK for half a century. On the occasion of his 93rd birthday on June 3, 2017, Rajya Sabha MP and DMK leader TKS Elangovan recalled how the party patriarch had mentored him.   

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As narrated to Anna Isaac

My first memory of Kalaignar was when I was a young boy. My father, TK Srinivasan and Kalaignar were very close. They both chose to quit the Dravida Kazhagam in 1949 and join Annadurai and the DMK. As founding leaders of the DMK, both of them travelled to many places together and stood on the podium on several occasions as platform speakers. But it is 1963 that I vividly remember, the day my grandmother passed away. Kalaignar told my grieving family, “I will personally take care of everything for the funeral. She was like a mother to me. Except for the last rites, I will take care of all the expenses.”

I did not join politics until my father passed away in 1989. Kalaignar gave me a big boost, ensuring I become organisation secretary of the DMK. It was he who mentored me, taught me how to speak, how to treat both leaders of the Opposition and cadre. He told me that we must deal with people and issues differently. “People are not the enemy, issues are the real enemy,” Kalaignar often reminded me. That has been something that has stayed with me all these years.

TK Srinivasan with Karunanidhi

At 94, Kalaignar was not just a fatherly figure to the cadre. He ensured that he showed that fatherly affection towards his cadre.  After a meeting, the DMK chief would often ask party men, “How are you getting back? Don’t travel at night, travel during the day.” He would even follow up and ask if a certain cadre has reached home, and would insist I call and ask if they have reached home safe.

A multifaceted personality, Kalaignar’s entire career is a subject for study. His feat of being a legislator for 60 years consecutively is an achievement that is one of its kind in the world. Having never tasted defeat, Kalaignar has contested and won his MLA seat 13 times.

There are many in the party who have postgraduate degrees, but they are no match to Kalaignar. Despite not completing school, he outperformed everyone. A voracious reader, he consumed literature and classics. None can match his ability to pun on words.

I still remember this incident from the 1980s, when he was invited to speak at Pachaiyappa’s College in Chennai. The AIADMK, under MGR, was in alliance with the Congress. But the college made it clear that he should not speak about politics. So, Kalaignar delivered his non-political speech to the students and then concluded with this punch line, “Saaptu mudichutu, elaya thooki potu, kayya kazhuvu (After you eat, throw the leaf and wash your hands – AIADMK’s symbol is ‘two leaves’, and Congress’ is the hand).”

TKS Elangovan with Karunanaidhi

The dig at the AIADMK-Congress combine was unmistakable.

Always systematic and punctual, Kalaignar began his day at 5.30 am, reading the newspapers. By 6 am, he would begin his round of calls. When he was the CM, he would call up ministers and ask them why a particular news article on their department appeared in the paper. When he was in Opposition, the calls continued.

He would call people like me and want to know why there was a problem with a certain district secretary. He would then call that individual and settle the matter immediately. For Kalaignar, it has always been about the party and its people.

While he was fascinated by Annadurai and used his words, he was a very good friend of MGR, who also had great regard for Kalaignar. He wept when MGR died, and even unknown to many, went and paid respects at the former CM’s Ramavaram residence when he passed away.

If you ask me today what the secret to his long life was, it was his discipline. He used to go for his morning walks, and even practiced yoga. While he did smoke when he was young, he gave it up later on. Kalaignar always ate what the doctors told him to and has controlled food habits that include a diet of his favourite fish.    

TKS Elangovan is DMK’s Rajya Sabha MP and the party’s organisation secretary.

This piece was first published on Karunanidhi’s 93rd birthday in 2017.

Read: The aura of Kalaignar: A journo who grew up near the Karunanidhi residence recalls

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