Revolutionary Jayaprakash Narayan (aka JP) wanted Kamaraj and Karunanidhi to bury their differences and unite to defeat the Emergency.

When Karunanidhi refused to fall in line with Indira GandhiAnna Arivalaiyam Library
news Karunanidhi Wednesday, August 08, 2018 - 13:26
Written by  MG Devasahayam

Many facets of Kalaignar Karunanidhi, who is among the senior-most political leaders in the country today, have been spoken and written about. But one important aspect - his passion for freedom and democracy and the willingness to sacrifice for defending and protecting these precious gifts - has not received adequate attention.

Most of today’s generation does not know or remember the dark days of Emergency in the mid-seventies that extinguished freedom and democracy in this country. Due to the daring and defiance of freedom-loving people and leaders of calibre, Emergency was defeated and democracy restored within a short time. Kalaignar Karunanidhi was among these leaders who sacrificed his Chief Ministership in this noble effort.

During 19 months of active Emergency imposed on the night of 25/26 June 1975, liberty and fundamental rights stood suspended. Press freedom was severely curtailed. People moved in hushed silence, stunned and traumatised by the draconian goings-on. A bulk of the civil service crawled when asked to bend. The higher echelons of judiciary bowed to the dust and decreed that under the Emergency regime, citizens did not even have the ‘Right to Life’. Politicians of all hue and colour, barring honourable exceptions, lay supine and prostrate.

There was gloom all around and it looked as if everything was over and the world’s largest democracy was slowly but surely drifting into a dictatorship. But through this all, one single soul, one lonely spirit continued to stir in anguish and agony. Yet, this defiant, indomitable spirit in the person of Lok Naik Jayaprakash Narayan dared the might of Emergency dictatorship and defeated it, thereby restoring India back to freedom and democracy. This he did despite being in the frailest of health and living on borrowed time. And I have been witness to this.

Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, was among the greatest revolutionaries of modern times. He was the ‘firebrand’ of India’s freedom struggle and inflamed the ‘Quit India Movement’ launched by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8, 1942, by his daring escapade from the high-security Hazaribagh Jail that was followed by a massive manhunt launched by the British regime to capture him ‘dead or alive’. This eventually paved the way for the collapse of the colonial empire and India achieving Independence.

It was this man who led the movement against Emergency in defence of freedom and in the vanguard of this was Kalaignar Karunanidhi, who was then the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. As a result, the relationship between the Centre and State governments strained and subsequently, DMK government was dismissed. DMK frontline leaders, district secretaries, former MLAs and MPs were detained under MISA in various prisons. The detainees were ill-treated and tortured.

Dr Karunanidhi’s son Mr M K Stalin still bears the brutal marks of Emergency torture. His nephew Murasoli Maran’s health was shattered. Prominent party functionaries like C Chittibabu MP and Sattur Balakrishnan even lost their lives. This was a very heavy price to pay. But, Mr Karunanidhi did not care. His writing skills and speeches that kept party members alive to the situation made the party survive and live to fight another day.

During the Emergency, when JP was imprisoned at Chandigarh, I was the District Magistrate cum IG Prisons of the Union Territory and was as such JP’s custodian. During this time, I did come to know him very closely. And having understood the nobility of his struggles and the intensity of his commitment, I partook in all matters concerning him and the State, shared his intimate thoughts and feelings, discussed political events and happenings and played the ‘Devil’s Advocate’. Some of these discussions concerned DMK and its leader Kalaignar Karunanidhi.

The first conversation about Tamil Nadu was in the third week of July 1975 when I told JP that government of Tamil Nadu under Chief Minister Karunanidhi was not implementing most Emergency laws and directions, particularly the censoring of the press, which had been taken over by the Centre. He was happy to hear that.

After declaring Emergency, the Constitution of India was amended by a pliable Parliament by a vote of 164-0 to make the proclamation of Emergency non-justiciable and 18 State Assemblies ratified the same. This news extremely distressed JP and he was greatly demoralised. But, when I told him that Tamil Nadu and Gujarat assemblies have refused to ratify the amendment, he was thrilled and said: “I am happy. Very happy. The DMK is standing up to it. As soon as I am released, I will ask Kamaraj to talk to Mr Karunanidhi and patch up with DMK because that was the only way to combat authoritarianism and defeat Emergency”.

I was touched by one event of that time. In August 1975, Mr Karunanidhi was the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, enjoying all powers and authority. JP was a prisoner of the Emergency regime detained under MISA and the ‘Enemy No: 1 of the Central Government’. Yet, despite all the risks, Dr Karunanidhi sent a special invitation to JP for the wedding of his son, Mr M K Stalin. The invitation letter was received on August 20, the day of the wedding. When I gave the letter personally to JP that very day, he was deeply moved and responded with very warm greetings.

Much more on JP’s thoughts about Karunanidhi emerged in the wake of Kamaraj’s death on 2 October, the day of Gandhi Jayanti. When I went to JP the next morning, he was sad and with a deep sigh, lamented that we have lost Kamaraj at this critical juncture exclaiming: ‘Faith seems to be harsh on India’. JP said Kamaraj was a good man, simple and sincere.

Next day, JP went on to record his thoughts on Kamaraj in his diary, which was a candid analysis of Tamil Nadu politics and his estimation of Kalaignar Karunanidhi. This deserves to be reproduced in full:

“Kamaraj died yesterday in Madras of a massive heart attack. A great and even heroic figure of Indian politics is no more. His life’s work was not complete yet. The last time he met me in Delhi, he said something like this: ‘What you are doing is the only hope for the country’. But when I toured Tamil Nadu later, he was not pleased with my speeches. I could not condemn the DMK and call for a struggle against the DMK government. The reason was that Mr Karunanidhi, unlike the Congress Chief Ministers, offered to meet the Opposition and discuss with them their criticism of the DMK government. He said he was prepared even for an impartial enquiry into their faults, charges of corruption or of any other kind. In fact, he mentioned that in one case, he had actually appointed a High Court judge as a commission of enquiry. He also pointed out the Public Men’s Conduct of Enquiry Act had already enacted, and expressed his preparedness to discuss either with me or opposition leaders any faults that the Act might be found to possess, but such as the deterrent punishment provided in it for anyone for whom the due process of law, as laid down in the Act, found to have willfully made false charges. Under these circumstances, a responsible opposition was expected to take the DMK leader at his word and make a serious attempt to take the obvious steps. In fact, in one of my speeches in Tamil Nadu, I urged Kamaraj to take up this therapeutic line and clean up the murky political climate in the State.

“I am not suggesting that whatever Rajaram and Sezhian told me in Madras or Delhi had to be taken at face value, or I took it that way. But, in the absence of any response from Kamaraj and the Opposition, it did not seem fair, at least for me, to attack the DMK government and give a call for a people’s movement against it. A people’s movement could still be developed (because, as I have endeavoured to show, it need not in every case be against the government; the latter may honestly cooperate with the movement because its objectives are far wider - a total revolution) but naturally, opposition leaders in Tamil Nadu, including Kamaraj, were not interested in any movement unless at least its immediate political aim coincided with the Opposition aim….”

Kamaraj’s death came as a major setback for JP’s Grand Alliance plan to defeat the Emergency rule as and when the election came. JP had confided in me that he considered Kamaraj the most suitable person to head the united political party he was contemplating. JP also wanted Kamaraj and Karunanidhi to come together so that Tamil Nadu could get into the national mainstream and a powerful regional opposition spearheaded by DMK could be put together. JP said that Kamaraj had agreed to this in principle and was looking for an opportune time.

This thinking process by JP was based on his evaluation of the political scenario in Tamil Nadu, which was later described by Nayantara Sahgal in her book ‘Indira Gandhi’s Emergence and Style’.

“In Tamil Nadu, DMK was firmly established as the dominant political force in the State. On July 12 1975, Chief Minister Karunanidhi had addressed a mass meeting on the Marina Beach in Madras, declaring there was neither an internal nor external threat to India and called upon the vast concourse to take a pledge to defend their freedoms. His public speeches caustically directed at the Emergency were laced with Tamil folk humour.”

Indira Gandhi wanted to take over Tamil Nadu, but found Karunanidhi and Kamaraj as big obstacles, though in different ways. JP had planned to bring about a rapprochement between these two stalwarts personally when Emergency was over and normalcy restored. But that was not to be! And Indira Gandhi did not succeed by dismissing the Karunanidhi government!

In the run-up to the Sixth General Election to Parliament, JP merged Congress(O), Jan Sangh, Bharatiya Lok Dal and Socialist Party into the new Janata Party and along with DMK, Akali Dal and CPM, forged a common front to give a straight fight to Congress and its allies, the CPI and AIADMK in the elections to the Lok Sabha in March 1977. This Janata Front won a stunning victory, sweeping the entire Indo-Gangetic belt. The rest is history…

Even decades after the Emergency era, Karunanidhi’s passion for freedom has not diminished as would be evident from the DMK manifesto for Parliamentary elections 2004, demanding the repeal of the draconian POTA: “In spite of victim of Emergency, DMK fought fervently against MISA in 1976. It has always been a crusader against oppressive and undemocratic Acts. It is well-known fact that POTA, which was introduced with the intention of curtailing terrorist activities, was used as a political tool to settle scores. The abuse of such Acts will continue to remain as long as such Acts are in force. Hence DMK demands the repeal of POTA immediately.”

I have heard people say that Kalaignar has done enough for Tamil Nadu and should make a contribution at the national level. As if he has not done it already! What could be a greater contribution than standing up to tyranny and autocracy and restore freedom and democracy to this ancient land of ours wherein live one-sixth of the human race? And in the process sacrificing the Chief Ministership of one of the major states of India!

Bravo Kalaignar Karunanidhi. May God bless and keep you....

Republished from ‘Portrait of a Multi-faceted Legend of Dravidians: His Life and Times’ (2007)