[Karunanidhi’s] support in the DMK will probably erode as the trial gets under way….We feel that Karunanidhi’s political career may not survive this latest onslaught by the GOI….We feel that Karunanidhi’s remarkable political career has reached its crossroads and that it is now at the beginning of the end.
– November 2, 1976 Telegram from U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to the U.S. State Department
Ha ha ha ha!
“Beginning of the end,” ha ha ha ha!
Some 37 years later, Muthuvel Karunanidhi is still going strong!
Love him or loath him, there’s no denying that DMK leader Karunanidhi is not merely one of the great survivors but a highly successful player in the arcane game of Indian politics.
No other Indian politician has played as long an innings as Karunanidhi, who hails from the glorious South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Although now decrepit physically, Karunanidhi still packs an agile mind in his 75th year in the political arena.
Even before the death of the legendary C.N.Annadurai (Anna) in 1969, Karunanidhi had been a powerful political force within the DMK party.
But after Anna’s death from cancer, Karunanidhi became the leader of the DMK, a position he continues to hold at the age of 89.
Failure to adequately grasp the local political culture and the lay of the land must count as the biggest blunders of U.S. diplomats the world over.
Time and again, we have seen the disastrous consequences of such misunderstandings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Soviet Union/Russia and Latin America.
The four constants in the Indian political culture are the hopeless corruption, shifting alliances, pathetic leaders and an unwise electorate worshipful of their deceiving leaders.
Any analysis of Indian politics, politicians and the electorate should be made only within the framework of the four constants.
Failure to do so would result in analyses that are completely off the mark and lead to formulation of wrong policies.
After all, if the input (data) is wrong how can we expect the desired output (good policies).
For instance, barely a few years after Indira Gandhi’s endless harassment of the DMK and Karunanidhi in the mid-1970s, Indira and her Congress party were in bed with the DMK during the 1980 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections (that the Congress-DMK alliance was routed by MGR’s AIADMK and the Congress subsequently shifted its embrace to the AIADMK by 1984 is another story).
The quote at the top of this post is excerpted from a lengthy diplomatic cable that went from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to the State Department in Washington DC in November 1976.
Those were dark days for Karunanidhi and his party, the DMK.
Indira Gandhi had dismissed Karunanidhi’s government in Tamil Nadu, a national Emergency had been imposed curtailing civil liberties, the Congress government at the center had appointed the Sarkaria Commission to investigate corruption under the DMK administration and criminal charges were filed against Karunanidhi (mostly alleging corruption).
It was against this backdrop that the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi prematurely forecast Karunanidhi’s political obituary.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Karunanidhi was so right when he spoke these prophetic words at a meeting in Coimbatore in August 1976 during his dark days:
Whether it is going to be criminal proceedings against me, or life imprisonment, or gallows, or any altar where I may be tortured or killed, I have this great confidence that I have a place in the altar of your hearts.
– Karunanidhi, August 20, 1976 at a public meeting in Coimbatore