[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
The U.S. was also unaware of Karunanidhi’s appetite for “chittu kuruvi laehiyam”.
Perhaps “chittu kuruvi laehiyam” is the antidote to dementia/Alzheimer’s.
The just-dead Margaret Thatcher’s dementia started at 72.
Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 83 (although if you ask me, I think the 8 is a typo and the Gipper’s senility set in as early as 3-years),
Karunanidhi at 89 has a sharper brain than “kill the poor, kill the poor; save the rich, save the rich” Congressman Paul Ryan at 43.
But I’m happy because my favorite Indian leader, Rahul Gandhi will never suffer from the ignominy of dementia. 😉
Good find and a well written post.
The link was helpful.
See about Kumaraswamy.
“2. (SBU) Kumaraswamy’s English language skills are
extremely limited. During Kumaraswamy’s visit to
Consulate Chennai in June 2005 in connection with a visa
application (he received a ten-year validity tourist visa
but then cancelled a scheduled trip to the U.S. to attend
to political matters), Poloff’s attempted conversation
with him was limited to very short questions and even
shorter responses. His demeanor seemed sullen and
uncommunicative, but that may be a result of his
uncertainty with the English language. Press reports
quote him as saying, “I want to learn spoken English.”
Often dressed in homespun cotton shirts and light
trousers, he comes across as a person who prefers to
remain in the shadows. That is where he remained during
the time his father and former Indian Prime Minister Deve
Gowda served in office. ”
There could be other hidden gems lurking in WikiLeaks if one has the time to search with the right key words and then read the telegrams.
what do you notice?
Two things: “The Largest Democratic Party in the world” slogan on the web site is a big joke and second, D.Sudarshanam is dead!
Doctors say, to get Alzheimer’s/Dementia one must first have a brain!
Found this link. Depressing beyond words.
You think U.S. will take any action against this fella?
1. The death of any innocent person, young or old, man or woman, Indian, American, Russian, Sri Lankan or any other nationality is a time to grieve.
But since man is wolf to man, and has always been so, innocent people will continue to suffer and perish in all corners of the world everyday.
2. Why is it that I have not heard a pip-squeak of concern from you or other readers over the sorry fate of the countless Tamil children that LTTE Chief Villupillai Prabhakaran (father of the young boy Balachandran Prabhakaran who was supposedly killed by the Sri Lankan armed forces) forcibly recruited as child-soldiers and marched them to their deaths. Where are the tears for those young Tamil boys and girls forcibly snatched from their homes at gun-point? Has the anonymity of their lives and deaths turned you callous toward their misfortune? Were they children of a lesser God that you neglect them willfully but reserve your solace for only the young boy Balachandran Prabhakaran?
3. I suspect the Sri Lankan armed forces killed the young boy Balachandran Prabhakaran to prevent him from later becoming a rallying point for the disaffected Tamils and unleashing a civil war again. History is replete with such examples where the victors engage in completely wiping out families for reasons of realpolitik.
As recently as the 20th century, Stalin was a master of the strategy of wiping out family members of “enemies of the state,” beating them savagely in the cellars of the Lubyanka and extracting false confessions or dispatching them to icy deaths in the unmerciful Siberian Gulags.
In my view, the late LTTE Chief Villupillai Prabhakaran committed two horrendous strategic blunders – assassinating Rajiv Gandhi and dragging the civil war for nearly three decades, from 1983-2009. For that, he, his family and countless Sri Lankan Tamils paid a heavy price.
4. It is in India’s strategic interest to align with the Sri Lankan government to keep at bay China and Pakistan.
For the next million years or so, it’s going to be the Sinhalas who will be in key positions of power in Sri Lanka.
So current Indian and U.S. foreign policy is appropriate vis-a-vis Sri Lanka and in the best interests of India and U.S.
5. As I’ve said on a million occasions, the Sri Lankan Tamils are not our Tamils.
The only Tamils we care about are in the great land of Tamil Nadu.
We have enough problems to worry about vis-a-vis the two countries dear to us – U.S.A and India.
Let’s leave the Sri Lankan Tamil issue to the Sri Lankans to decide as they deem fit.
If the U.S. were to take action against every human rights violation in the world, Obama would have no time for budget negotiations, immigration reform, writing the Obamacare regulations, dinner with the obstructing Republicans, complimenting Kamala Harris on her pretty looks etc. 😉
You missed Kim Jong un testing the strategic and diplomatic patience of Obama. Looks like he’s already weaving circles.
While I agree with your second point, I see Balachandran (I am excluding Prabhakaran here) as a representative of the sorry fate of all those countless Sri Lankan Tamil children that you mention.
The Sri Lankan Tamil problem is a Sri Lankan issue that’s best left for them to resolve.
Politics and diplomacy not only mean engaging in action but also understanding the advantages of when not to engage.
Off-off-topic: Just watched the Swedish Movie Easy Money (Netflix DVD) – Good!
Just added “Easy Money” to my queue. Have you seen “Sea Biscuit”? — Superb film!
Btw, please check your email.
No, I haven’t seen Sea Biscuit although I vaguely remember reading about it.
The Scandinavians, like the South Koreans, make good crime films – Headhunters, R, the Dragon Tattoo films etc
I’ll respond to your note tonight!
I watched “headhunters” and absolutely loved it. The DVD got stuck between for 10 minutes but thankfully I didn’t miss the crucial scenes.
“R” is in my queue already. “Dragon Tattoo”….I liked the original better than the English version.
“Sea Biscuit” is a great film! I own a copy of it. Just talking about it makes me wanna watch it again 😉
I was so desperate to see Headhunters that I paid Amazon $4 to stream it because NFLX had a long wait for the DVD!
BTW, your 21 Grams DVD recommendation has come to my library..couldn’t make it there today. Will borrow and likely watch it tomorrow.
He owes his comeback to the death of MGR.
MGR could probably have finished him off completely if he wanted to but let him survive.
You write: MGR could probably have finished him off completely if he wanted to but let him survive.
Wrong! The data does not support your argument.
Despite MGR’s enormous advantage over Karunanidhi as an actor (a profession that helps to easily bamboozle the masses in Tamil Nadu), a non-actor like Karunanidhi (who has to sweat and toil harder for votes) has not done all that badly.
You appear to be merely taking into account only seats won. The nature of the electoral system India has chosen is not a very representative one because there’s no high degree of correlation between votes polled and seats won. But that’s a discussion for another day!
A better indicator of popularity of a leader/party is the percentage of votes polled over time.
Let’s look at the percentage of votes polled by the two parties in Tamil Nadu Assembly elections AFTER MGR walked off from the DMK in 1972 and formed the ADMK and UNTIL the time of his death in 1987.
There were three Assembly elections from 1972-1987.
Percentage of Votes polled in Tamil Nadu Assembly elections from MGR’s split with DMK in 1972 until his death in 1987:
Year | ADMK | DMK
1977 | 33.50 | 24.89
1980 | 48.92 | 44.43
1984 | 53.87 | 37.00
So despite MGR’s better looks, his “actor” advantage and his sickness advantage (1984 elections), Karunanidhi has not fared all that badly if you look at the total votes polled by his party, DMK in Tamil Nadu.
Bottom line, it’d have been impossible for MGR to finish off Karunanidhi politically because the DMK has its own established base in the state as demonstrated by the percentage of votes DMK polled in the three elections from 1972-1987.