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Profiles of Indian Political Leaders
Muthuvel Karunanidhi
(Date of Birth - June 3, 1924)

Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, has been a key figure in Tamil Nadu politics for nearly five decades.

Early Years

Born in Thirukkuvalai near Tiruvarur, Karunanidhi's father was Muthuvelar and mother Anjugam Ammaiyar.

Like other well known political figures in this south Indian state, Karunanidhi also has close connections with the Tamil film industry. He started his career as a script writer, first for the stage and later for films.

Some of Karunanidhi's notable screenplays include Parasakthi (starring Sivaji Ganeshan) and Manthiri Kumari (starring MGR). In all, he is said to have written over 70 screenplays.

Karunanidhi was a close associate of C.N. Annadurai, the founder of the DMK. When Annadurai left the Dravid Kazhagam party over differences with the DK leader Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, Karunanidhi threw in his lot with Annadurai and was named to the propaganda wing.

Karunanidhi was elected to the Tamil Nadu state Legislative Assembly for the first time in the 1957 elections from the Kulithalai constituency. There has been no looking back since for this politician, who is never seen in public without his trademark dark glasses.

When Annadurai became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1967, he appointed Karunanidhi as public works minister.

Karunanidhi Becomes Chief Minister

Upon the death of C.N.Annadurai of cancer, Karunanidhi became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on February 10, 1969. His first term as chief minister lasted until January 4, 1971.

Following the victory of the DMK in the 1971 elections, Karunanidhi became Chief Minister for a second term from March 15, 1971 through January 31, 1976.

But politics, like sports, is a very competitive arena and success breeds dissension even among close associates. Popular Tamil film star M.G.Ramachandran a.k.a MGR broke away from the DMK and formed the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

MGR made corruption the main issue for the parting of ways. In an interview with the New York Times in 1974, MGR said in a reference to the top leaders of the DMK, "They have corrupted a party that was once incorruptible."

Karunanidhi's Political Star Declines As MGR's Star Rises

With the rise of MGR and his ADMK party, Karunanidhi's political star declined.

The ADMK won a resounding victory in the 1977 state Legislative Assembly elections and MGR became Chief Minister of the state. Such was MGR's sway over the masses in Tamil Nadu that until his death, Karunanidhi was relegated to the opposition benches.

In the 1989 elections (held after MGR's death in December 1987), Karunanidhi's DMK won handily. He became Chief Minister for the third time.

However, the vicissitudes of political forune were sharply brought home to Karunanidhi when he lost the 1991 elections to MGR's protege Jayaram Jayalalitha, who was also a popular film actress.

However, voters were dissatisfied with both Jayalalitha and her AIADMK party and in the 1996 elections, the Karunanidhi-led DMK was again back in power for the next five years.

Jayalalitha appeared to have learned her lessons and on the back of a strong campaign was reelected to power in 2001 trouncing Karunanidhi's DMK.

Politics of Vendetta

One of Jayalalitha's first acts after returning to power in 2001 was to have Karunanidhi arrested. In the early hours of June 30, 2001, Karunanidhi was arrested on charges of corruption. TV channels flashed images of Karunanidhi literally being dragged out of his home, screaming and kicking.

While it was grand political theatre, it was also payback time. You see Karunanidhi's DMK government had arrested Jayalalitha in December 1996 on charges of corruption forcing her to spend a few weeks in jail. Jayalalitha was giving Karunanidhi a taste of his own medicine.

2006 Elections

Karunanidhi made a comeback to the Chief Minister's office following the May 2006 elections. The DMK-led Democratic Progressive Alliance won a solid victory over the AIADMK setting the stage for Karunanidhi's fifth term as Chief Minister.

In a bid to win the votes of the poor people, Karunanidhi made two promises during his election campaign - 1) The DMK government would provide them with rice at Rs 2 per kilogram; 2) Free color television to every household.

Taint of Corruption

Like political leaders around the world, Karunanidhi's reputation has not been free from the stain of corruption. The Sarkaria Commission appointed by the Government of India in 1976 severely indicted Karunanidhi's government for corrupt practices.

Karunanidhi is married and has six children - four sons and two daughters.

One of his sons M.K.Stalin is a prominent leader of the DMK. Stalin is Minister for Local Administration and is often referred to in the media as Karunanidhi's political heir apparent. Stalin was elected to the State Legislative Assembly from the Thousand Lights constituency in Chennai.

Karunanidhi is fondly referred to as Kalaignar, which means connoisseur of literature.

Karunanidhi as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu

10-02-1969 to 04-01-1971

15-03-1971 to 31-01-1976

27-01-1989 to 30-01-1991

13-05-1996 to 13-05-2001

From 13-05-2006


The New York Times
Tamil Nadu Government web site
DMK party web site

Karunanidhi Related Stories

  • Tamil Nadu Election Results - DMK Heading for Massive Defeat; End of Karunanidhi Era
  • Proifle of M.K. Stalin
  • Profiles of Other Indian Politicians
    C.N. Annadurai
    Biju Patnaik
    Indira Gandhi
    Jayaprakash Narayan
    M. Karunanidhi
    Laloo Prasad Yadav
    Narendra Modi
    Nitish Kumar
    Rahul Gandhi
    Rajiv Gandhi
    M.G. Ramachandran
    Sanjay Gandhi
    M.K. Stalin

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