Karunanidhi & R K Dhawan

Raman Swamy

Within the span of 24 hours two symbols of the past passed away.  M. Karunanidhi and RK Dhawan.

They had nothing in common.  It may even be considered inappropriate to even mention them in the same breath.  

One was a truly great historical figure – an incredibly talented screenwriter who became an unbelievably successful political leader.   

The other was just a backroom boy who happened to work as a personal assistant to Indira Gandhi, India’s only woman Prime Minister and arguably the powerful change-agent the country has ever had.

Muthuval Karunanidhi was a creative genius and visionary, whose socio-economic ideology and philosophy had a profound and lasting impact on the people of the State he ruled over a span of over five full decades – from 1969 when he became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the first time right up to the day he breathed his last.

Rajinder Kumar Dhawan was just an ordinary man whose only claim to fame was the reflected glory of the woman he worked for. He was not an intellectual or a thinker or even someone with any special skill or notable talent. But he did have one outstanding quality – loyalty. He was efficient and dependable. In the Kalyug era in which nobody can trust anybody, RK Dhawan was trustworthy. Indira Gandhi confided in him and relied on him. He never let her down - till his dying day he neither revealed her secrets nor tried to benefit from his close proximity to greatness.

Karunanidhi was an empire builder and a dynast in the true sense. Had he been born in some bygone age, he would certainly have been crowned a King. But in an electoral democracy, he had to be content with being a five-time Chief Minister, presiding over the destinies of seven crore people for a total of 19 years spread intermittently over 49 years from 1969 to 2011.

RK Dhawan in contrast was never a leader or even a politician, except for a brief stint as a Rajya Sabha MP. He held no high office. He had no great achievements. He has no legacy to leave behind. And yet, he had his moments in the sun and a brief period of reflected glory. He will be remembered -  as a good man, a decent human being who had a front row seat during some of the most tumultuous years in the country’s history. 

Kalaigner is the Tamil word for ‘kalakaar’ and that is the nickname by which the people of Tamil Nadu fondly referred to Karunanidhi.  He was above all an artiste, both in the tinsel world and in political life. If his political philosophy has to be described in one phrase it would be: Social Justice.

Dhawan was popularly known as “RK”. A simple nickname for a man whose only credo in life was to serve and whose world-view was what he had learnt from his association with Indira Gandhi and the ministers and bureaucrats that his job required him to interact with. He was the epitome of the biblical adage -  ‘They also serve who just stand and wait’. In his case, he was also feared by many – largely because of the awe in even Congress stalwarts of that time regarded the all-powerful lady for whom ‘RK’ was the door-keeper.

On the other hand, it will take many chapters of a book to describe Karunanidhi’s personality, erudition, world-view and socio-economic policies and programmes. A variety of adjectives and nouns would be required to even begin to pin down the unique multi-faceted character that he was -  humanist, rationalist, iconoclast, visionary, atheist, statesman, administrator, orator, writer, actor, producer, journalist, painter, publisher, tireless worker and people's leader.   

Those are just the positive traits. Like all human beings Karunanidhi had his dark side, his weaknesses, his foolish streak and his outbreaks of anger, iniquity and vindictiveness. His long rivalry with Jayalalithaa brought out these qualities in ample measure.

There will always be a debate about whose legacy is the greater - Karunanidhi’s or Jayalalithaa’s. There are no easy answers. All that can said is that the political party she has left behind has experienced convulsions in the months after her demise and ideals and policies she stood for have already been trampled upon by her successors.  

In contrast, Karunanidhi’s legacy has a better chance of lasting a bit longer, at least theoretically. Having given birth to six children – out of whom three are in active politics -  and having forged a political party that still gives the impression of being stable and united, the chances of Kalaigner’s image lingering longer in the public mind are probably greater. 

Aug 09, 2018

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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