But these nitty-gritties aside, what singular change marks these 50 years? Karunanidhi's changing choice of constituencies reflects the party's changing priorities. After two victories from the agricultural belt of Kulithalai and Thanjavur, he has shifted allegiance to constituencies in Chennai. Today, but for sops and waivers to rural voters, the government's policies are oriented to urbanites with an emphasis on the IT sector.Karunanidhi, however, has been more than a legislator. Endearingly called 'Kalaignar' or 'artist' by his followers, he has scripted more than 70 movies and scores of plays, and has authored over a hundred books, including commentaries on classical Tamil texts. His poetry—mostly wordplay with a heavy dose of political messages—appears unfailingly in the party mouthpiece Murasoli. Kalaignar's verbal jugglery and cumbersome wit have often passed for answers to serious questions. For instance, when an MDMK MLA expressed concern over lack of food forcing tigers to encroach into human habitation, Karunanidhi punned on the Tamil Tigers, and got away with little explanation for the state's abysmal tiger population—88.What Karunanidhi does not give away in words, he does in actions. His political success has not come without manipulation. When Karunanidhi made his debut in the assembly in 1957 along with 15 other DMK MLAs, he was after all a junior, slotted to speak fourth after C.N. Annadurai, V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and K. Anbazhagan. However, after Annadurai's premature death in 1969, though Nedunchezhiyan was Anna's choice, Karunanidhi became CM after being 'democratically' elected by the party. He ensured this by wooing MGR—then with the DMK—to his side. Subsequently, MGR, emerging as a threat to Karunanidhi, formed his Anna-DMK; soon, a disillusioned Nedunchezhiyan joined forces with him. Recently, fiery orators like Vaiko who emerged as leaders in their own right in the DMK were also sidelined as Karunanidhi nurtured Stalin.Despite being an organised cadre-based party, the DMK today has ended up as a poor imitation of the Congress, mimicking its dynastic tendencies down to the district secretary level. The DMK's raison d'etre during its birth in 1949 was opposition to the 'nationalist' Congress and espousal of Dravida Nadu; today, ironically, the DMK chief enjoys greater confidence with Congress president Sonia Gandhi than even Congress leaders from the state. What was more cause for worry for hard-core DMK followers was the party's dalliance with the BJP in 1999 and its persistent alliance with Hindutva for some years. Karunanidhi made the switch just before the 2003 election, thus ensuring the DMK was in power either in the state, the Centre or both since 1996. Leading a minority government in the prolonged winter of his career, Karunanidhi has displayed a clever understanding of alliance politics.Tamil Nadu has seen several political stalwarts who have lived to their nineties—C. Rajagopalachari, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy Naicker, C. Subramaniam and R. Venkataraman. Karunanidhi may yet surprise his rather impatient heirs by lasting more than a full term.
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