"Karunanidhi brought have-nots also to the forefront": H.V. Hande

File photo: H.V. Hande, former Health Minister, Tamil Nadu, (right) with the late former Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi. Photo: By Special Arrangement. Copyright: H.V. Hande

The ninety-one year old Dr. H.V. Hande, former Health Minister, Tamil Nadu, is a political leader who has seen the late former Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, from close quarters; but always as a political opponent. Hande, who practises at his hospital in Shenoy Nagar, Chennai, sits in Room #1, and attends to patients with professional warmth. One of the highpoints of his political career, during which he was a member of the Madras Legislative Council and later the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, is his contest against Karunanidhi at the Anna Nagar Assembly constituency, in which he gave the former Chief Minister a tough electoral fight, and lost by a mere 699 votes. Verbal duels between Hande and Karunanidhi were a regular feature of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly when the former was an MLA and the latter was Chief Minister. In this conversation, with V.S. Sambandan, Chief Administrative Officer, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Hande shares his views about the late Chief Minister and his convictions, be it opposing the Emergency or working for the have-nots. Excerpts:

H.V. Hande: It was in 1964-65 when I met Karunanidhi for the first time. I was a member of the Legislative Council. At that time I was an Independent; it was only later on, that I joined the Swatantra Party. I had won as an Independent from the Graduates’ Constituency in 1964. Anbazhagan1 was my close neighbour in the Council. He had got elected from the Teachers’ Constituency under the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] banner. Karunanidhi used to come regularly, after the Assembly debates in the morning; by 1 o' clock it would be over. Chellapandian was the Speaker, Manickavelu Naicker was our Chairman. Karunanidhi would come to the Lobby to brief Anbazhagan as to what transpired in the morning so that they could coordinate. For instance, on language issue, what they did in the morning.

It was then that Anbazhagan introduced me to Karunanidhi. I was then 37, Karunanidhi was 40 years. Later on, in 1967 I was elected from Park Town as Swatantra candidate with the DMK alliance. In fact, I did not have to contest because my term was up to 1970. But Anna2 was insistent. He told Rajaji3. “Having given you one seat, you should not lose.” There was a Marwari candidate, but he may lose. The Telugu vote in this constituency are in a majority. (My second language is Telugu.) Anna knew about it because I was introducing the Adhi-Andhras to Anna. He was in the opposition, Bhaktavatsalam4 was the Chief Minister. Anna was so pleased with me that he told Rajaji that I will be a better candidate, and I won. Thereafter, Anna and I became friends.

In Assembly replies, Karunanidhi was always terse, to the point, and clear. He knew when to stop, when to start.

From the beginning itself, from 1967 onwards, when Karunanidhi was the State Public Works Department Minister, I used to watch him. Between him and Anna, Anna was a broad minded person. He was a mega thinker. He was like a policy maker. He won’t go into ‘arasiyal soozhchi’ [political machinations]. In Machiavellian politics Anna is zero. Karunanidhi knew the pits and falls of politics. That is a gift. Even when he was a small child he must have developed that acumen. In the Assembly, in his replies, he was always terse, to the point, and clear, whereas Nedunchezhiyan [who was later to become the second ranked Minister in the DMK and AIADMK governments] would go on talking. Nedunchezhiyan was very good in Tamil. He was a scholar, but he was never precise. Never to the point. He would give an impression that he was stopping, again he would start. Whereas Karunanidhi knew when to stop, when to start. Immediately after Anna he utilised the help of MGR5 and became Chief Minister.

And you were still in the Swatantra Party?

Yes. All this happened in 1969. I will give you an example of Karunanidhi’s political acumen. In 1971, [Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi announced Parliamentary elections. There was no need for dissolving the Assembly. But by 1971, Karunanidhi slowly started becoming unpopular. The bug of incumbency started troubling him and so he became unpopular. All people, Cho6, Rajaji, and then (the Congress split in 1969) Kamaraj7, and me in the Assembly, all of us started talking against DMK.

The public perception was ‘Karunanidhi is becoming unpopular’. He sensed it. In 1971, Indira Gandhi’s popularity had attained the peak, after nationalisation of banks, etc. She suddenly dissolved the Parliament. In 1967 she had got just a wafer thin majority. In 1971, she wanted to establish her supremacy on her own; Nehru’s aura had helped her to some extent in 1967. Karunanidhi immediately said, ‘I will also dissolve the Assembly.’ And then, he aligned with the Congress and beautifully managed, that he got all the Assembly seats for himself in exchange for 10 parliament seats (including Pondicherry) for the Congress. Even now I think of the irony, “when Kamaraj was alive, Congress people wanted to bring in Karunanidhi’s rule, after he [Kamaraj] passed away, they now want to bring in Kamaraj rule.”

I had told Karunanidhi once, 'Though you were shrewd always, you underestimated MGR'. That is what harmed him till the end.

I had told Karunanidhi once, "You are always shrewd, but oru vishyathule neenga kottai viteenga [you missed the plot on one issue]. You underestimated MGR." That is what harmed him till the end. After 1971 until 1972, Karunanidhi maintained good relations with Indira Gandhi. Many people don’t know what went wrong. There was a small hamlet, Ariyaankuppam, an Assembly constituency with about 10,000 – 11,000 voters in Pondicherry. Indira Gandhi wanted to field her candidate here; Karunanidhi wanted to field his candidate. On that they split. I told him “chinna vishayathule poi maatikiteenga” [You got caught unawares on a small issue].

The consequence of this split was that she [Indira Gandhi] probably started backing MGR. Even if it is not clear whether he had political backing, after this split, MGR started shifting slowly. Though MGR was thrown out of the party, I wouldn’t say he was thrown out. He brought about a situation where he would be thrown out. When he asked for party accounts in public, that means he is inviting expulsion. It is political. Even Rajaji said 'expelling MGR is like posthumously expelling Anna.' That is where Karunanidhi slipped.

He fought Emergency. For that, I give him 100 marks. He was the only person who, as Chief Minister, opposed Emergency.

The second thing, (I won't say he slipped), which made him suffer was he fought against Emergency. For that, I give him 100 marks. For his love for democracy, for which he was prepared to sacrifice his political office, I won't say he was wrong. He should be praised for his commitment to democracy.

And, you are convinced that this [opposition to the Emergency] was out of conviction?

He was convinced that Emergency should be opposed. He strongly supported Jayaprakash Narayan. He opposed Emergency. If he had just sailed with Indira Gandhi, he would have continued. There was no question of dismissal of his government. That is where he sacrificed. The only person who, as Chief Minister, opposed Emergency was Karunanidhi.

How was Gujarat?

I was in Swatantra Party between 1965 and 1972. Gujarat and Orissa were Swatantra bastions. They got converted later on. Orissa Swatantra got converted into Patnaik’s party, Gujarat Swatantra Party got converted into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Similarly in Rajasthan also. We [Swatantra Party] had Maharani Gayatri Devi. She won with a huge majority. She was Vice President of Swatantra Party, and I was all-India Secretary. Rajasthan, Gujarat were both Swatantra bastions. They were the foundation for the Jana Sangh and later on BJP. Dayabhai Patel, Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s son, used to come to my house. He was Vice President when I was all India secretary. When I once dropped him at the Central Railway Station, he asked me, ‘Why are you coming Hande?’ I said, 'Because you are the son of Sardar Vallabhai Patel.'  

If Karunanidhi had not opposed Indira Gandhi immediately after winning the election along with her in 1971, the MGR phenomenon would not have been there at all, to be very frank.

Broadly, Karunanidhi always had a soft corner for the downtrodden, the backward and the most backward community. He was very clear about it. It was his conviction. He was good in that. As a result of his administration, a good section of society who would not have come near power, were able to come.

He would dole out political appointments liberally.  So he developed a lot of friends and they are all grateful to him. 

At one stage, even the Congress, and among the non-Brahmins, the top people used to come to Karunanidhi for help. Karunanidhi brought to the forefront the have-nots also. That continued in the AIADMK as well.

Another important thing is Karunanidhi doled out positions to a lot of people. A number of political people could go up to Supreme Court. I would say, it is dilution of the Judiciary. Of course, it happens even now. Only the party differs. All these political appointments he would dole out. In that he was liberal. So he developed a lot of friends in different fields and they are all grateful to him.

Anything he could get done in Delhi, he could have utilised it for the betterment of the State. That is, of course, a different story.

How did he manage to get so much negotiating space in Delhi?

That is because of his right decisions on several occasions.

Jayalalithaa had it on a platter, but she lost.

I will give you a small example. Jayalalithaa had it on a platter [extending support to the Vajpayee government]; but she lost it within a year. Murasoli Maran8 was waiting on behalf of Karunanidhi in Delhi; and he pounced on the chance. The DMK could utilise Vajpayee for five years (2000-2004), whereas Jayalalithaa missed the bus. As the BJP was slowly losing its popularity because of incumbency, Karunanidhi backed out quietly. 

MGR backed the wrong horse in 1977 (Congress) and in 1980 (Janata). Karunanidhi sensed it correctly. In that, to a great extent, he was helped by Murasoli Maran, who was shrewd in knowing which horse to back at what time in the centre.

You have seen the DMK as an opponent all through. How do you think the DMK is justified in aligning with the BJP?

Simple. He found that Vajpayee was going to become the Prime Minister. It was Murasoli Maran, who knew the pulse in New Delhi. Policy, principles, you can always forget. Later, one can say “Vajpayee is the right man in the wrong party”. He said that. Matter was over. It also looked plausible because of Vajpayee’s mental make-up and stature. So Karunanidhi could say that and put a lid on it.

There is a complaint that regional parties, be it the DMK or the AIADMK, strike opportunistic alliance. What is your view on that?

I have been in politics for so many years. In fact I was beaten up as a student in 1942, 9th August, Quit India Movement. I am now 91. I’ve been watching all along. It is nothing but opportunism. Pure opportunism. There is no doubt. Nothing great about it. Opportunism is the only basis on which political alignment takes place. The only difference is, if an individual does it, it becomes opportunism, if a political party does it, it becomes a policy decision.

If you ask me, whether a great good has taken place because of regional parties, I would say ‘not very much good has taken place’. We have prevented several persons from becoming National leaders. You take Venkiah Naidu [the Vice President of India]. You take Karnataka, Ananta Kumar who is always next to the Prime Minister.

We have Mr. Chidambaram [former Union Minister who is from Tamil Nadu, and held Finance and Home portfolios at the centre].

Yes, but he is in the Congress. We could have had more people. Narasimha Rao could become Prime Minister. Now Nitin Gadkari from Maharashtra is doing well.

There is another problem that has crept in. A disease. Fringe parties, about seven or eight have crept in. They are ruining the DMK also. They always like to be in the limelight. Even going and meeting Karunanidhi, is only for that.

We have sold our soul. The moment you are in politics, the first thing you sell is your soul. I’m being frank. I’m not at all frustrated. I enjoy writing, reading, and treating my poor patients.

There was a misconception that LTTE means DMK. In fact LTTE was backed by MGR, not Karunanidhi.

There was a misconception that LTTE [the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] means DMK. In fact LTTE was backed by MGR, not Karunanidhi. The other group, TELO [Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation], was backed by DMK.

Karunanidhi always maintained his core constituency. I will give you a small example. I once said in the Assembly in 1971 or so, “This is third-rate fascism”. I said ‘third-rate fascism’, not government.  Karunanidhi twisted my words and said ‘third-rate government’. I wanted to get up to correct him. However, he did not give me that chance. He wanted to record it, and said “ithu moondram tharam alla, naangaam tharam arasu". [This is not third-rate, but fourth-rate government”, in a reference to the four-fold Varna system] which I never said.

I tried my best to correct him. But still, he went on saying this everywhere. Then I wrote a letter to him, and then he stopped saying this. But others did not, and I also did not take it up further. I had my own constituency people working for me.

What was the relationship between Karunanidhi and the forward community?

He was helped by the forward community in 2006. That was by accident as [Chief Minister] Jayalalithaa had Sankaracharya arrested.  Karunanidhi also has a section of forward community votes. For instance, in Central Madras he was able to get, for Maran, sizable North Indian votes as well.

How did he [Karunanidhi] negotiate that?

He will do something personal for them, like protection. They will want DMK protection. There was no problem. But the majority of forward community would vote for MGR.

Was MGR pro-Forward Community?

You see, MGR was not an atheist. That was the main thing. MGR was different, and would not hurt anybody. Karunanidhi’s speeches used to hurt theists.

Was politics substantially different when MGR and Karunanidhi were active in politics?

They were at odds even then, but it was not as bad as under Jayalalithaa. MGR always wanted Karunanidhi to be seated in the House, and politically respected him. Once a Minister knocked off a coupe in Pandian Express meant for Karunanidhi. MGR banged him. ‘What do you think of yourself? You should have given it to him and travelled in First Class.”

On the whole, Karunanidhi is a legendary figure who has left his stamp spanning over two [the 20th  and 21st] centuries. Hats off to him.

(V.S. Sambandan is Chief Administrative Officer, The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected] )



1. K. Anbazhagan is General Secretary, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Return To text

2. C.N. Annadurai, founder of the DMK who would become Chief Minister of Madras as Tamil Nadu was then called, in 1967. Return to Text.

3. C. Rajagopalachari, who founded the Swatantra Party in 1959. He was earlier India’s last Governor-General and later Chief Minister of Madras.Return to Text.

4. M. Bhatavatasalam was Chief Minister of Madras from October 1963 to March 1967. Return to Text.

5. M.G. Ramachandran, founder of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Return to Text.

6. Cho S. Ramasamy, a leading journalist, who would later represent the BJP as a Rajya Sabha MP. Return to Text.

7. Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and former President of the All India Congress Committee. Return to Text.

8. DMK parliamentarian, who would later become Union Minister. Return to Text.

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