Kalaignar’s selective rationalism

published on November 14, 2010

By Gnani

Every Diwali, newspapers publish customary greetings to the people from those in power. This Diwali too, the President of India, Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi, and a dozen political leaders from Tamil Nadu including the opposition leader J Jayalalithaa greeted the people with clichéd expressions of “let there be light in your lives”.

One conspicuous absentee is Kalaignar M Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. As a proclaimed rationalist nurtured by Periyar EV Ramasamy, it is perfectly politically correct for him not to greet anyone on Diwali, a festival involving gods and demons. But Karunanidhi is a selective rationalist. He never fails to issue greeting messages for Ramzan and Christmas!

He regularly participates in Iftar parties, sporting a mussalman cap. Recently his poet-daughter-MP Kanimozhi known for her radical views on atheism and feminism, attended an Iftar party, in an appropriate outfit with a veil covering her head.

But Karunanidhi’s selective rationalism admonishes only Hindu religious practices unlike his mentor Periyar’s no-holds-barred criticism of all religions and their rituals. Karunanidhi once shouted at his party MLA Adhi Rajaram for wearing a red tilak on his forehead, ridiculing him that it looked like blood. Karunanidhi describes the BJP, a declared Hindutuva party, as a party of ‘pardesis and pandaarams’ (outsiders and priests), of course only whenever not in an alliance with it.

His family is always exempt from his rationalist propaganda. Several of his family members are religious. His daughter-in-law Durga, wife of M K Stalin, once proudly displayed her collection of Ganesha idols to a Tamil magazine. Few months ago, Stalin inaugurated a dining hall at Mundakanni Amman temple in Mylapore — Ezhilarasai, granddaughter of Karunanidhi through his daughter Selvi, had donated Rs 13 lakh to build the temple. Karunanidhi’s official wife Dayalu Ammal is a well-known devotee and a follower of Puttaparthi Saibaba. In the guise of holding a government function, Karunanidhi brought Saibaba to Chennai and the Baba made an exclusive visit to Karunanidhi’s house. Dayalu Ammaal prostrated herself before him.

Karunanidhi’s grand-nephew Kalanidhi Maran, grandsons Udhayanidhi Stalin and Dayanidhi Azhagiri are now active in film production. All their films are launched with pujas conducted by Brahmin priests.

Is Karunanidhi then a loner in the entire family of believers?

Seems so, but probably isn’t. He is notorious for his superstitions too. He has been stubbornly clinging on to his yellow shawl for several years now — a colour suggested as a good omen for him by family astrologers, according to the grapevine. Recently, during his visit to the Thanjavur Big Temple for its 1000th year celebrations, Karunanidhi entered through the side door of the temple, paying heed to a belief that entry through the main door by any politician would bring a fall from grace and power. He also wore white silk dhoti, shirt and shawl for the function to ward off evil spirits.

Karunanidhi has also been inaugurating government buildings and projects on auspicious dates even before the completion of the projects and buildings. The new Secretariat and Assembly hall was opened in a hurry with a false dome as in film sets that cost several crores to build. But after four months, the Secretariat is still functioning from the old building. The Kottupuram library was opened without completely filling it up with books.

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