Roman soldier-philosopher Pliny wrote that ‘nothing is more intense than the green of emerald’ and ‘sight is refreshed and restored by gazing upon this stone’. It is said that in 60 AD, he recommended sunglasses made of emerald to the emperor Nero to watch gladiators in the arena. Nero did, and apparently found the colour soothing to the eye as blood was spilt. Centuries later, another fading king wearing sunglasses is watching expressionlessly as the Dravidian movement he inherited falls prey to gladiators, both captive and alien. The sun seems to be setting on the vast empire of Muthuvel Karunanidhi aka Dakshinamurthy; ironic, since the DMK’s symbol is that of a rising sun. Political humiliation at the hands of both friends and foes as well as the people, dynastic squabbles, and the shame of corruption after his daughter, ministers and party worthies both in Delhi and Chennai were arrested for graft seem to have taken the shine off those gleaming, inscrutable lenses. Karunanidhi once held his people mesmerised, dwarfing all under the immensity of ever gigantic, cardboard cutouts: red-cheeked, with a full head of black hair and moustache, smiling and of course, watching the world at all times through ubiquitous dark shades. Today, the glasses are the colour of an impending night.
Karunanidhi’s trademark shades could well be an allegory of his perspective, whether it be on Eelam, the UPA, arch enemy Jayalalithaa or his children who are constantly vying to occupy the throne with strategems that would shame a Mughal court. A single colour laminates his vision: the colour of perpetuity, both for his party and more for his dynasty. When he disowned “his unfulfilled dream”, Eelam, at the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) of which he was the brainchild, going back on his original promise to adopt a resolution for a separate Tamil homeland at a meeting to be held in Chennai on August 12, it was clear that the dark glasses were seeing only what soothed him: survival. He couldn’t let the tattered vestiges of power he imagines the DMK still holds in New Delhi to be lost; after all, so what if he is no longer in power in Tamil Nadu, he is still part of the government that runs the country, however ramshackle both he and the UPA may seem.
But Karunanidhi’s own politics has forsaken him. The erstwhile champion of Eelam who gave sanctuary to LTTE fighters may have become a betrayer of the cause seen through Tamil glasses, both at home and overseas. Once perceived as the ultimate chess player of coalition destiny—of both NDA and UPA I—the Kalaignar lost his Karpov moment with the 2G scam. Raja went to jail, so did the apple of his goggles, daughter Kanimozhi. From being the Dravidian emperor, Karunanidhi became the King Canute of Indian politics. The waves kept coming, each one mightier than the other. Son Alagiri’s vernacular pride was wounded by his coalition colleagues; humiliated and solitary, he hardly ever attends Cabinet meetings. It is the paradox of realpolitik that a party whose gestalt is undiluted Tamil identity needed the convent-accented English nuances of Kanimozhi and Dayaninidhi to previously hold dialogues of dominance in Delhi. But Maran was disgraced, ousted both from Delhi and Chennai by genetic compulsions of the Karunanidhi clan. Succession is now a struggle of despair for the patriarch: if Karunanidhi hopes his doe-eyed daughter could be groomed as an alternative to his indominable nemesis Jayalalithaa, his vision is faulty. She doesn’t have Amma’s charisma or force of will to capture Fort St. George in the near future. Stalin is likely to be vehemently opposed by Alagiri, a post-Karunanidhi battle that may even spill out on the streets.
By abandoning Eelam, Karunanidhi has shown that he is no longer king of the south, but a vassal of New Delhi. Like Nero, he is fiddling as the legacy of Periyar and Anandurai burns around him. The glasses perhaps protect him from the smoke.