Karunanidhi’s been nice, but his village not blind to Amma option

In the past, it was difficult to set eyes on even a tip of the AIADMK's two-leaves symbol in Thirukuvalai village, about 50 km from Thanjavur. Today, the freshly white-washed walls are splattered with slogans hailing the AIADMK chief. Posters of Jayalalithaa stand defiantly against walls. Party buntings are strung across the road, lending an almost festive air to Thirukuvalai with its 2,800-odd voters and falling within Nagapattinam constituency.

This is the birthplace of Karunanidhi which Jayalalitha had not dared step in before. But that's past. A few villagers who had voted for Kalaignar's DMK with a fierce loyalty all these years have now developed a softness for Jayalalithaa.

Annamalai Kandasamy Thevar, Karunanidhi's schoolmate and later a passionate Karunanidhi follower, is one of them. ''I used to go with him to school in the village,'' he says with pride. He remembered the boy to be ''quiet but extremely intelligent''.

But, Karunanidhi's father, a nadaswaram player, hailing from the small Isai Vellallars community of dancers and nadaswaram players, pulled him out of the village school and sent him to a religious mutt in Thanjavur so that he could learn to play the instrument. However, the young Karunanidhi walked out of the mutt in disgust when he saw his teacher bow in a servile manner to the manager. Later, he resumed studies at nearby Thiruvarur and never touched a nadaswaram in his life again, Kandasamy recalled. Kandasamy and his family members had unfailingly voted for the DMK. But this time they intend to vote for Amma. ''She has done so much good during this tenure. So, why not?'' asks Shantha, his daughter.

In fact, Karunanidhi's house, now a library-cum-museum, in the heart of the village, a modest blue and white structure with a picturesque pond in front of it, even had a picture of Jayalalithaa. It was part of a photo gallery and showed a young Jayalalithaa, then an actress receiving a film award from Karunnaidhi in the late 1960s. The photograph shared space with many other historical ones, including some showing Karunanidhi with friend-turned political foe M G Ramachandran.

But around a month back, as if sensing a grudging admiration for Amma among the villagers, ''some family members pulled out the photograph of Jayalalithaa,'' says N Santhanam, manager of Kalaignar's house. The picture stood close to a temple for Angala Parameshwari, the family deity. A strict adherent of the Dravidian atheistic ideology, Karunanidhi himself had never entered the temple. But his family members offered prayers at the temple often.

Thirukuvalai keenly followed Karunanidhi's meteoric rise in politics. ''But, he never failed to return to his village, first building a government hospital and upgrading the local school to higher secondary and even setting up a Electricity Board office to ensure smooth power supply. When he became Chief Minister in 1996 after a long gap, he set up one of the 101 'samuthuvapuram' — a place where families of all castes and communities live together in harmony — in his village,'' said L Palanivel, the DMK district committee member, whose father Kavanna Lakshmanan, was among Karunanidhi's earliest friends.

Despite the AIADMK being forcibly kept out of the village, N Chidambaram, the party's local secretary claims he had gradually built up the party despite threats to his life. ''Today, not only do we have an elected AIADMK panchayat chairman for the first time, but also 400 full-time party members,'' he adds with pride.

But while some villagers might opt to press the button against the 'two leaves' on poll day, Thirukuvalai will remain loyal to the DMK patriarch. And, their shift in political loyalties apart, Kandasamy and his family are still very fond of Kalaignar.

A friend remembers: Schoolmate Kandasamy has an interesting anecdote abut the DMK chief. "Karunanidhi as a little boy coming to buy buttermilk from his neighbour in a small gunda (urn) for an anna. He would stand just outside my house and drink almost all the buttermilk and then stealthily fill it with water from a tap and take it home. He used to do this every time," he reminisces.

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