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How he outwitted Morarji Desai, CS, Indira Gandhi

When it came to wit, sharp repartees and wordplay, late DMK president M. Karunanidhi was a class act. And surprisingly, he was adept in both Tamil and English. Throughout his public life, which stretched several decades, there were examples galore of his amazing way with words.

In March 1969, a month after taking over as Chief Minister following his mentor C.N. Annadurai’s death, Karunanidhi had called on Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who held the Finance portfolio, and sought Rs. 5 crore as drought relief. Morarji reacted saying: “I don’t have money-growing trees in my garden.” Not to be taken aback, Karunanidhi retorted, “When there are no money-growing trees, how could they be found in your garden?”

Likewise, while holding seat-sharing talks with Congress (R) leaders for the 1971 general elections, Karunanidhi offered just 15 Assembly seats to Indira Gandhi’s party. Taking offence, senior Congress (R) leader C. Subramaniam reacted angrily, saying, “This is a challenge to our self-respect.” Karunanidhi cut him short, saying, “Our (DMK) movement itself is a Self-Respect Movement.” Eventually, the Congress (R) did not contest in the Assembly election, but was given 10 Lok Sabha seats.

After bitterly opposing Indira Gandhi for four years, in September 1979, he went to her house to discuss an alliance for the 1980 Lok Sabha polls.

While seeing him off, Indira Gandhi said, “We are opening a new chapter,” to which he responded, “No, no! We are continuing the old chapter.” [He was referring to the 1971 alliance with her].

During the Emergency, when DMK functionaries were jailed, he sent Rs. 200 per month to their families through the party office. Later, when Vetrikondan, a firebrand platform speaker, complained to him that his wife had received only Rs. 100, Karunanidhi explained that he had sent the other Rs. 100 to Vetrikondan’s second wife. Recalling this incident at a party conference in Villupuram in September 2003, he jocularly remarked, “I did that because I too have two wives.” Even at press conferences, he would come up with witty responses, sometimes laced with sarcasm, to uncomfortable questions. When a scribe at a press meet said, “Ramadoss (PMK leader) is demanding the opening of toddy shops,” the then Chief Minister pointed to the PMK leader’s namesake among the journalists, and asked, “Who, this Ramadoss, is it?” In 1998, after the AIADMK-BJP tie-up, Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran had observed that no party was politically untouchable, triggering a controversy. When asked about this, Karunanidhi cryptically shot back, “There is a difference between touching and sharing a bed.” The next year, DMK joined the BJP-led NDA government.

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