It is said that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. It is an apt analogy for a country too, pertinently for India, which at the time of independence was grappling with acute poverty. A considerable majority of the population was dependent on agriculture, and every health indicator was abysmal at best.
Strengthening the weakest of our country meant strengthening the nation itself. Following the demise of Karunanidhi, we look back as to how he and his predecessors’ focus and commitment to the empowerment of the poor and the marginalised made Tamil Nadu one of the most vibrant economies of modern India.
Periyar, Anna & Kalaignar, all had their reasons to enter politics. The common thread being discrimination they had faced, and the solution to it was to bring change through empowerment, change through progressiveness and emancipation of the poor and masses. Periyar became an ideological bedrock for the next generation of leaders to follow steadfastly, without excuses, to build an equitable and socially just society.
Anna adapted and abandoned those ideas which were not suited to the times (demand of Dravida Nadu etc.) and blended politics of Tamil Nadu with the politics of Delhi. His politics contributed significantly to the voice of strengthening state’s rights and federal structure of India. Anna’s tenure was short-lived, but his impact, his vision outweighs the duration of him as Chief Minister.
The baton went to Kalaignar Karunanidhi, who over next five decades weaved a beautiful yet delicate thread between ideology, welfare policies and sound economics that propelled Tamil Nadu up the economic ladder of India.
Propelling Tamil Nadu
His love for Tamil is well documented. He used it as a tool to bring people under one umbrella. Since Tamil was one of the pillars of his politics, it was an inclusive one. It cut across all castes and religions who shared the love for the language. A tribute to his rationality based politics was the tweet by the acclaimed scientist MS Swaminathan who termed Kalaignar as ‘Scientist of Scientists’ and mentioned how he welcomed any initiatives for research and science.
— M S Swaminathan (@msswaminathan) August 8, 2018
Empathy was his other pillar which ensured that the unheard and the marginalised voices of the society found in him, a listener. In 2006, he established over 30 welfare boards, which were tasked with engaging with the marginalised sections (transgenders, persons with disabilities, workers etc.) of the society in framing policies for themselves. The welfare board established for transgenders was the first in the country, much before the famous ruling of NALSA vs Union Of India case. The reservations at 69%, barring the criticism, took one step closer to a socially just society where large sections of the people got representation and opportunities. The far-reaching consequence of which was that business flourished by tapping the broader consumer base of Tamil Nadu.
While the above mentioned were for the marginalised, initiatives on Education (primary & higher) and reducing out of pocket expenditure for health were also significant. The healthy and the educated population capitalised on the opportunities the industries provided. The marginalised, the disabled, the masses, the poor and the wealthy, all had a fair chance at the available prospects. The following facts about Tamil Nadu reflect the outcome of all this,
- Second highest GDP among states
- 3rd in Human Development Index
- One of the lowest unemployment rates in India.
Of course, there is always scope for improvement.
The leaders at the time of independence had their task cut out. The immediate need was to feed the hungry, make education accessible and provide health care to the masses. Each state pursued its own politics. Those politics whose ideologies and commitment were for the poor ensured the weakest link was strengthened.
The Dravidian stalwarts Periyar, Anna and Karunanidhi, did precisely that, they kept the focus and priorities on the issues that mattered most. Tamil Nadu still faces its own challenges, socially and economically, but the state has come a long way through their vision. Even as Karunanidhi rests beside Anna at the Marina beach, Tamil Nadu has a reason to hope, dream and work for a better future for all.