The Chief Minister’s Own House Of Commons

The Chief Minister’s Own House Of Commons
TNN 27 July 2009, 03:37am IST

CHENNAI: Cricket on the street corner part of every child’s growing-up years. And MK Stalin and MK Azhagiri’s childhood years were not that different. As boys, the brothers, sons of chief minister and DMK president M Karunanidhi, played countless games of cricket outside their house on the corner of Gopalapuram’s fourth street, a corner now swamped with policemen and patrol vehicles.

“It’s more crowded now but even when we were young, our house was always crowded with party men,” recalls deputy chief minister Stalin. “Thalaivar rarely found time to spend with us. We used to long for the Pongal festival, the only time the whole family would sit together and dine with him,” he says.

Karunanidhi recently announced that his Gopalapuram residence, the epicentre of political activity in Tamil Nadu since he first became chief minister in 1969, will become a charitable hospital after his and his wife Dayalu Ammal’s lifetime. The 85-year-old politician has formed five cabinets and met countless dignitaries in his book-filled study in this simple house, which he bought in the 1960s.

“Though the house has witnessed many crucial events, the days of the Emergency were the most hectic. Kalaignar conducted meetings with party functionaries here daily as the police had crippled democratic rights and it was impossible to hold public meetings,” says Murasoli Selvam, Karunanidhi’s son-in-law.

The DMK government had refused to arrest leaders and impose the Emergency, despite threats from the Centre. The top DMK leadership was behind bars and Karunanidhi was the only one who could direct action to counter the Emergency. Authorities laid siege to the house; visitors were checked, and vehicle numbers recorded. “It was a dark period. Party functionaries would tonsure their heads, disguise themselves as Tiruthani Murugan temple devotees and come home,” he says.

The Centre finally dismissed the DMK government and on the night of January 30, 1976, the police came knocking at Karunanidhi’s house. They were looking for Stalin. The house was searched. “I was at Madurandhagam that day,” says Stalin. “As soon as I returned the next day, Thalaivar called up the city commissioner. The police came to the Gopalapuram house to arrest me under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act,” he says. A couple of days later, it was the turn of Karunanidhi’s nephew Murasoli Maran, who lived there with his family.

In the previous decade, this house was where DMK founder CN Annadurai decided to give up his separatist demand for Dravida Nadu’ in response to Jawaharlal Nehru’s call for national unity in the face of the 1962 Chinese aggression. And it was where Anna’s ascension as the first regional party chief minister in the country was formally announced in 1967.

“It was at the Gopalapuram house that my early political career was shaped,” says Stalin. “As students, my friends and I collected funds from my father’s visitors to celebrate Anna’s birthday. We formed the youth wing of the DMK at a saloon near the house,” Stalin says, smiling as he recounts memories of the house and its many illustrious visitors.

If rationalist social reformer Periyar E V Ramasamy and his ideological foe but personal friend, C Rajagopalachari, were regular visitors decades ago, recent times saw corporate guru Bill Gates and spiritual guru Sathya Sai Baba dropping in for a tête à tête. Leaders who have walked its corridors include former prime ministers Indira Gandhi, VP Singh, AB Vajpayee, IK Gujral and Deve Gowda, former president VV Giri, long-time friend MG Ramachandran, and veteran Congress leader K Kamaraj. Industrialists, actors, bureaucrats, party workers and citizens coming to present petitions have also made their way up to Karunanidhi’s study.

Structurally little has changed in the house since he bought it. An outhouse was connected to the main house when the grand joint family grew too large. Karunanidhi’s nephews the late Union minister Murasoli Maran, his brother Murasoli Selvam, Amirtham and others lived here for years, along with his wife Dayalu Ammal and own children MK Muthu, MK Alagiri, MK Stalin and MK Tamilarasu. They moved out only after marriage. Stalin lived here till 1996 when he became Mayor and the house could no longer accommodate the visitors for the CM and Mayor.

The thatched roof over the veranda outside was replaced with a tiled one after the Kumbakonam fire tragedy five years ago. When Karunanidhi developed knee pain, an elevator was fitted, but most visitors still use the flight of stairs which, legend has it, a former governor had to struggle up sideways as he was rather too large for the narrow staircase with a sign that reads: Time is Precious’.

Times Of India Reference