by Elton Gomes
Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the DMK party supremo and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, whose intellectual prowess and sensibilities shaped the political narrative in Tamil Nadu politics over the past few decades, passed away on Tuesday at the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai. Karunanidhi was aged 94.
Karunanidhi breathed his last at 6.10 pm on Tuesday evening, 11 days after he was admitted to the hospital with fever and urinary tract infection that followed a procedure related to a tracheostomy implant. A statement from the hospital said: “Despite the best efforts by our team of doctors and nurses to resuscitate him, he failed to respond,” the Economic Times reported.
After news of Karunanidhi’s death broke out, hundreds of DMK workers crowded outside the Kauvery Hospital. Other supporters from various parts of the country travelled to the capital to pay their last respects. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet “India and particularly Tamil Nadu will miss him immensely.”
My thoughts are with the family and the countless supporters of Karunanidhi Ji in this hour of grief. India and particularly Tamil Nadu will miss him immensely. May his soul rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/7ZZQi9VEkm
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 7, 2018
President Ram Nath Kovind lamented Karunanidhi’s loss and said that “Our country is poorer today.”
Extremely sad to learn of the passing of Thiru M. Karunanidhi. A doyen of our public life, as a contributor to the development of Tamil Nadu and of India he has few peers. Our country is poorer today. My condolences to his family and millions of well-wishers #PresidentKovind
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) August 7, 2018
Superstar Rajnikanth told news agency ANI: “Today is a black day in my life, one which I can never forget as I lost my Kalaignar.” With his passing away, Karunanidhi has left behind a family immersed in politics right to the third generation. He is survived by his sons MK Stalin, Alagiri, MK Muthu, MK Thamizharasu, and daughters Kanimozhi and Selvi.
Hundreds of police personnel have been deployed across Tamil Nadu to control the increasing crowds, who have been virtually camping outside Kauvery Hospital. DMK cadres have gathered outside the deceased politician’s Gopalapuram residence where the body will be kept till 1 am. Thereafter, the body will be taken to Rajaji hall, where the public can pay their last tributes to the iconic leader.
From a screenwriter to a politician
Prior to entering politics, Karunanidhi dominated the Tamil movie industry as a screenwriter starting in the 1950s. He became chief minister in 1969, and held the position five times for a total of 19 years.
Karunanidhi was the only chief minister whose government was dismissed twice. First, during the Emergency in 1976, and then in 1991 when Article 356 was invoked. The DMK supremo created a record of winning all 13 Assembly elections he had contested since 1957. Karunanidhi secured the right for chief ministers to hoist the national flag in Independence Day. By adopting Manonmaniam Sundaranar’s poem Neerarum Kadalodutha, Karunanidhi created a separate vocation song for Tamil Nadu – Tamil Thai Vaazthu.
DMK under Karunanidhi
Under Karunanidhi, the DMK was able to occupy a prime position in the UPA governments in 2004 and 2009 and previously in the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpyee. The alignment raised a lot of eyebrows considering the Dravidian leanings of the DMK. Karunanidhi succeeded his mentor C.N. Annadurai. He retained a stranglehold on the party and the Tamil Nadu government after becoming chief minister in 1969.
He remained the DMK’s president for nearly 50 years – a monumental feat for anyone in politics. The iconic Kalaignar was always seen sporting dark glasses, which soon became his identity. In later years, he also wore a yellow stole, which critics claimed was against the atheism he preached.
Karunanidhi’s rivalry with Jayalalithaa
Following Annadurai’s death, Karunanidhi nominated his son to be next in line to join the DMK. In doing so, Karunanidhi ignored MG Ramachandran, famously known as MGR, and MGR turned into a rival. In 1972, MGR was expelled from the DMK, and the AIADMK was formed. Due to this, Karunanidhi faced several hardships, but managed to keep the DMK afloat.
Thereafter, Jayalalithaa took over MGR’s rivalry. Karunanidhi remained Jayalalithaa’s greatest political rival. Backed by the anti-Hindi Dravidian movement, Karunanidhi managed to give a tough fight to Jayalalithaa.
In recent years, however, Karunanidhi’s status was reduced to battling corruption charges against him and his family members. In 2011, the CBI arrested his daughter Kanimozhi and former telecom minister A. Raja, a DMK member, in connection with the 2G scam.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.