Chennai: Muthuvel Karunanidhi, five-time Tamil Nadu chief minister and the man whose name has been synonymous with that of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the party he headed for nearly 50 years, died at 6.10 pm on Tuesday after battling illness for 11 days at a private hospital in Chennai.
Affectionately called “Kalaignar” (artiste and man of letters) by followers, he was 94 and is survived by wives Dayalu Ammal and Rajathi Ammal; children M.K. Muthu (born to his first wife Padmavathy); M.K. Alagiri, M.K. Stalin, M.K. Tamilarasu and daughter Selvi (born to Dayalu); and M. Kanimozhi (born to Rajathi).
A stalwart of the Dravidian movement and politics, Karunanidhi, who found his calling at the age of 14 when he led an agitation against the imposition of Hindi in schools, was, throughout his career, a strong advocate of the rights of state governments and federalism. He went on to secure the right for chief ministers to hoist the national flag on Independence
Karunanidhi was under treatment at the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai following a drop in his blood pressure on July 27-28 midnight, the same day when he became the first Indian leader to enter the 50th year as president of a political party.
On July 27, 1969, following the death of his mentor and DMK founder C.N. Annadurai, Karunanidhi was elected DMK president and went on to become Tamil Nadu’s CM five times, with his last tenure being in 2006.
As a minister and later as chief minister, Karunanidhi nationalised the bus service and the DMK government headed by him introduced land reforms.
Karunanidhi, who fell ill in October 2016 due to a drug-induced allergy, had undergone a procedure to change his tracheostomy tube, to help him breathe. Since then the patriarch had retreated from mainstream politics, appointing his son, M.K. Stalin, political heir and the party’s working president.
On Tuesday evening, hospital’s executive director Dr Aravindan Selvaraj said that despite their best efforts, Kalaignar had failed to respond. “We profoundly mourn the loss of one of the tallest leaders of India,” he said.
The entire Karunanidhi family was by the bedside when the end came, except Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal who had been brought in a wheelchair on Monday to say her final goodbye. The 83-year-old frail woman suffers from Alzheimer’s. Outside the hospital, the crowd of DMK cadres and Kalaignar fans kept swelling through the day. And when they got the news of Karunanidhi’s demise, men and women screamed in shock and sorrow. “Appa”, wailed a woman trying to push her way through the barricade. “You gave this poor slum woman her Housing Board tenement”. Karunanidhi, born into a poor family belonging to the temple-dependent Isai Vellalar caste, began his career as a screenwriter in Tamil films.Though his father Muthuvelar was a nagaswaram player, Karunan-idhi rebelled against learning the instrument as nagaswaram players in those days were not allowed to wear shirt, or the angavastram.His first film as a riter released in 1947, but it was the 1952 film Parasakthi, which also marked the debut of Sivaji Ganeshan, that brought him fame. His last film as a screenwriter was the 2011 Ponnar Shankar.Politics in Tamil Nadu has for decades shared an intimate relationship with films, but it was the DMK that took films seriously as a vehicle of political mobilisation. Many of Karunanidhi’s scripts dealt with widow remarriage, abolition of zamindari and untouchability among other issues. In the 1920s and 30s, when social activist E.V. Ramaswamy, popularly known as Periyar, was urging the backward castes to revolt against the oppressive caste system, that Karunanidhi joined what came to known as the “self-respect movement”. His oratory impres-sed Periyar and Karunanidhi was appointed editor of the magazine of Dravidar Kazhagam, the party founded by him.When the Dravidar Kazhagam split into two after Independence, Karun-anidhi jointed the splinter group headed by Annadurai and helped launch the DMK. In the 1950s, the Congress still had a stronghold over Tamil Nadu. However, in a matter of a decade things changed drastically. In 1967, the DMK became the first non-Congress party to win state elections. Annadurai was chief minister, Karunanidhi became the minister of public works and the Congress never returned to power in Tamil Nadu since.Two years later, in 1969, when Anna-durai passed away, Karunanidhi managed to climb up the political ladder and took up the chief ministerial post. He went on to become chief minister of the Tamil Nadu four more times, notching up almost 20 years in power.In the early 1970s though the party suffered a major split when the legendary actor M.G. Ramachandran quit over many grievances. Karunanidhi miscalculated his popularity and organisational skills and in its very first election the AIADMK crushed the DMK and remained in power till MGR was alive. It was after MGR’s death and a split in the party that Karunanidhi managed to spring back to power. The next few decades were marked by Karunanidhi and MGR’s successor Jayalalitha alternating in power in Tamil Nadu. These were years of bitter acrimony and sycophancy that changed Tamil Nadu politics forever. Karunanidhi’s life in politics was also marked by allegations of corruption against him and his family members. After the promulgation of Emergency, the DMK government was dissolved on charges of corruption in 1976. And in 2001, the Sakaria commission indicted Karu-nanidhi for corruption in allotting tenders for the Veeranam project. In 2010 too the party faced allegations regarding the 2G spectrum case when his party was sharing power with the UPA at the Centre. Despite this, Karuna-nidhi found a way to become a significant part of national politics, often casting his party in the role of kingmaker at the Centre. DMK joined hands with the United Front government first led by H.D. Deve Gowda in 1996, and later I.K. Gujral. In 1999, Karunanidhi’s party supported the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in the no-confidence motion. Though the BJP lost by one vote, the two contested the 1999 general elections together and emerged victorious and Karunanidhi managed to get portfolios like petroleum, road, transport and commerce for his party. But in 2003, he withdrew support from the BJP and contested the 2004 and 2009 general elections along with Congress. The alliance managed to secure a victory both the times. It was only in 2013 that Karunanidhi withdrew support from the Congress citing the insensitivity towards Sri Lankan Tamils.