DMK chief M Karunanidhi, one of the foremost Dravidian politicians in modern times, died in Chennai on Tuesday, after waging a grim battle for life aged 94, the hospital where he was admitted for the last 11 days said.
One of the most charismatic figures of Tamil Nadu politics whose public life spanned over seven decades, is survived by two wives and six children, including DMK working president and heir apparent M K Stalin and daughter Kanimozhi, a Rajya Sabha MP.
The most enduring mascot of the Dravidian movement breathed his last at 6.10 p.m.
“We profoundly mourn the loss of one of the tallest leaders of India and we share the grief of family members and fellow Tamilians worldwide,” a press release by Dr Aravindan Selvaraj, Executive Director of Kauvery Hospital, said.
President Ramnath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and a host of other celebrities mourned his death.
“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,” Kovind tweeted.
Modi said Karunanidhi stood for regional aspirations as well as national progress. “Deeply saddened by the passing away of Kalaignar Karunanidhi. He was one of the senior most leaders of India. We have lost a deep-rooted mass leader, prolific thinker, accomplished writer and a stalwart whose life was devoted to the welfare of the poor and the marginalised,” Modi said in a series of tweets.
A bulletin from the Kauvery Hospital had said on Monday evening the condition of the DMK patriarch had “declined” and keeping his vital organs functioning was proving a “challenge”, triggering concerns about his condition among his followers who began swarming the hospital soon after.
Hundreds of them kept vigil outside the hospital overnight, but when the facility came out with another bulletin at 4.30 p.m today, describing his condition as “extremely critical and unstable”, the milling crowd grew delirious and dramatic scenes began unfolding.
Some were seen fainting, while a few others beat their chests and faces in utter desperation. Cries of “Ezunthu Vaa Thalaiva (arise leader and come),” rent the air as DMK supporters bearing the red-and- black party flags broke into feverish chants hailing the stalwart. However, their prayers went unanswered, with the hospital announcing his death at 6.10 p.m.
Sudden silence descended once the hospital issued the bulletin confirming Karunanidhi’s death. Some in the crowd lit the cell phone torches as a mark of respect for the departed leader. Shops and business establishments downed shutters as the news of Karunanidhi’s demise spread and streets got deserted quickly.
A general alert has been sounded across the state and security tightened at vital installations to tackle any law and order situation, officials said. Karunanidhi’s death comes barely 20 months after that of J Jayalalithaa, his long-time political foe and another bright star that faded from Tamil Nadu’s political firmament on December 5, 2016.
The sharp-tongued, quick witted Karunanidhi was a five-time chief minister, who wielded considerable influence beyond his own state, in the corridors of power in New Delhi, for a long time, sewing up alliances with both the Congress and the BJP.
Hugely influenced by the rationalist and egalitarian ideology of E V Ramasamy ‘Periyar’ and DMK founder and the state’s first chief minister C N Annadurai, Karunanidhi became one of the most enduring mascots of the Dravidian Movement, which aimed at seeking equal rights for the depressed sections and women, and was against Brahminism.
Karunanidhi became the chief minister for the first time in 1969 after the demise of Annadurai. He subsequently helmed the state as chief minister in 1971, 1989, 1996 and 2006. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly 13 times, the last time as a 92-year-old in 2016. Karunanidhi, who earned sobriquets of ‘Thalaivar’ (The Leader) and ‘Kalaignar’ (The Artist) from his ardent followers, became DMK president in 1969 and held the position till his death.