Though DMK president M. Karunanidhi’s life is loaded with events that have endeared him to the masses, the people of southern districts in particular will remember him for the week-long padayatra he undertook from Madurai to Tiruchendur, covering close to 200 km, in February 1982.
Then the Leader of the Opposition, Karunanidhi undertook the march to seek ‘justice’ for a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) official, Subramania Pillai, who was found dead in November 1980.
There were allegations that he was killed to cover up embezzlement of funds at the Tiruchendur temple.
While the then Chief Minister, M.G. Ramachandran, maintained that the victim had committed suicide, the DMK insisted that it was a murder.
Karunanidhi undertook the march, which was flagged off by DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan at Yanaikal in Madurai.
Accompanied by a large number of cadre and leaders, Karunanidhi walked for 30 km during daytime and halted in wayside towns for lunch. In the evenings, he addressed public meetings. With each passing day, the number of people joining the padayatra rose. The DMK drew much-needed mileage from the march, and it became a talking point in every household.
To keep the cadre in a jubilant mood, a special Vadipatti thappu (drum beating) performance was organised by the DMK.
The padayatra ended with a rousing reception for Karunanidhi at Tiruchendur, where he addressed a mammoth public meeting.
Paul panel report
Rattled by support for the DMK, the government set up a one-man commission, headed by C.J.R. Paul, a retired judge, was established. The commission’s findings, which were submitted to the government, were never tabled in the Assembly. However, Karunanidhi managed to get a copy of the report and released it to the media in 1982.
The panel had concluded that Pillai had not committed suicide.
Recalling the padayatra a few years ago, Karunanidhi told a gathering that “during the padayatra , after newspapers reported that I was not doing well and my legs had swollen, MGR telephoned me and requested me to call it off...” That was the personal relationship the two leaders had back then.