M. Karunanidhi in 1969, the year he became Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.
M. Karunanidhi, five-time Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president for nearly 50 years, died at 6.10 p.m. on Tuesday after battling infection and age-related ailments for 11 days at the Kauvery Hospital in Chennai. Affectionately called Kalaignar (artiste and man of letters), he was 94.
Leaders across the political spectrum, led by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, paid rich tributes to the DMK patriarch.
“Despite the best possible efforts by our team of doctors and nurses to resuscitate him, he failed to respond,” Dr. Aravindan Selvaraj, executive director, Kauvery Hospital, said in a press release.
Flag at half mast
The Tamil Nadu government announced a public holiday on Wednesday and declared a seven-day State mourning for the departed leader.
The Central government also announced cancellation of all official functions and a day’s mourning on Wednesday. The national flag will be flown at half mast on Wednesday. As news of Mr. Karunanidhi’s death spread, DMK cadre made their way to the hospital in Alwarpet in large numbers. Shops downed shutters and transport services were withdrawn.
The stalwart of the Dravidian movement 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 (through Ms. Dayalu Ammal); and M. Kanimozhi born to Ms. Rajathi Ammal.
Amid crowds of mourners, the DMK leader’s body was taken to his house in Gopalapuram in the evening to enable family members to pay homage. It will be taken to Ms. Rajathi Ammal’s house early on Wednesday. Thereafter, it will lie in state at Rajaji Hall on Anna Salai for the public to pay homage.
In pictures: M. Karunanidhi — a Titan of Tamil Nadu politics
Karunanidhi was born on June 3, 1924 in Thirukkuvalai as Dakshinamoorthy. He changed his name to Karunanidhi inspired by the rationalist movements that were against the use of gods' names.
Karunanidhi along with his son M.K. Stalin visiting his childhood home at Thirukkuvalai in Nagapattinam district on October 1, 2009.
Karunanidhi’s political innings began in his teens when he started the Maanavar Mandram or Students’ Club, considered the first-ever student body of the Dravidan movement.
Karunanidhi was the founding member of the DMK’s organ Murasoli. He edited the newspaper for over five decades. Photo shows Karunanidhi addressing an election rally at Kulithalai in 1957, the year he was first elected MLA from the Kulithalai constituency. Photo: Special Arrangement
Karunanidhi rose to fame with the Dalmiapuram protest in the 1950s. The agitation was against the renaming of Kallakudi railway station to Dalmiapuram, after the Dalmia Cements set up a factory in the town, then part of the Tiruchirapalli district. File photo shows police personnel at the Kallakudi Palanganatham railway station. Photo: Special Arrangement
Karunanidhi has the distinction of not losing a single Assembly election. He has won 13 times since 1957. Photo shows Karunanidhi taking oath as MLA on May 25, 2016.
Tamil Nadu Governor Sardar Ujjal Singh swears in M. Karunanidhi as Chief Minister at the Raj Bhavan in Madras on February 10, 1969. He went on to become Chief Minister four more times. His government was dismissed twice — in 1976 during the Emergency, and in 1991.
Karunanidhi was closely associated with Tamil theatre. His plays such as “Poompuhar” and “Manthiri Kumari” were later made into films. It was after watching “Thooku Medai”, actor-playwright M.R. Radha conferred the title “Kalaignar” on Karunanidhi. Photo shows a still from the movie “Manthiri Kumari” starring M.G. Ramachandran.
Karunanidhi is known for his association with Tamil cinema. “Parasakthi” and “Manthiri Kumari” scripted by Karunanidhi gave a breakthrough to two legendary Tamil actors Sivaji Ganesan and M.G. Ramachandran (MGR). Photo shows Karunanidhi and MGR during an election campaign.
“Parasakthi”, the film which changed the course of Tamil film industry, gave impetus to the rise of scriptwriter Karunanidhi and actor Sivaji Ganesan. “Parasakthi” has a cult status in Tamil cinema for shifting the focus from music to dialogues. In “Parasakthi”, Karunanidhi’s dialogues questioned social evils, caste hierarchy, and the plight of widows in the society.
Karunanidhi wrote scripts for about 40 movies, the last one being “Ponnar Shankar”, a period drama, released in 2011.
Photo shows Karunanidhi with the crew of “Ponnar Shankar”.
Karunanidhi has published over 100 Tamil books — both prose and poetry — including his autobiography “Nenjukku Needhi”; “Tholkappiya Poonga”, an elaborate treatise on Tamil grammar; and “Kuraloviyam”, a commentary on “Thirukkural”. Photo shows
former Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court P.R. Gokulakrishnan unveiling the sixth volume of Karunanidhi's memoir “Nenjuku Neethi” in Chennai on December 14, 2013.
Karunanidhi's moves such as legalising self-respect marriages, non-brahmins to become priests in temples, and performing archanai in Tamil faced opposition from orthodox Hindus. Photo shows Karunandhi being presented an award for allowing all caste people to become priests in temple, at a function in Thanjavur.
A self-proclaimed atheist, Karunanidhi penned dialogues for Ramanujar, a Tamil television series on the Vaishnavite saint.
Photo shows Karunanidhi with his mentor, former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai.
If Chief Ministers are hoisting the national flag on August 15, the credit goes to Karunanidhi. He took it up with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974 and subsequently it was decided that Governors would hoist the flag on Republic Day and Chief Ministers on Independence Day.
Photo shows Karunanidhi hoisting the national flag on August 15, 2009 at Chennai’s Fort St. George.
Karunanidhi was instrumental in establishing Tamil Nadu as a welfare state. During his term hand-rickshaws were abolished. Photo shows Karunanidhi presenting a cycle-rickshaw to a hand-rickshaw puller. Minister V.R. Nedunchezhian is also seen in the picture.
Universal public distribution system, affordable healthcare, and free spectacles scheme were some of the landmark schemes pioneered by Karunanidhi. He was also subjected to criticism as the freebie schemes were costing the exchequer.
Photo shows Karunanidhi distributing Pongal goodies to a ration card holder on January 1, 2011.
Rajaji meets Tami Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi at the latter’s residence in Chennai on July 20, 1971, to plead against lifting prohibition. Prohibition was suspended on August 30 that year and sale and consumption of alcohol resumed for the first time in Tamil Nadu post-Independence.
Karunanidhi's infrastructure projects such as Veeranam, the revival of Cooum, and construction of flyovers were marred in corruption allegations. The Sarkaria Commission, in its report, accused Karunanidhi of misusing the CM post.
Photo shows Karunanidhi disembark from his specially-designed car on March 30, 2016.
Karunanidhi was arrested in 2001 alleging irregularities in the construction of flyovers during his tenure. The midnight swoop was widely condemned across party lines and was seen as political vendetta as the probe made little headway.
Photo shows Karunanidhi, sitting in protest in front of the Central Jail in Chennai on June 30, 2001, after his arrest.
Karunanidhi was criticised for encouraging family rule and nepotism. While son M.K. Stalin has been Deputy Chief Minister, another son M.K. Alagiri, nephew ‘Murasoli' Maran and grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran have been made Union Ministers. Daughter Kanimozhi is a Rajya Sabha member.
Photo shows Karunanidhi celebrating his 89th birthday with his extended family.
In 2009, in the run-up to the defeat of the LTTE, he was accused of not doing enough to stop the war in Sri Lanka. He went on a fast in April demanding that the military operations to wipe out the LTTE be ended, but called it off after some hours, citing an assurance by the Sri Lankan government. However, the operations continued amidst reports of more civilian casualties.
Photo shows Karunanidhi during his fast on April 27, 2009.
Karunanidhi was part of national coalitions that formed the government in 1989 (V.P. Singh), 1996 (Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral), 2004-2014 ( Manmohan Singh). Photo shows leaders from several political parties with Karunanidhi on May 11, 2007 during a function to celebrate his golden jubilee as a member of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.
A staunch advocate of federalism and fiscal autonomy for States, Karunanidhi
appointed the P.V. Rajamannar Commission (in early 1970s), the first such panel to go into Centre-State relations. Photo shows Karunanidhi going through “The Hindu” at his residence.
Karunanidhi enjoyed high esteem among leaders across party lines in the country. Photo shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Karunanidhi at the latter’s residence on June 11, 2017.
Sri Sathya Saibaba of Puttaparthi calls on Karunanidhi at the latter's residence in Chennai on January 20, 2007.
Karunanidhi never shied away from embracing new technology. He had a personal Twitter handle and a Facebook page.
Karunanidhi stepped out of active politics from late 2016 owing to poor health. In his last years, he was living with a tracheostomy tube and other ailments, which restricted his movement.
Photo shows Karunanidhi greeting party workers on his 95th birthday outside his residence in Chennai on June 3, 2018.
DMK leaders (from left) K.A. Mathiazhagan, V.R. Nedunchezhian, M. Karunanidhi, A. Govindaswamy and N.V. Natarajan look on as party founder C.N. Annadurai addresses a meeting in the earlier days of the party. Photo: Special Arrangement
Outlived his peers
Mr. Karunanidhi, who outlived all his contemporaries in the Dravidian Movement except general secretary K. Anbazhagan, was rushed to the hospital early on July 28 after his blood pressure dropped sharply. He had been under treatment at the hospital since then.
His health had begun to deteriorate on Monday, with doctors acknowledging that maintaining his vital functions remained a challenge, considering his age-related ailments. At 4.30 p.m. on Tuesday, doctors announced that his condition was “extremely critical and unstable.”
For the record
Mr. Karunanidhi was the only Chief Minister in the State whose government was dismissed twice — during the Emergency in 1976 and in 1991 — by invoking Article 356. He created a record by winning all 13 Assembly polls he contested since 1957.
A strong advocate of the rights of State governments, State autonomy and federalism, Karunanidhi secured the right for chief ministers to hoist the national flag on Independence Day. He also adapted Manonmaniam Sundaranar’s poem Neerarum Kadalodutha into a separate invocation song for the State — Tamil Thai Vaazhthu.
“During the Emergency when there were fears that regional parties could be banned and even leaders like V.R. Nedunchezhian suggested that the DMK should drop the word Dravida from its name, he stood his ground,” said K. Thirunavukkarasu, historian of the Dravidian Movement and author of the three-volume history of the DMK.
Born in Tirukkuvalai, a small hamlet 40 km from Tiruvarur in the then composite Thanjavur district, to a family of musicians — his father Muthuvelar was a nagaswaram player — Karunanidhi was also sent to learn the instrument. But the rebel in him made him turn his back on music, as nagaswaram players in those days were not allowed to wear a shirt or angavastram (stole worn by men).
In pictures: M. Karunanidhi, the five-term Chief Minister
M. Karunanidhi takes oath as Chief Minister at the Raj Bhavan in Madras on February 10, 1969. He was 44 when he took over as Chief Minister after the death of his mentor C.N. Annadurai. Mr. Karunanidhi’s first term lasted till January 4, 1971.
M. Karunanidhi is sworn in as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for the second term at the Madras University Auditorium in Madras on March 15, 1971 after the DMK won a record 184 seats in the Assembly elections. Mr. Karunanidhi’s government was dismissed by the Centre on January 31, 1976 over his opposition to Emergency rule.
M. Karunanidhi is sworn in Chief Minister for the third term at Valluvar Kottam in Madras on January 27, 1989. He could become Chief Minister only after his arch rival M.G. Ramachandran’s death. Again, his term was cut short with a dismissal on January 30, 1991.
M. Karunanidhi takes oath as Chief Minister at the Raj Bhavan in Madras on May 13, 1996. His fourth term, which lasted till May 13, 2001 was his first to last the full five years. Photo: DIPR
DMK president M. Karunanidhi is sworn in as Chief Minister in Chennai on May 13, 2006. In his fifth term he headed a minority government supported the Congress. This term too lasted for the full five years till May 15, 2011.
His political career was launched when he organised students against the imposition of Hindi in 1938. He was just 14 then.
Even though his formative years belonged to a period when the Communist movement dominated East Thanjavur, Karunanidhi, with a passion for the Tamil language and social justice, gravitated towards the ideas of Justice Party, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, and C.N.Annadurai.
He had a meteoric rise, first in the Dravidar Kazhagam and subsequently in the DMK, and he always proved that he was possessed of the skill and calibre to run the party after the demise of Annadurai.
He was the first president of the DMK, a post created after Annadurai’s time. V.R. Nedunchezhian who was also in the race for the Chief Minister post, became the general secretary.
His rise in the party and government as Chief Minister put an end to the team of leaders who wielded power and enjoyed clout almost on a par with party supremo Annadurai.
He gained control over the party gradually and at one point the DMK became synonymous with Karunanidhi.
As a minister and later as Chief Minister, Karunanidhi heralded sweeping and bold reforms. As Transport Minister in Annadurai’s government, he nationalised bus services. The DMK government headed by him later introduced land reforms in the State. Communist leader Manali Kandasami remarked that Karunanidhi was able to achieve with a drop of ink (a signature) what the Communists had struggled to achieve through blood — land reforms.
A writer, orator and journalist, who founded the DMK’s official organ Murasoli , Karunanidhi’s end has come nearly a year after the platinum jubilee of the newspaper was celebrated.
During the Emergency, he braved the censors and at times hoodwinked them while continuing to publish the party organ. As he could not publish the names of those who had been arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), he just published the list as those who could not pay their respects to Annadurai, the founder of the DMK — a message that party cadre understood clearly.
As a dialogue and screenplay writer he worked for 77 films. Karunanidhi penned the dialogue for films that propelled three actors of Tamil cinema into heroes. Rajakumari , the first film he worked on as a dialogue-writer, was also the film that introduced MGR as a hero. Parasakthi , for which he wrote the dialogue, announced the arrival of Sivaji Ganesan, another formidable talent. S.S. Rajendran was introduced as a hero in the film Ammaiappan for which again Karunanidhi was the scriptwriter.
Even when out of power for 13 years during the reign of MGR and President’s rule, he was able to draw the limelight through his constant political activities, writings and public speeches.
He released the report of the Justice Paul Commission that probed the death of Subramania Pillai, the official of the Tiruchendur Murugan temples and gave a troubled time to MGR and his cabinet colleagues.