Obituary: M. Karunanidhi, Dravidian stalwart

Karunanidhi was a strong advocate of the rights of the State governments, State autonomy and federalism, and he secured the right for Chief Ministers to hoist the national flag on Independence Day.

August 07, 2018 07:01 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 11:55 pm IST - CHENNAI

M. Karunanidhi in 1969, the year he became Tamil Nadu Chief Minister.

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 Shops downed shutters and transport services were withdrawn.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


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


Anti-Hindi agitation

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.

Welfare reforms

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.

Coded message

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.

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