G.K. Moopanar passes away

CHENNAI, AUG. 30. The Tamil Maanila Congress president, Mr. G.K. Moopanar, a veteran Congressman and long-time associate of Kamaraj, died here early this morning at a private hospital. He was 70.

Mr. Moopanar, who rose to prominence in the national scene during the post-Emergency days of Indira Gandhi, was known as the Kingmaker who decided the fate of Congress Chief Ministers. And in the era of coalitions, he was tipped for the Prime Ministership on at least two occasions: in 1996, when Mr. Deve Gowda emerged as the dark horse, and in 1997, when Mr. I.K. Gujral became the consensus candidate of the United Front Government.

The TMC chief, who had been ailing for some time, was put on a ventilator during the last two weeks. The end came quietly a little after 5 a.m. today. After being admitted to the Sri Ramachandra Medical College Hospital on July 31 for a hip bone surgery, he had developed a lung infection resulting in a rapid deterioration in his health condition.

One of the most amiable and popular political leaders from Tamil Nadu, Mr. Moopanar was among the frontrunners for the Prime Ministership when the United Front formed the Government. Ironically, it was his Congress identity and proximity to Ms. Sonia Gandhi, that stood in the way of his being chosen for the top job. In the end, he remained a `King maker' who never became the King.

An indication of his popularity and acceptance as a `Statesman politician' both at the State and national levels, was evident from the list of those who turned out today at the Kamarajar Arangam where the body was kept for public homage. The Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, who had planned to visit him in hospital, came to place a wreath instead and paid homage to a ``staunch loyalist'' of the Nehru family. As she put it: ``He remained at heart a Congressman.''

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms. Jayalalithaa, paid glowing tributes to her ally and called at his residence to pay homage. The DMK president, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, who remained a ``good friend'' even after the break of the DMK-TMC alliance, called at the hospital on Wednesday and came to the Warren Road residence to pay his last respects.

Congress leaders, Chief Ministers of other States and leading politicians from across the political spectrum, paid homage to the departed leader.

There were two essential features which all of them remembered - Moopanar's unswerving commitment to secularism and his sense of ``political decency.''

Born on August 19, 1931, in a rich agricultural family at Kapistalam in Thanjavur district, Mr. Moopanar took to politics early in life. Beginning his political career as a disciple of Kamaraj, Moopanar gradually climbed the ladder in the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee(TNCC) to become the Thanjavur District president in 1965. Because of his loyalty to Kamaraj, he joined the Congress (O) at the time of the split in 1971, only to return the parent body in 1974 after the death of his leader. Thereafter, he had a one-year stint as the TNCC president when Indira Gandhi recognised his organisational skills and took him to the national scene. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1977 and the party general secretary in 1980. During this period, he served Indira Gandhi as a hatchet man and troubleshooter deciding the fate of several Congress Chief Ministers.

He returned to State politics with the death of MGR and the split in the AIADMK. The Congress decided to go it alone in the 1989 Assembly elections, and Rajiv Gandhi projected Moopanar as a Chief Ministerial candidate. He ended up as the Leader of the Opposition.

In the post-Rajiv era too, Mr. Moopanar remained loyal to the Congress, despite differences with Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao. Ultimately, it was Mr. Rao's last minute alliance with the AIADMK that led to a parting of ways and he launched the TMC just before the 1996 Assembly elections. In alliance with the DMK, his party swept the polls and joined the United Front Government. After Ms. Sonia Gandhi took over as the AICC president, Mr. Moopanar acknowledged her as his ``national leader.''

Mr. Moopanar is survived by his wife, Mrs. Kasturi Ammal, daughter Ms. Usharani, and son, Mr. G.K. Govindavasan.

The funeral will take place on Friday evening.

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