Leaders pay last respects to Moopanar

CHENNAI, AUG. 30. Amid heart-rending wails and slogans of ``Makkal Thalaivar Vaazgha'', an endless stream of political leaders and Congress cadres from across the country poured in at the Kamarajar Arangam here to pay their last respects to the TMC president, Mr. G.K. Moopanar.

As the TMC leader came on his last visit to his favourite Kamaraj hall around 2.30 p.m., the Congress president, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who flew down from Delhi this afternoon, placed a wreath on the body kept in a glass case.

After offering words of comfort to the departed leader's son, Mr. Govindavasan, Mrs. Gandhi told the media that Moopanar was a ``symbol of Congress for a quarter of a century'' and ``standard bearer of Congress flag'' all his life. Though he started his own party, Mr. Moopanar never ``really quit the Congress and his heart was always with the Congress''.

Asked whether the TMC would merge with the Congress now, she said it was a moment of great sadness and not the time to talk about politics. The Maharashtra Chief Minister, Mr. Vilasrao Deshmukh, rushed to the city to pay homage to a ``lovable leader'', whose death was a great loss to the nation and the Congress. The Maharashtra PCC president, Mr. Murli Deora, said Mr. Moopanar was ``born a Congressman and died as a Congressman''.

The Congress leaders, Mr. Gulam Nabi Azad and Mr. Jaipal Reddy, the Pondicherry Chief Minister, Mr. P. Shanmugham, the MDMK general secretary, Mr. Vaiko, the PMK leader, Dr. S. Ramadoss, the CPI (M) State Secretary, Mr. N. Sankariah, and the CPI State Secretary, Mr. R. Nallakannu, and the TMC-Democratic Forum leader, Mr. P. Chidambaram, were among those who visited the Kamarajar Arangam to pay homage.

Even as the mourners thronged, a majority of the 22 TMC MLAs held an informal meeting on the lawns of the Arangam and urged Mr. Govindavasan to take over the party leadership. ``He is the only hope and should take over the reins,'' Mr. C. Gnanasekaran, TMC whip said. Earlier, when the body arrived from the SRMC hospital at the TMC leader's Warren road residence around 9.20 a.m, grief and gloom took over as the cadres cried: ``Ayya, you have orphaned us.''

Within an hour, the Governor, Mr. C. Ranagarajan, came to pay homage at his residence followed by the Chief Minister, Ms.Jayalalithaa, who used the occasion to emphasise the importance of the alliance with the TMC. When she visited him in the hospital early this month, he wished that the TMC and the AIADMK continue their cooperation in the local bodies elections, Ms. Jayalalithaa recalled.

Going down memory lane, she said she would never ``forget'' the solace Mr. Moopanar offered when she was hospitalised after she was ``physically assaulted'' in the Assembly in March 1989.

The DMK president and former Chief Minister, Mr.M.Karunanidhi, came half-an-hour later, accompanied by the general secretary, Mr.K.Anbazhagan, the Chennai Mayor, Mr.M.K.Stalin and other party functionaries. Eyes moist, Mr.Karunanidhi, in an emotion-choked tone, said:``I can't speak now.''