M Karunanidhi, the last of the tallest Dravidian leaders, died today at Kauvery Hospital, where he was admitted on July 28. He was 94 and leaves behind two wives, four sons, two daughters and millions of sorrowing supporters.

In a statement, the hospital said Karunanidhi died at 6.10 pm. Despite the best possible efforts by doctors and nurses to resuscitate him, he did not respond, the statement said.

Popularly known as Kalaignar , Karunanidhi was among the last of the old guards, a founding member of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, of which he has been the president since July 27, 1969. He has been chief minister five times, first assuming office in February 1969 following the death of then Chief Minister CN Annadurai.


With his trademark dark glasses and yellow shawl, Karunanidhi strode the political landscape in the State like a colossus and played an important role in government-formation at the Centre since 1996, in the era of coalition politics.

Rationalist & atheist

Joining public life while still in his teens, Karunanidhi was inspired by the speeches of the then Justice Party leaders. He was an avowed rationalist and atheist. He was many parts rolled into one – poet, author, playwright, script writer and more – but first and last he was a politician. He was an advocate of the rights of State governments, fought for State autonomy and a proponent of federalism.

A 12-time member of the Legislative Assembly and once of the now-abolished Legislative Council, Karunanidhi remained undefeated in elections. Over the years, he tightened his grip on the party and made sure that DMK and Karunanidhi were synonymous.

Ever since Karunanidhi was admitted to hospital, party loyalists camped out at the hospital, braving sun and rain, praying and hoping for their leader to recover and return home. They held placards beseeching “ Ezhunthuvaa thalaivaa” (get up and come, our leader). For party cadre and loyalists, this rationalist politician was their God and leader. Even as he was battling for his life, his supporters performed pooja on the roadside. All through the years as party leader, Karunanidhi kept in touch with the cadre, addressing public meetings, organising protests and penning letters to them addressed as “ Udanpirappe” (kin) in the party mouthpiece, Murasoli .

Given his stature in Indian politics, it was no surprise that there was a steady stream of visitors to the hospital by political friends and foes alike. President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu, Congress (I) President Rahul Gandhi and union ministers visited him and spent time with his family, as did much of the Tamil film fraternity.


DMK workers turn restive over the burial site


Even as millions of party supporters mourn their leader’s passing, foremost in their minds will be the party’s future. Karunanidhi’s third son, Stalin was elected Working President in January 2017, paving the way for him to take over the reins of the DMK after Karunanidhi. Political observers say the succession may not be smooth. Stalin’s elder brother, Alagiri, who was the party’s south zone organisational secretary, Madurai MP and a former Union Minister, was expelled from the DMK in May 2014 for anti-party activities. Alagiri was considered the party’s strongman in the southern districts. Now, with the party and family patriarch no more, Alagiri may want to flex his muscles. There have been reports that while their father was in hospital, efforts were on to get the two brothers – Alagiri and Stalin – to bury the hatchet in the best interest of the party. The observers feel that as Stalin has been at the forefront handling party affairs, there should not be any challenge to his leadership.

Crucial test ahead

The first crucial test for both the DMK and the ruling AIADMK will come when by-elections are held for Thiruparankundram seat in Madurai, which fell vacant following the death of the sitting AIADMK MLA.Will Stalin be able to prove his mettle in this election or will the DMK come a cropper again, as it did in the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai, where its candidate not only came third, but also lost his deposit? Party faithfuls will hope for a truce in the family so that it gets a morale boosting win in the election. For the ruling AIADMK too, the Thiruparankundram by-election is an acid test, as it is also faces challenges.

Karunanidhi was a master at stitching up political alliances and with Parliamentary elections due in less than a year, it remains to be seen how the two national parties – the BJP and the Congress (I) – go about wooing either of the two Dravidian parties.

The journey