M Karunanidhi, DMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister, dies aged 94

Chennai: DMK chief M Karunanidhi – five-time Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu who dominated the state’s politics for six decades along with arch-rivals MG Ramachandran and later, J Jayalalithaa – died at a hospital in Chennai this evening. The 94-year-old leader was admitted to Kauvery Hospital on July 28 after he contracted urinary tract infection and developed a high fever.
He died at 6.10 pm. “Despite the best possible efforts by our team of doctors and nurses to resuscitate him, he failed to respond,” the hospital said in a statement.

On July 29, Mr Karunanidhi’s vital signs had weakened triggering huge concern, but the crisis passed within hours. The hospital later called it a “transient setback” and the doctors advised a longer stay, citing “age related overall decline, altered liver function and haematological parameters”.

On Monday evening, his health took a downturn again. In a bulletin, the hospital said maintaining his vital organ functions remains “a challenge” in view of his age-related ailments and the next 24 hours would be crucial.

The body of the DMK president has been taken to his home in Gopalapuram in Chennai and will later be taken to Rajaji Hall for people to pay their last respects. Karunanidhi’s mortal remains will be laid to rest tomorrow.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolence for the death of Mr Karunanidhi, calling him a deep-rooted mass leader, prolific thinker, accomplished writer and a stalwart devoted to the welfare of the poor. In a series of tweets, he said:

For more than a year, Mr Karunanaidhi has been in and out of hospital while recovering from a long ailment. He lived a secluded life – making no public appearance except occasional visits to his party office.

During the last stretch of his illness, President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President Venkiah Naidu and a number of political leaders across party lines visited him — initially at his home and then at the hospital. Among them were Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, union minister Nitin Gadkari, Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien, actor-politicians Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.

Like MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa, Mr Karunanidhi quit a flourishing career in movies to devote himself to politics and the Dravidian movement led by Periyar EVR — which he joined soon after it started in 1949. The “Kalaignar” (artiste) was known for his film scripts – a skill that greatly helped him in his political career. His powers of oratory bestowed on him a cult status much similar to Jayalalithaa.

In 1969, Mr Karunanidhi became a Chief Minister after DMK ideologue CN Annadurai died in office. Three years later, he fell out with MG Ramachandran and shunted him out of the party – leading to the formation of life-long rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagamor AIADMK.

The AIADMK came to power in 1977 and MGR ensured that Mr Karunanidhi’s party stayed out of power as long as he was alive. Mr Karunanidhi regained to power in power in 1989 after MGR’s death. But in the emotional aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, he was shunted out as he was seen to be close to the Lankan outfit LTTE, responsible for the bomb attack on the former Prime Minister.

He returned to power again in 1996, after corruption charges caused a major loss of face for Jayalalithaa. Since then, the two parties have been voted in alternately – a tradition that was broken in 2016, when Jayalalithaa was elected for a second straight term.