Chennai, Aug 8 (PTI): Muthuvel Karunanidhi, a doyen of Dravidian politics, was on Wednesday laid to rest on the Marina beachfront as a sea of humanity bid him a tearful farewell after an unsavoury courtroom battle his party won to secure for him the final resting place at the Chennai landmark.
The country’s high and mighty descended on the city to pay their last respects to the “Thalaivar” (the leader), school dropout, who left an indelible imprint on the state’s public life over decades through his literary, cinematic and political achievements.
The 94-year-old leader had breathed his last at a hospital here after fighting for life for 11 days. A galaxy of leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, and his Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh counterparts Pinarayi Vijayan, K Chandrasekhar Rao and N Chandrababu Naidu were in attendance.
So were CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, his predecessor Prakash Karat, and former chief ministers of Kerala and Uttar Pradesh Oommen Chandy and Akilesh Yadav.
Karunanidhi was buried with full military honours with soldiers giving him a gun salute and buglars sounding the last post.
Former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, Rahul Gandhi, union minister and the lone BJP Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu Pon Radhakrishnan, Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad placed wreaths at the feet of the departed leader at the Marina.
Karunanidhi’s son and heir apparent MK Stalin received the national flag wrapped around his father’s body.
Other family members including the leader’s wife Rajathi Ammal, other sons and daughters showered flower petals at his feet. In poignant scenes, Stalin was seen crying inconsolably after touching his father’s feet before the casket containing Karunanidhi’s body was lowered into the grave. The leader’s youngest daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi fondly caressed his head and cheek one last time.
Karunanidhi being a self-proclaimed atheist and rationalist, no Hindu rituals were performed. Earlier in the day, as thousands of grieving DMK supporters, leaders and celebrities filed past the golden casket containing the mortal remains of the leader draped in the national tricolour at the stately Rajaji Hall, a courtroom battle raged over where he should be buried.
The state’s AIADMK government had on Tuesday rejected the DMK’s demand for space at the Marina for Karunanidhi’s burial and construction of a memorial to him, citing pending litigations over ecological concerns. The DMK had swiftly moved the Madras High Court which partially heared its petition around midnight and resumed the hearing at 8 this morning.
The court ruled in DMK’s favour and the Thalaivar got his final resting place next to his mentor and former chief minister C N Annadurai.
“There is no legal impediment for not allotting the place. Provide a place for a decent burial forthwith in terms of the rough sketch given by the petitioner,” the division bench of the court comprising Acting Chief Justice H G Ramesh and S S Sundar ruled.
“There is no legal impediment for not allotting the place. Already alloted place in the Marina for all Dravidian leaders. There is no need to take different stand in the present case,” the bench said.
The court’s order was greeted with loud chants of “Kalaignar Pugazh Onguga (long live Kalaignar’s fame)” by thousands of DMK cadre at the Rajaji Hall some 8 km away.
A glum-faced M K Stalin, Karunanidhi’s son and DMK working president, who stood pensively beside the casket, sobbed uncontrollably, before regaining composure and wiping off tears of joy amid the pervasive gloom.
Shouts of “vendum vendum, Marina vendum (we want Marina)” had greeted Chief Minister K Palaniswamy earlier in the day when he arrived at the Rajaji Hall to pay his tributes.
The court’s order dealt a big blow to the AIADMK, which spared no effort to deny Karunanidhi, who headed its rival outfit DMK for half-a-century, a feat unparalleled in the country’s history, the final resting place at the Marina. AIADMK founder and former chief minister MG Ramachandran and his protegee J Jayalalithaa, who were buried on the beach and have memorials there, had died in office, and the government cited this as a ground for not bestowing the same privilege on Karunanidhi as he was not a serving chief minister.
There was a massive surge of people at the Rajaji Hall where lakhs had gathered to pay homage to Karunanidhi, a five-time chief minister and political warhorse who won 13 assembly elections on the trot.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowed in solemn reverence and placed a wreath at the leader’s feet. Clad in white kurta-churidar he spoke briefly to Karunanidhi’s wife Rajathi Ammal with folded hands. He clasped Stalin’s hand and the two talked quietly for some time.
The crowd swelled by the minute, people pressing against each other in a massive surge, pushing, shoving, stumbling on each other and clashing with police whose personnel wielded batons to control them.
Some fainted, scores were injured, prompting Stalin to make an appeal to maintain calm. Identical scenes were witnessed at the Marina. Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets as the flower bedecked gun carriage inched its way there from Rajaji Hall.
Many crashed their way through the barricades. Others perched precariously atop trees and lamp posts for the one last glimpse of their beloved leader. Stalin and other male members of the Karunanidhi family walked quietly behind the gun carriage as police personnel threw a security cordon around them. The DMK’s red- and-black flags fluttered across the landscape.
As the golden sun began to dip slowly into the sea, it shone light on the inscription on the casket in Tamil that read “the one who slogged all his life without rest, rests here”, signifying the end of an era in Tamil Nadu politics.