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India

Muthuvel Karunanidhi mourned by thousands in India

Supporters beat their chests at the death of ‘a deep-rooted mass leader’ in Tamil Nadu

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 2:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 2:02am

Thousands mourned in southern India on Tuesday after the death of revered 94-year-old political leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi.

But tensions were high with local television showing footage of agitated mourners attacking police barricades and chanting loud slogans demanding a prime beachside burial site in Chennai for the late leader.

Karunanidhi, a charismatic self-styled champion of the poor, had been in intensive care since July 28 in the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

A big crowd had thronged the streets outside the hospital since his hospitalisation but it swelled to some 6,000 Tuesday, an Agence France-Presse photographer estimated, after doctors said he had suffered a “significant decline”.

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Prakash Duria, a doctor at the Kauvery Hospital, later confirmed that he had died.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately tweeted condolences to Karunanidhi’s family, saying “India and particularly Tamil Nadu will miss him immensely”.

“Deeply saddened by the passing away of Kalaignar Karunanidhi,” Modi said.

“He was one of the senior most leaders of India. We have lost a deep-rooted mass leader, prolific thinker, accomplished writer and a stalwart whose life was devoted to the welfare of the poor and the marginalised,” he added.

Supporters beat their chests and chanted the leader’s name as hundreds of police struggled to contain the surging crowds.

A security alert had been sounded across the state, following past outbreaks of violence triggered by the deaths of previous high-profile figures.

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Karunanidhi was chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times and successfully contested 12 state elections, building legions of supporters on the way.

His popularity had not waned even though he handed over the reins of his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party to his son M.K. Stalin.

Karunanidhi, a school dropout, became involved in politics at a young age, spearheading the DMK which was allied for many years to the Gandhi dynasty’s Congress party.

Affectionately called “Kalaignar” or scholar, he wrote reams of poems, lyrics and books and was a prolific screenwriter for the Tamil film industry.

His popularity rivalled that of J. Jayalalithaa, another powerful leader from Tamil Nadu whose death sparked a huge outpouring of grief.

An estimated one million people lined the streets for Jayalalithaa’s burial in 2016.

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Jayalalithaa was buried at the Marina beach and Karunanidhi’s supporters have demanded space for their leader in the same area, close to one of his late mentors.

The deaths of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi leave a big political vacuum in the industrialised and prosperous southern state only months before key national election early next year.