Five-time Tamil Nadu chief minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president Muthuvel Karunanidhi, one of the most influential politicians in the state’s history, has died at the age of 94. Fondly called Kalaignar, Karunanidhi was suffering from urinary tract infection for over a week. He had been hospitalised since 27 July. The former chief minister, one of the pillars of the Dravidian movement, was recovering from a long illness when he contracted the infection and developed fever. He was admitted to Chennai’s Kauvery Hospital after his blood pressure dropped sharply. A press release from the hospital announced his death.
Thousands of DMK cadre and Karunanidhi’s supporters had gathered outside the hospital since 27 July, praying and wishing for Kalaignar’s recovery. Karunanidhi served as Tamil Nadu chief minister five times between 1969 and 2011. He had been leading the DMK since the demise of its founder, C N Annadurai, in 1969. Karunanidhi’s foray into Tamil Nadu politics began with his participation in the Kallakudi agitation in 1953. In 1957, he was elected to the Madras state legislative assembly for the first time from Kulithalai constituency in Tiruchirapalli district. In 1961, he became the DMK treasurer and was given the post of deputy leader of opposition in the state assembly the following year. Known as 'Kalaignar' (artist) by his supporters, he had also worked as a playwright and screenwriter in many Tamil movies, especially featuring then stars M G Ramachandran and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan.
A pall of gloom has descended on the Gopalapuram residence of Karunanidhi. DMK workers were seen breaking down after Kauvery Hospital released a statement that the DMK chief was no more. A host of leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, have expressed their condolences over the demise of Karunanidhi. The Tamil Nadu government announced a public holiday on Wednesday. The state will observe a seven-day mourning as a mark of respect to the former CM. He was an astute political leader who never lost an election in a career spanning six decades.
In December 2016, Karunanidhi underwent a tracheostomy, a procedure to create a space in the windpipe to optimise breathing. Doctors said the procedure helped him overcome breathing difficulties caused by throat and lung infection. In addition, he had undergone percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy, a flexible tube put through the abdominal wall into stomach. The tube allowed fluids, nutrition and medications to be put directly into his stomach. For a year Karunanidhi rarely left home and visitors were limited.