Muthuvel Karunanidhi, a popular scriptwriter-turned-politician in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has died after a prolonged illness. He was 94.
Kauvery Hospital said Karunanidhi died Tuesday after suffering multiple organ failure. Hundreds of supporters carrying his photograph held a vigil at the hospital praying for his recovery. Many wept when they learned of his death.
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Karunanidhi dominated the Tamil-language movie industry as a screenwriter beginning in the 1950s, and later the political scene for nearly five decades. He became the state’s chief minister, the top elected official in 1969 and held that position five times for a total of 19 years. He led the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam political party.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that India and particularly Tamil Nadu would miss Karunanidhi immensely.
“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 marginalized,” Modi said.
Karunanidhi stopped making public appearances two years ago as his health deteriorated.
Meanwhile, a dispute erupted over the burial site for Karunanidhi with the state government, run by a rival party, rejecting his party’s demand that he be laid to rest on Marina beach in Chennai, the state capital, next to a memorial of his mentor and the party founder, C. N. Annadurai. The burial is scheduled for Wednesday.
The state government, run by the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, in a statement said it was unable to allot space at Marina beach owing to some legal disputes pending a court settlement. It offered a two-acre (less than a hectare) site elsewhere in the city.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the state government appeared to be reluctant to allot space for Karunanidhi’s burial at the Marina beach as he was not a serving top elected official.
Karunanidhi’s DMK party moved a petition before the chief justice of the state High Court who is expected to hear both sides later Tuesday.
He is the second key political figure to die in Tamil Nadu state in the past two years after Jayaram Jayalalithaa of the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, creating a huge political vacuum.
Cinema has always influenced Tamil politics by turning actors into popular politicians. C.N. Annadurai and Karunanidhi were both scriptwriters who went on to become chief ministers. M.G. Ramachandran, a top actor-turned-politician, also had a strong screen presence and following and ruled the state for nearly 10 years as its top elected official.
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From his school days, Karunanidhi showed interest in drama, poetry and literature. He began his career as a screenwriter in the Tamil film industry at the age of 20. His first film, Rajakumaari, gained him recognition and popularity.
Karunanidhi penned screenplays and dialogues for more than 50 movies. He also wrote the stories for some of them, such as Marudanattu Ilavarasi, 1950, Mandiri Kumari, 1950, Tirumbipar, 1953 and Arasilangkumari, 1961.
He became a powerful political figure using his wit and oratorical skills after joining politics at age 33 and winning a state Legislature seat in 1957. He won 13 state elections as a lawmaker.
He had three wives, one of whom has died. He is also survived by four sons and two daughters, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Karunanidhi’s second son, M.K. Stalin, is his chosen political heir. A daughter, Kanimozhi, is a lawmaker in the Indian Parliament.