In the midst of a public outpouring of grief over the death of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, the state government’s attempt to deny permission to bury the five-time Tamil Nadu Chief Minister near his mentor CN Annadurai’s memorial at the Marina grounds stood out as an example of small-minded, petty politics. The Madras High Court on Wednesday ruled against the decision. But the government’s ill-advised move managed to cast a shadow on the last journey of one of India’s most respected politicians.
The Edappadi Palaniswamy government cited protocol, precedent and procedure to deny the DMK leadership’s request. Only chief ministers who died in harness, it said, have been allowed a resting place at Marina. Annadurai, MGR and J Jayalalithaa, the last to be buried here in December 2016, who rest at the Marina had died as chief ministers whereas the last rites of former chief ministers including Congressmen Rajagopalachari and K Kamaraj were performed at a different location in the city. The fact is that Marina has been a hallowed ground for the legatees of the Dravidian Movement since its founder-leader Annadurai rests here and the DMK leadership rightly saw the government’s refusal of space at this site to Karunanidhi as a denial of his due. Protocol and precedent are small arguments in the case of a leader who shaped the movement for at least seven decades and was its most articulate spokesperson for over 50 years. It may well be that the ruling AIADMK’s leadership was influenced more by animus towards persons suspected to have DMK links, who moved the court in the past against allowing a memorial for Jayalalithaa at the Marina. But it is appalling that a state administration sought to counter them in this moment, creating a scene that could have had disastrous outcomes. The mourners, running in thousands, were unlikely to take the slight to their leader lightly. Thankfully, the court ended the spectacle before it turned ugly.
Karunanidhi was respected across party lines and beyond Tamil Nadu for his remarkable achievements as a leader, administrator and public intellectual. Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswamy and his ministers have surely not burnished their standing by engaging in an unseemly power game over his mortal remains.