Karunanidhi burial: Why Dravidian electoral politics rests on Marina Beach

The AIADMK failed to see that rejecting DMK’s wish to lay Kalaignar to rest at Marina Beach will be seen as an insult and trigger public outrage.

 |  4-minute read |   09-08-2018
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Amid a sea of grieving supporters, family members and a host of political leaders, DMK patriarch and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi was laid to rest beside his mentor CN Annadurai on Chennai's Marina Beach on Wednesday, August 8.

However, a night before his state funeral, the state witnessed an unseemly dispute breaking out over the burial site for him. The tussle started even before Karunanidhi was declared dead.

His son and DMK working president, MK Stalin, had gone to chief minister E Palaniswami with a request for permission to bury Karunanidhi next to the grave of his mentor and DMK founder, CN Annadurai, at Anna Square memorial. The AIADMk government, however, turned down the request. The DMK then approached the Madras High Court for Karunanidhi’s burial at Marina Beach, where Dravidian stalwarts like CN Annadurai, MG Ramachandran, and J Jayalalithaa were also laid to rest.

So what makes Marina Beach so special? Why did Kalaignar want a place next to his mentor Annadurai?

marina-embed_080918024404.jpgPeople pay their last respects to DMK president M Karunanidhi on his last journey on Wednesday, August 8. (Credit: PTI photo)

Many argued that Karunanidhi himself had denied the honour of a Marina burial to Congress leaders like Rajaji and Kamaraj in the past. The two leaders were laid to rest at Gandhi Mandapam. Some even said that Karunanidhi did not allocate land at the Marina for Kamaraj, saying that the departed leader was not a sitting chief minister at the time of his death.

But according to CR Kesavan, the great grandson of Rajaji, there is no truth to the rumour. "Rajaji was cremated according to his wishes. The Rajaji Ninaivalayam at Guindy was designed by Karunanidhi," Kesavan, who is a national spokesperson of the Congress and Trustee of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, was quoted as saying by the Newsminute.com.

If anything, Karunanidhi deserved every bit of the honour.

As a PWD minister in the Annadurai cabinet, Karunanidhi, it is said, was fascinated by the beautiful statues of iconic international leaders installed at various places in their countries of origin. After returning from one such foreign tour, he came up with the idea of installing statues of celebrated leaders to add to Marina Beach's natural beauty. That’s when he has initiated the process of installing statues and bringing alive the history of iconic personalities immortalised in sculpture – Kannagi, Bharatidasan and Avvaiyar et al.

stalin_080918024609.jpg(From left) Kanimozhi, Duraimurugan, Stalin and A Raja in Chennai on Wednesday. (Credit: PTI photo)

When Annadurai passed away on February 3, 1969, Karunanidhi decided to build Anna's memorial at Marina as a fitting tribute to his mentor. A piece of land on Kamarajar Salai was finalised and Anna was laid to rest there. Since then, the Anna memorial became a political vantage point for celebrating the Dravidian movement, in others words, the DMK. When MGR, who parted ways with Karunanidhi and launched the ADMK, died in 1987, Marina got its second memorial close to Anna's.

The culture of building memorials at the Marina started ever since. It also became a widely accepted norm that the Gandhi memorial was for the Congress and Gandhian leaders and the Marina was for the Dravidians.

The Dravidian land of Tamil Nadu thrives on the legacy of Annadurai, who founded the DMK. Since his mentor Periyar was not into active politics, not having his memorial built at Marina did not necessarily send a different political message. When Jayalalithaa died, there were a string of pleas in court not to allow a memorial for her on Marina. But all such pleas were dismissed by the court.

While many wonder why the DMK fought so hard to get a spot on Marina, it only points to the political significance of the place. Karunanidhi, according to his wishes, was finally laid to rest near his mentor. For the Palaniswami government, many believe, it was a desperate attempt to erase the Kalaignar's legacy.  

The chief minister and his deputy perhaps failed to realise that rejecting DMK’s wish to lay Kalaignar to rest at Marina Beach will only be seen as an insult to the DMK veteran and trigger widespread outrage against government. The AIADMK's political strategy (read blunder) backfired with the court verdict, making MK Stalin a hero for "winning" the burial site for his father at Chennai’s Marina beach.

Also read: Karunanidhi, the Kalaignar: His politics, his persona, his personal life


Priyamvatha P Priyamvatha P @priyamvathap

The author is a journalist with India Today Group

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