Chennai: DMK patriarch and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was buried beside his mentor C.N. Annadurai on the sands of Marina beach here on Wednesday after his party clinched a midnight legal battle as lakhs of commoners wept, pushed and jostled for space to bid adieu to their leader, causing a stampede that killed two mourners and injured many.
After a two-hour funeral procession covering a distance of less than 3 km headed by the late leader's son and DMK Working President M.K. Stalin wound its way from Rajaji Hall to the Marina shores, the tri-colour wrapped body with his trademark black shades and yellow stole still in tact was interred in a freshly dug grave with soldiers giving him a state funeral with full military honours.
A military band played "Honouring Those Who Served" as the casket was taken from the cortege to the grave. Buglers sounded the last post and gunners fired a 21-gun salute after the body of the 94-year-old five-time Chief Minister was lowered at 7 p.m. amid a crescendo of slogans.
As Karunanidhi's body on a flower-decked military vehicle began its last journey from Rajaji Hall, tens of thousands of emotionally-charged men and women lined up on both sides of the road to Marina, shouting slogans hailing the departed leader for his services to the poor and the downtrodden.
In keeping with his rationalist beliefs, Karunanidhi's body in a sandalwood casket was lowered into the earth without religious rituals. As per his wish, the wordings -- "The person who had worked without rest is resting here" -- were sculpted on the casket.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and a galaxy of national opposition leaders joined the sea of mourners from across Tamil Nadu who swelled outside Rajaji Hall where the body was kept since morning for public homage.
Those who paid last respects included Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, National Conference President Farooq Abdullah, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal ledear Tejashwi Yadav, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, his predecessor Prakash Karat, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayansamy, Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Some of the leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Naidu, former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Azad and Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien joined the top party leaders, including 95-year-old DMK General Secretary K. Anbalagan, and members of Karunanidhi family at the burial site.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee flew into Chennai on Tuesday night and visited the Gopalapuram residence to pay her last respects. Stalin greeted them as the procession reached its destination. Union Ministers Pon Radhakrishnan and Ramdas Athawle were also present. Tamil Nadu Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar represented the AIADMK government.
Stalin and his sister Selvi broke down and cried inconsolably at the Marina beach before the body of the patriarch was interred. Stalin had wept in the morning too after the DMK won the legal battle for a burial place space.
Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Minister E. Palaniswamy, his deputy O. Panneerselvam and a number of cabinet ministers also placed wreaths and paid homage at Rajaji Hall in the morning even as a legal battle was on against the AIADMK government's order allotting a burial place for Karunanidhi on Sardar Patel road.
After a long, midnight hearing, a two-judge bench of the Madras High Court headed by acting Chief Justice H. Ramesh rejected the government's contention and permitted the burial on the Marina beach. It also asked the government to take all steps to assist in the process.
A bevy of personalities from the entertainment world, including superstars Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan and yesteryear stars, paid their respects to a leader who was long associated with the cinema through his powerful dialogue writing and screenplay scripting.
Chaos struck near Rajaji Hall, the British-built banquet hall in the sprawling government estate, where lakhs gathered eager to have a last glimpse of the leader. Their attempts to get near the casket resulted in commotion. Police used force to bring the situation under control but two people, including a 60-year-old-woman, lost their lives in the stampede. At least 35 people were injured.
Modi, who flew from Delhi in a special plane in the morning, laid a wreath on the body at Rajaji Hall. After going around the casket, the Prime Minister patted Stalin and Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi, an MP, and comforted them with words of solace. The Prime Minister later tweeted that though Karunanidhi "is dead, he lives in the heart of crores of people."
In Delhi, as the two Houses of Parliament paid homage to the last link of the Dravidian era and adjourned for the day, the central government observed a day of national mourning. The national flag flew half-mast and all government functions were cancelled.
The leader of the DMK for 50 long years and without doubt one of India's most experienced politicians, Karunanidhi breathed his last owing to age-related ailments in a private hospital here on Tuesday evening. There was a complete shutdown in the city and across the state. The government declared a public holiday as a mark of respect to Karunanidhi.
By V. Jagannathan