Chennai: Hours after former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi breathed his last at a Chennai hospital on Tuesday, a huge controversy erupted over Kalaignar’s final resting place.
The Tamil Nadu government rejected the request that was made by Karunanidhi’s political heir MK Stalin - to grant him a burial and a memorial on the Marina beach - creating a furore among DMK supporters and setting the stage for a courtroom battle.
The DMK moved the Madras High Court against the government's decision on Tuesday night and Acting Chief Justice Huluvadi G Ramesh held a special hearing at midnight in his residence.
But there was no resolution at the special hearing as the case was adjourned till 8 am on Wednesday after the AIADMK government asked for more time to prepare its case.
Sources close to Karunanidhi’s family say they wanted the last rites of the five-time former Tamil Nadu CM to be conducted, and a memorial built in his honour, alongside those of the other stalwart Dravidian leaders - DMK founder C Annadurai, AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran and his political heir and former Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa.
On Tuesday afternoon, as hundreds of cadres waited outside the Kauvery hospital in Chennai, Karunanidhi's sons MK Stalin and MK Alagiri, daughter Kanimozhi and senior leaders of the DMK party met Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami at his residence on Greenways Road.
They had one request: that Kalaignar should be laid to rest next to his mentor Anna's Samadhi at the Anna square on Marina beach. But the Chief Minister did not agree, setting the stage for a courtroom drama.
The reasons cited by the AIADMK government for denying burial site were varied. No former Chief Minister had been buried at Anna square, only sitting Chief Ministers including Annadurai, MG Ramachandran and Jayalalithaa had memorials there, he said. He also said that memorials for former Chief Ministers like K Kamaraj and Rajaji had been built at the Gandhi Mandapam in Guindy.
The state government instead offered a two-acre alternative site for the burial at Gandhi Mandapam at Guindy.
The Chief Minister also raised the issue that there were five Public Interest Litigations before the Madras High Court which said that building memorials at Marina were against the Coastal Regulation Zone rules.
However, just before the midnight hearing, four out of the five pleas in the court had been withdrawn, and the Madras HC declared them as withdrawn. But the CM insisted that there could be legal problems.
The Chennai Corporation had in December 2016 declared a portion of the Marina beach as a burial ground, paving way for the construction of a memorial for former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
According to Section 319 of the CCMC Act, no new place for the disposal of the dead, whether public or private, shall be opened, formed, constructed or used unless a licence has been obtained from the commissioner on application.
Several opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sitaram Yechury and D Raja, besides actor Rajinikanth backed the DMK's demand and urged the government to allot the leader a space on the famed sands. BJP, however, remained silent on the issue, leading many in the DMK to question whether the party was behind the row.
DMK lawyer A Saravanan tweeted, “Looks like it is the design of RSS to deny our great leader @kalaignar89 a place in Marina. The BJP stands exposed now, it is the BJP and its leaders who are opposing #marina4kalaignar,” he wrote, using the hashtag that trended on social networks throughout Tuesday evening.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that like the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi was an expression of the voice of the Tamil people and that he "deserves to be given space on the Marina beach."
"Like Jayalalitha ji, Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) was an expression of the voice of the Tamil people. That voice deserves to be given space on Marina Beach. I am sure the current leaders of Tamil Nadu will be magnanimous in this time of grief," he said in a tweet.
CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury described the denial of burial site at the Marina as "unfortunate." "This denial of the burial site for Kalaignar is most unfortunate. Thiru (Mr) Karunanidhi deserves his rightful place of rest next to Anna. #Kalaingnar," he said in a tweet.