Thousands hold vigil for idolised Indian politician

CHENNAI, INDIA: Thousands of followers of an Indian politician held in almost god-like reverence thronged the streets on Tuesday outside the hospital where the 94-year-old was in intensive care.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi, a charismatic self-styled champion of the poor, was chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu five times and successfully contested 12 state elections.

The crowd, 4,000-5,000-strong according to an AFP journalist, chanted “Come, rise up my leader!” outside the hospital in Chennai where Karunanidhi has been since Saturday.

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Police struggled to contain the crowds, many carrying photos of their ‘saviour’ in his trademark white shirt and oversized black glasses. Many women kissed the photos and wept.

Karunanidhi was admitted for a urinary tract infection with complications. Doctors say he is being closely “monitored and treated”.

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Once one of India’s most powerful leaders, Karunanidhi has taken a back seat in recent years, handing over the reins to his son M. K. Stalin.

The scenes in Chennai were reminiscent of the mass outpouring of 2016 when another local powerful leader J. Jayalalithaa was hospitalised. She died later of cardiac arrest.

Affectionately called ‘Kalaignar’ or scholar, Karunanidhi has written reams of poems, lyrics and books and is a prolific screenwriter for the Tamil film industry.

The school dropout became involved in politics at a young age, spearheading the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party which was allied for many years to the Gandhi dynasty’s Congress party.

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