“I am relieved that the young brother stabbed me on my chest, and not on my back.”
This was Muthuvel Karunanidhi, then Tamil Nadu Opposition Leader, reacting to a picture of his statue in Chennai being vandalised on December 24, 1987, hours after his friend-turned-political foe M G Ramachandran passed away.
The statue was never reinstalled; Karunanidhi felt there was a distinct chance of it being vandalised again.
From Saturday evening onwards however, Karunanidhi will stand tall again on Anna Salai—albeit a few hundred meters away from the original spot of the vandalised statue— nearly 35 years later.
Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu will unveil the 16-foot statue installed on a 12-foot pedestal inside the Government Omandurar Estate, where Karunanidhi, in 2010, built a modern structure to house the State Secretariat. However, his successor, the late J Jayalalithaa converted the building into a hospital and continued to function from Fort St George.
On Friday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin wrote an emotional letter to DMK party cadres on the unveiling of Karunanidhi’s statue by recalling the latter’s contributions to the state’s development.
Stalin had announced in the state Assembly last year that his father’s statue would be reinstalled at the same venue after consulting legal experts. As the Supreme Court has banned erecting statues in the middle of a road, the new statue would be put inside a government building.
There is an interesting story behind the installation of the original statue at the G P Road-Anna Salai junction. It was social reformer E V R Periyar who insisted that a statue of Karunanidhi should be installed on Anna Salai, which was originally called Mount Road. The statue, sponsored by Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam, was unveiled in 1975.
The picture of the vandalism in action was only ever captured by senior journalist G C Shekhar. Other photojournalists had to settle for pictures of the iron rod sticking out from the lower part of the statue.
Shekhar’s photograph of the vandalism was published on the front pages of two major newspapers: The Telegraph, where he worked as Tamil Nadu correspondent, and The Indian Express. Express was allowed to use the picture as the negatives were developed at its studios.
“I was walking down from my office to Rajaji Hall where MGR lay in state, and I found a young man on the pedestal on which Karunanidhi’s statue stood. He soon got an iron rod to break the statue, but he could only reach up to its waist. Immediately, a cement dustbin was rolled onto the pedestal. He climbed on it and began vandalising the statue,” Shekhar told DH.
In 1987, reacting to the incident, Karunanidhi had written in DMK’s mouthpiece Murasoli: “Antha chinna thambi en mudhugil kuthavillai. Nenjilethaan kuthukiraan. Athanaal nimmathi enakku. Vaazhga. Vaazhga.” (That young brother did not stab me on my back. He stabbed me on my chest. I am relieved. Let him live. Let him live.)