Supporters gather as an ambulance carrying the remains of Indian Tamil leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi leaves the hospital in Chennai, India, August 7 2018. Picture: REUTERS/P RAVIKUMAR
Supporters gather as an ambulance carrying the remains of Indian Tamil leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi leaves the hospital in Chennai, India, August 7 2018. Picture: REUTERS/P RAVIKUMAR

Chennai — Thousands mourned in India on Tuesday after the death of revered 94-year-old political leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi.

Karunanidhi, a charismatic self-styled champion of the poor, had been in intensive care since July 28 in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

A crowd had been thronging the streets outside the hospital since his hospitalisation but it swelled to about 6,000, an AFP photographer estimated, after doctors said he had suffered a "significant decline".

Prakash Duria, a doctor at the Kauvery Hospital, later confirmed to AFP that he had died.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted condolences to the family, saying "India and particularly Tamil Nadu will miss him immensely".

Supporters beat their chests and chanted the leader’s name as hundreds of police struggled to contain the surging crowds pressing against barricades.

The Press Trust of India news agency said a security alert had been sounded across the state, bearing in mind the outbreaks of violence in the past over the deaths of popular figures.

Karunanidhi was chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times and successfully contested 12 state elections, building legions of supporters on the way.

His popularity had not waned even though he had handed over the reins of his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party to his son MK Stalin.

Karunanidhi, a school dropout, became involved in politics at a young age, spearheading the DMK party, which was allied for many years to the Gandhi dynasty’s Congress party. Affectionately called "Kalaignar", or scholar, he wrote reams of poems, lyrics and books and was a prolific screenwriter for the Tamil film sector.

His popularity rivalled that of J Jayalalithaa, another popular leader from Tamil Nadu whose death sparked a huge outpouring of grief. An estimated 1-million people lined the streets for his burial in 2016.

AFP