Sea memorial for Karunanidhi draws praise from DMK men, flak from environmentalists

Party sympathisers say the memorial of former CM would be a cultural asset; green activists fear it will damage the marine ecosystem, particularly with regard to fishing

Karunanidhi memorial
It should be noted that the DMK, following the death of Karunanidhi in 2018, had run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to bury him. File photo

The recent decision of the Tamil Nadu government to construct a memorial for former Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi in the sea, close to Chennai’s famous Marina beach, has met with severe opposition from environmental activists. The memorial is to be built in the shape of a fountain pen that would be 134 feet tall and estimated to cost around Rs 80 crore.

According to the government announcement, the proposed structure will  be constructed in the sea 360 metres from the shore. A bridge will be built to access the memorial from the shore. PWD Minister AV Velu said the proposal was cleared by the state coastal zone management authority.

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Allotment of venue

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It should be noted that the DMK, following the death of Karunanidhi in 2018, had run from pillar to post to get land in Marina beach to bury him. The AIADMK government refused to give space on the shore and instead allotted two acres of land near Gandhi Mandapam at Guindy. After a brief legal battle at the Madras High Court, Karunanidhi was given a burial inside the Anna Memorial, which has been built in memoriam of former Chief Minister and DMK founder, CN Annadurai, a mentor to Karunanidhi.

Following the regime change in 2021, the DMK government announced last August that a memorial would be constructed for the five-time CM. In November, it allotted Rs 39 crore for the memorial.

“It is nothing new. The announcement regarding the construction of a memorial has already been made. We are only implementing it,” Velu told the media.

Culture vs environment

While green activists claim the construction of the memorial will wreak significant environmental damage, particularly with regard to fishing, party sympathisers say the memorial would be a cultural asset and remind people of Karunanidhi’s contribution to Tamil literature and films. 

The significance of the pen

Why a pen-shaped memorial? Thangam Thennarasu, Minister of Industries, Tamil Official Language, Tamil Culture and Archaeology, recounted a tale from Karunanidhi’s life, on how an article penned by him brought him close to Dravidian movement leader Periyar.

“In 1945, he (Karunanidhi) had written an article titled ‘Andha Pena’. It discussed the incident of a pen used by Mahatma Gandhi that was stolen from Gandhi Ashram. The article was published in Puducherry-based magazine Thozhilaalar Mithran (The Proletariat’s Friend). Following the publication of the article, Karunanidhi was attacked in Puducherry. It was after this incident that he was taken to Erode by Periyar, where he was given space to write in Kudi Arasu magazine,” he tweeted.

Doubting Vijayakanth’s comment

MM Abdulla, a Rajya Sabha member, pointed to a statement by DMDK chief Vijayakanth, who allegedly condemned the decision of the state government. Abdulla said he doubted the authenticity of the statement. 

“In 1996, the then chief of Nadigar Sangam (actor’s association) Vijayakanth organised a function to honour Kalaignar for his 50 years of contribution to Tamil cinema. During the function, Vijayakanth presented a golden pen to our leader. I would like to say to the family members of Vijayakanth, who sent the statement in his name, that we are planning to have the memorial not just to remind people of his literary or film contribution. It was the same pen that provided reservation, made daughters eligible for family inheritance, gave free electricity to farmers and signed various welfare and social justice schemes,” said the DMK MP.

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In a conversation with The Federal, writer SP Agathiyalingam said that these kinds of memorials are necessary to carry forward the cultural and political history of a state.

“Once, during my interaction with Sri Lankan scholar Karthigesu Sivathamby, he said memorials like the Thiruvalluvar statue in Kanyakumari and Valluvar Kottam in Chennai would make people remember Tamil culture forever. Talking (by the Dravidian movement) about literary works like Tirukkural and Silapathikaram, as against the Ramayana and Mahabharata, was a huge cultural awakening. This war should be continued,” said Sivathamby. 

“It is the people who are welcoming the erection of Lord Rama statues across the country who are opposing the pen memorial,” he added.

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