by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
It was in 1939 that Eevera Periyar organized the Dravida Nadu Conference for the advocacy of a separate, sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu.In a rousing speech on December 17, 1939,Periyar proclaimed “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians”. This replaced the earlier slogan “Tamil Nadu for Tamils”.
July 1940 saw a secession committee being formed at the Dravida Nadu Secession Conference organized by Periyar’s disciple CN Annadurai known as Anna (elder brother) at Kanchipuram his hometown. In this conference Periyaar displayed a map of the envisaged Dravida Naadu.It basically corresponded to the existing Madras Presidency.
But there were some who spoke of a Greater Dravida Naadu incorporating regions in Burma, Singapore, Malaya and Ceylon where Tamils were concentrated. This was not a serious demand and was made by insignificant personalities.
CN Annadurai, M. Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran
But in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) the assertion was treated with suspicion and sowed the seeds for future fear about annexation into a greater Dravidian homeland.
This conference was followed by the Madras Province conference of the South Indian Liberal Federation known popularly as the Justice party at Thiruvaaroor.On August 24, 1940, the Thiruvaaroor provincial Conference resolved that Dravida Nadu should be a “Thani Naadu” or Independent state.
Some of the objectives of Dravida Naadu were defined as-attaining “poorana Swaraj” or total self-rule from the British and complete control in social, economic and industrial, and commercial fields; liberating Dravidians from domination and exploitation by non-Dravidian foreigners: acquiring equal rights and opportunities for Dravida Naadu citizens and eradication of discrimination and inequalities arising on grounds of caste and class: abolition of superstitious beliefs caused by religion etc.
Furthermore Periyaar outlined the characteristics of Dravida Naadu as-the area then comprising Madras Presidency; a passport system to enter the state; duty on goods from other provinces and entry apporoved only with permits ; re-demarcation of boundaries if necessary and continuing the existing system of defence till grant of full Independence.
Religious freedom was assured to Muslims, Christians,Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists of Dravida Naadu.The right to be atheist, agnostic or non-religious was ensured. Separation of Politics and Religion was guaranteed.
Periyar also stated that “Self Respect should come before self-rule” thereby implying that social justice and reform should precede political independence from Britain.
Even as the Dravida Naadu demand gathered momentum Periyaar suspended all political agitation for the cause one year later in August 1941. He explained that Dravidians should extend full co-operation to the British in world war two.
This caused a political lull in Dravidian secessionist advocacy . But when the Cripps Mission came to India a delegation led by Periyaar met Cripps on March 30th 1942 and raised the Dravida Naadu demand.
As stated earlier Periyaar after proclaiming Dravida Naadu toured Northern India to garner support for his demand.CN Annadurai went along to help interprete. Two prominent persons Periyaar met with were Mohammed Ali Jinna and BR Ambedkar.
Ambedkar supported Periyaar’s move to eliminate Brahmin domination but pointed out that Dravida Naadu would not remove caste discrimination in North India. But Ambedkar said motivating principles behind Dravidastan could apply to entire India as Brahmin domination was widespread.
Jinna was also supportive after being assured that the 7% Muslims in “dravida Naadu” would be granted full rights and privileges.Thereafter Jinna began referring to a Dravidastan for South India when espousing the Pakistan cause. This in turn led to Periyaar’s followers using both Dravida Naadu and Dravidastan in their political discourse.
In 1944 August the South India Liberal Federation or Justice party held its convention in Salem. It was a swansong for the old justice party as Periyaar and Annadurai engineered an inner-party coup of sorts. The conservative “old guard” was eliminated.
At the behest of Periyaar , Annadurai proposed a four-point resolution that demanded party members to resign all posts held under the British, to return all honours including knighthoods bestowed by the British, to refrain from accepting such honours and posts in the future, to boycott all elections under the British.
This embarrassed the old guard greatly and after some heated discussion Annadurai’s resolution was carried with overwhelming support. The old guard stepped down and left the premises en masse.
Now Annadurai proposed that the party be renamed Dravidar Kazhagham or Dravidian Association. It was accepted unanimously. Another resolution passed was the appointment of Periyaar as lifetime president of the party. Annadurai became secretary for a term.
Thereafter Annadurai became editor of a Tamil weekly “Dravida Naadu” and an English fortnightly “Homeland”. These journals propagated the Dravida Naadu demand. In actuality the demand found resonance only among sections of Tamils. The vast majority of Tamils as well as the non-Tamil Dravidian people were untouched by this demand.
World war two ended in 1945 and in September that year the newly re-named Dravidar Kazhagham (DK) staged its party convention in September at Trichy.Periyaar introduced a martial atmosphere by proposing that a militant outfit named “Maahaana Dravida Viduthalaip Padai” (Provincial Dravidian Liberation Force) be formed under party auspices.
Periyaar’s brother Krishnaswamy’s son EVK Sampath was also a DK activist. Periyaar appointed his nephew Sampath as the organizer of this new liberation force. Periyaar also stipulated that DK members should join this force and wear black shirts as an indicator.
This led to the first crack between Periyaar and his chief lieutnenant Annadurai, The latter was not in favour of this move. So the DK broke into two broad factions supportive of Periyaar and Annadurai. While Periyaar loyalists wore black the Annadurai faction did not.
Periyaar tried to force the pace of events in 1946 and staged a black shirts conference in Madurai in May 1946. He ordered everyone to wear black shirts and decreed that Annadurai should be the keynote speaker.
But the crafty Annadurai avoided a showdown at that stage by attending the conference in an ill-fitting black shirt belonging to the taller Nedunchezhiyan. But further intra-party division was on the cards.
India was on the verge of Independence from the British but Dravida Naadu was not on the agenda. As political stakes were raised and partition became inevitable the question of Dravida Naadu was eclipsed.
Periyaar himself had contributed to this by suspending all agitation for Dravida Naadu so as to not hinder British war efforts. It was off the political radar.
In retrospect this was a blunder as no effective campaign had been mounted for Dravida Naadu. If Periyaar expected the British to hand over Dravida Naadu on a platter as reward for his cooperation the rationalist patriarch was sadly mistaken.
Periyaar had also relied on Jinna and thought that the Muslim leader would extend support for Dravidstan as promised at the decisive stage. But Jinna found it politically practical to espouse the case for a theocratic state of Pakistan on the basis of a Hindu-Islam divide rather than cloud his case with the caste and ethnicity based demand for Dravidastan.
The greatest weakness of the Dravida Naadu demand lay in the inability of its propnents to gather support among the non-Tamil Dravidian people inhabiting the envisaged state.
Though Tamils were the single-largest ethnicity in the old Madras presidency the non-Tamils together were the majority. Support for Dravida Naadu was virtually nil among those. Besides the majority ofTamils too were against a Dravida state and treated it then as a joke then.
Thus Dravida Naadu was a non-starter at the dawn of Independence. Periyaar found himself let down by the British and betrayed by Jinna, discarded by non Tamil Dravidians and rejected by the bulk of Tamils.
In his anger at this turn of events, Periyaar took up an extremely hardline against Independence and urged Tamils to declare Freedom day on August 15th 1947 as a day of mourning.He said that independence was only a change of masters for Dravidians.
But his deputy Annadurai sharply differed in this. Anndurai took up the position that the Dravidians had been oppressed by both the British and Aryan/ Brahmins. Now one set of oppressors were departing.
This by itself was most welcome. So Dravidians should rejoice at independence from the British and launch a struggle for secession from India thereafter was Annadurai’s position.
These contrary perspectives led to further tension between both factions. The divergent views were articulated by both factions in the media controlled by both groups. Post-Independence saw both groups engaged in an undeclared power struggle within the DK.
There were however more deep-seated reasons for the differences between Periyaar and Annadurai.
Firstly Periyaar was a virtual autocrat. He ran the party like a dictator having been appointed life time president. Most of the property and finances belonging to the party were under his personal control. Periyaar being a rich man in his own right had also spent a lot of his own funds for the party. So there was a very thin line demarcating personal and party-owned property.
Within the party there was very little true democracy. Those whom Periyaar selected were automatically elected to posts without contest. It was a virtual appointment. There was practically no inner party discussion or debate on important decisions. What Periyaar decided and announced was party policy.
Annadurai on the other hand was of a liberal democratic disposition. His vision was of a full-fledged democratic party with well established procedures for inner-party polls. He was also for a consultative, consensual approach within party folds in policy formulation and implementation.Annadurai had outgrown Periyaar and had to break free of autocratic shackles.
Secondly Periyaar and Annadurai had diametrically opposite views on the future of the DK. Periyaar was firmly against any kind of participation in democratic elections. He derided participatory democracy in an Aryan-Brahmin-North Indian dominated India as a sham.
He wanted the DK to remain aloof of electoral politics and concentrate instead on social reform and eradication of caste oppression.Periyaar also feared that entering hurly-burly politics would corrupt the idealist purity of the party. He felt that the party’s ideology would be diluted in the long run to garner more votes and that the DK may compromise its policies for electoral success.
Annadurai however had opposite views. He opined that the party could realise its ideals and objectives through participatory democracy also rather than rely aloneon agitational tactics and confrontational demonstrations as propounded by Periyaar.
Annadurai felt that it was better to capture the structures of power and engineer social reform from inside rather than try to bring about reform by influencing or pressurising from outside.
The politically astute Annadurai realised that with the passage of time, political power through democratic elections would pass into the hands of the non-Brahmins as they vastly outnumbered the Brahmins who were a microscopic minority in numbers.
Annadurai’s thoughts on this issue were well expressed by his disciple Muttuvel Karunanidhi the present DMK chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi a famous script writer for films once wrote the following dialogue for a Tamil movie. “arohara endra makkal kural aandavanai ettinaal pothaathu. Arasaangathai etta vendum” (It is not enough for the voice of the people chanting “arohara” to reach God. It must reach the Government)
Thirdly Periyaar was to some extent old-fashioned and conservative in his attitude towards the arts, literature and cinema. He despised films and had the uttermost contempt for those in cinema and drama except perhaps MR Radha the famous actor who was politically on the same wavelength as Periyaar and articulated his policies through film and stage.
But Annadurai recognized the vast potential for mass-communication and the “electoral revolution” it could bring about if adroitly exploited or handled. Long before Marshall Mcluhan , Annadurai subscribed to the dictum that the “medium” was the “message”.
MG Ramachandran (MGR)
Annadurai had once referred to famous cine idol MG Ramachandran (MGR) in this way. “Avar Vaakkukku pathulatcham. Avar mugathukku muppathu latcham” ( ten lakhs (one million) for what he says; thirty lakhs (three million) for his face”. What Annadurai was driving at was the vote-getting capacity of MGR. His attractive countenance would gain more votes than his speech.
Annadurai himself was involved in cinema and had written story, screenplay and dialogue for many films. He was also a playwright and stage actor. So too was Karunanidhi. There were other “Dravidian” stalwarts who wrote story and dialogue for films like AVP Aasaithamby, CB Sittarasu, Naanchil Manoharan, Rama, Arangannal, Kannadasan and Murasoli Maaran.
There were also actors like NS Krishnan, KR Ramaswamy, TV Narayanaswamy, SS Rajendran, Sivaji Ganesan and MGR. Kannadasan and Sivaji were to cross over at different times and join the Congress. MGR who was a “kadhar” (handloomspun) wearing Congressman at one time joined the DMK later.
Under these circumstances Annadurai felt that Periyaar’s harsh attitude towards cinema and drama would hamper his plans of utilising them for politicisation and political mobilisation. Periyaar was a constraint in this respect.
Annadurai differed with Periyaar over substance and style. Periyaar believed in substance alone and that it should be told simply and straightforward. Annadurai however relied on form more than content. While Periyaar wrote and spoke in a dry , terse manner, Annadurai had evolved an attractive , alliterative style (Adukku mozhi).
Against this backdrop it was apparent that Annadurai was biding his time to break away from the DMK and form his own party. Tension was increasing between both factions.
On March 1st 1948 the Congress-led administration of Madras province banned the DK’s Provincial Dravidian Liberation Force. The practice of DK members wearing black shirts was forbidden.
On October 23rd 1948 Periyaar held a special DK conference in his hometown Erode. In a bid to mend fences with Annadurai and preserve the party’s unity Periyaar held out his hand of friendship.
Annadurai was ordained as chairman of the conference and brought in a chariot drawn by four horses in a grand procession.
Periyaar who was 69 years old , declared publicly that he was getting old and that a younger person should take hold of party reins. Annadurai being educated, articulate and dedicated to the party was the ideal choice to be his successor, Periyaar stated amidst thunderous applause. But the wily Annadurai did not bite.
He knew that to accept leadership of the DK was to be permanently shackled. Though Periyaar talked of relinquishing his hold he would not let go of power that easily. The Periyyarists in the party would not allow that. So Annadurai would only be leader in nominal terms while real power would be with Periyaar.
Instead of rapprochement the tensions only increased. Annadurai himself waited patiently for the right reason and opportune moment to break away. That moment soon arrived.The reason for the split was covertly political and overtly personal.
Periyaar lost his wife Naahammai in 1933. Being sick and old he required someone to nurse him. There was an ardent DK supporter in Vellore called Kanagasabhai.
He had a daughter called Kaanthimathy. She was an ardent follower of Periyaar’s ideals and highly politicised.
Kaanthimathy changed her name to “arasiyalmani” (political gem) and refused to marry spurning the institution of marriage. When her father Kanagasabhai passed away suddenly Kaanthimathy/Arasiyalmani was bereft of support. Periyaar then brought her to his residence.
The young woman became a nurse and maid to the veteran leader. Periyaar himself called her Mani or Maniyamma (mother mani) Gradually she began running the lonely, childless widower’s household and even attended to the tight-fisted Periyaar’s personal and party financial accounts.
She had studied up to grade ten. Slowly party faithfuls got used to her as a permanent fixture and began addressing her as “Maniyammai” (Mani Madam).
With tensions between Periyaar and Annadurai continuing the DK leader revised his earlier intention of making Annadurai his political heir. Furthermore he decided to adopt a young boy as his personal heir. However at the last minute the boy’s family backed out due to pressure by the other faction.
Periyaar was furious.He simmered with anger at Annadurai and his followers.
His chief political rival and close personal friend C. Rajagopalachari known as Rajaji was now the Governor-General of India. Rajaji visited Thiruvannaamalai on May 14th 1949. Periyaar accompanied by Maniyammai paid a sudden visit and had a discussion for 75 minutes with the Brahmin Governor-General.
Periyaar with Rajaji
When news broke about the private discussion, DK partymembers were aghast. The DK membership had been brainwashed into hating Brahmins. Rajaji was more or less a brahmin symbol. Now their leader had had a clandestine discussion with him. The rank and file were in a state of revolt.
Annadurai gauged the rising tide of discontent against Periyaar. He decided to give voice to this resentment openly. Shortly thereafter a conference on “Muthamizh” (Triple Thamizh) was held in Coimbatore. Annadurai and Periyaar were both speakers.
It was then that Annadurai challenged Periyaar openly by asking him bluntly on stage “Why did you meet Rajaji? What did you discuss with him? The people demand disclosure”. Periyaar exploded on stage “That’s my personal matter. It is not to be aired in public”.
This duel percolated downwards to the rank and file. Periyaar himself wrote in his newspaper “Viduthalai” (liberation) that he had met with Rajaji to discuss about a trustworthy heir to his wealth and political legacy. This revelation added more fuel to the raging controversy.
Then came another shock. Periyaar announced that he was going to marry Maniyammai. He felt that she was a trustworthy heir and would manage party affairs after he was gone. The law did not permit him to adopt a woman as heir. So he would register his marriage with her thus enabling her to be his legal heir.
Notice of intended marriage was given on June 18th 1949. Periyaar was nearing seventy . Maniyammai was thirty-one. The Dravidian movement was ripped asunder. How could their leader marry a woman less than half his age? Moreover a rumour spread that she was a brahmin. It was also speculated that Rajaji had advised Periyaar to follow this course.
While the DK became the laughing stock of Tamils the party itself split vertically. Only a formal break had to be accomplished. Annadurai realised his time had come and struck. He met with his supporters and drafted an open letter to his leader.
In that missive , Annadurai issued an ultimatum. Periyaar marrying Maniammai was an insult to the party. He should refrain from going through with his plan. Otherwise party members would be compelled to criticise his action and oppose it.
Periyaar remained adamant. On July 9th 1949 EV Ramaswamy married Maniyammai at a marriage registrar’s office in Thiyagarayanagar, Madras (Now Chennai).The next day “Viduthalai” newspaper announced that Maniyammai would henceforth be known as EVR Maniyammai.
There followed a war of words but Periyaar remained unfazed. He felt that things would normalise after some party members let off steam. Some Loyalists remained faithful to Periyaar defending and justifying his conduct.
Annadurai was waiting for September. The 15th was his fortieth birthday. The 17th was Periyaar’s 70th birthday. While Periyaar loyalists conducted Birthday celebrations for the newly-wed septugenarian, Annadurai in his capacity as DK general-secretary summoned an executive committee meeting on the same day.
Twenty-three of the forty-six ex-co members attended. Annadurai stated unambiguously that he had no intention of gaining control of the party. Instead he and his followers will go out with sorrow and form a new party he said.
Annadurai had been waiting long for this chance. Now he was going out claiming moral high grouns.An organizing committee for the party in formation was appointed
Events moved at a hectic pace.The new organizing committee met at a house in Pavalakkaaran street, Chennai and drafted the party constitution. The party was to be the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) or Dravidian Progressive Association. Annadurai was elected organizing secretary.
On the next day (sep 19th) the newly formed DMK held its first public meeting at Robinson’s park in Chennai. Annadurai said that there will not be a Party president post as the only “Thalaiver” (leader) he had ever known and will ever acknowledge was Periyaar himself.
Until Periyaar himself came and occupied the president’s chair the party wont have a President. He also revealed that the policies and ideals of the DMK would be the same as that of the DK. “Thikavum ThimukavumIrattai Kuzhal Thuppakki” ( The DK and DMK are double-barrels of a gun) he announced.
Annadurai said that the party was formed with “kanneer thuligal” meaning teardrops.Thereafter Periyaar used to refer derisively to the DMK as teardrops.
When all these political convulsions were on within the Dravidian movement their key demand of a separate “Dravida Naadu” state had been put on the backburner.
The Dravidian movement had been unable to cope with the reality of Indian independence and plan out political strategy due to intra-party conflict and dissension.
Now the crisis was over and a new configuration had emerged, There were two political parties espousing secessionism within newly independent India. The stage was being set for a long , intense struggle for a break-away separate state from the Indian Union.
The “Dravida Naadu dor Dravidians” slogan changed to “Thamizh Naadu for Thamizhians”.The coming years was to see Tamil secessionism rise to considerable heights and then rapidly fall into decline in Independent India.
(The first part of this article was posted on this Blog under the heading “Roots of Tamil Nadu secessionism in India“.The third part of this article will be continued next week)
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org