“Thamizhan Illaathaa Naadumillai. Thamizhanukkendroru Naadumillai”
(There is no country without Tamils. There is no country for the Tamils) is a saying in Tamil that vividly illustrates the angst felt by the more nationalist sections of Tamils about the lack of a country of their own – an Independent sovereign self-governing Tamil state! The Tamils who speak one of the most ancient living languages in the world boast of a distinct civilization and vintage heritage. Tamils live in almost every country on the global map and are substantially concentrated in many of those including India, Sri Lanka,Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, South Africa, Fiji, Mauritius,Trinidad etc. Tamils have been elected to office in different local bodies and legislatures of many countries and have served as councillors, mayors, Senators, Ministers, Prime ministers and heads of state. Yet the Tamils have no country to call their own, exclusive homeland.
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu meaning Tamil Land or Tamil Country is home to more than 60 million Tamil speaking people. It stands to reason therefore that if the Tamils do want to establish a separate state of their own, the best and correct choice would be for Tamil Nadu to declare independence and secede from the Indian union. However that has not happened so far. Although there was a flourishing Tamil secessionist movement in India at one time , the Tamil separatist demand is now virtually extinct in India. The primary factor which contributed to this state of affairs was the pragmatic conduct of the Dravida Munnetrak Kazhagham(DMK) which abandoned the secessionist demand when separatism was banned through the 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution. How this state of affairs came about provides a fascinating glimpse into Indian politics in general and Tamil (Indian) politics in particular.
As stated in earlier articles the Dravida Kazhagham (DK) meaning Dravidian Association which spearheaded a separatist movement in the pre-independence years had a break-up in the aftermath of India gaining freedom from the British imperialists. The breakaway group formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) meaning Dravidian Progressive Association in what was then the Southern state of Madras. The DK led by E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker known as “Periyaar”(great person) and the DMK led by CN Annadurai called “Anna”(elder brother) espoused the cause of “Dravida Nadu” meaning a Dravidian country. The demand was for the South Indian people speaking the Dravidian” languages of Tamil,Telugu,Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu to secede from India and set up a separate state.
Though a strand of Tamil political thought envisaged a Pan-Dravidian state , support for a Dravida state was virtually negligible among the non – Tamil speaking people. Furthermore the re-organization of states based on the linguistic principle had resulted in the old “Madras state”being reduced in size and population. The Pan- Dravidian identity was seriously fractured with the setting up of states for the Telugu,Kannada and Malayalam speaking people. The existing Madras state with a preponderant Tamil population was the only state where “Dravida Nadu” politics prevailed to some extent.
The plain speaking Periyaar was the first to acknowledge the changed situation. When asked “What constitutes Dravida Nadu now?” by the press, Periyaar replied bluntly “Whatever that remains of the old Madras state is the new Dravida Nadu now.”Perceiving the rise of Tamil as opposed to Dravidian nationalism in Madras state, the Dravida patriarch now began talking of a separate Tamil Nadu state. The DK changed its stance gradually to “Thamizh Nadu Thamizharukke” (Tamil Nadu for Tamils) from the earlier “Dravida Nadu Dravidarukke”Dravida Naadu for Dravidar. The shift was illustrated vividly when the party newspaper “Viduthalai” (liberation) altered its masthead to Tamil Nadu from Dravida Nadu.
Annadurai however was not so willing to jettison the Dravida Nadu demand so easily. He too realized that the DMK had no choice other than to do politics among the Tamils of Madras state. But he still adhered to the political objective of achieving Dravida Nadu. Annadurai argued that the four South Indian states should secede from India and then merge together as a Dravida Confederation. A senior DMK leader TM Parthasarathy, explained DMK’s position thus: “The four Dravidian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala should get independence separately and the four should should join on racial lines (Dravidian race) to form a Dravidian Federal Union”.
Chief Minister Kumaraswamy Kamaraj
If the state re-organization undermined the basis of Dravidian politics another event brought about significant de-valuation of other linguistic and caste based grievances. This was the elevation of a common Tamil man Kumaraswamy Kamaraj known as Kamarajar as chief minister of Madras state.Kamarajar belonged to the socially backward but commercially influential Nadar caste. He had not studied beyond the 6th standard and lacked proficiency in English. He came from a poor family background and was not elitist like his predecessors.
Kamarajar had spent nine years in British jails during the freedom struggle. Kamarajar was a smart organizer and had a grip on the Congress party machinery in his capacity as state party Secretary. Madras State Congress legislators met on March 31st 1954 to elect a new leader after chief minister C.Rajagopalachary known as Rajaji resigned. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi was present as observer. Kamaraj with 93 votes defeated C.Subramaniam who had 41 votes. Later C. Subramaniam became a respected central government minister. On April 13th 1954 Kamraraj became Congress chief minister.
The Congress image of upper caste, elitist leaders was transformed overnight. The Dravidian movement was deprived of its favourite bogey . There was no way that Kamaraj could be attacked on the basis of caste as a member of an “Aathikka Jaathi”( Dominant Caste)caste group.Kamaraj also contested the by-election in Kudiaatham. In an interesting U-turn the Dravidian patriarch supported the leader of the Congress. Periyaar called Kamaraj “Pachchaith Thamizhan” or raw Tamil. The DMK also supported Kamaraj.
Kamaraj known for his administrative efficiency enacted several measures at a rapid pace to uplift the Madras state and emancipate the down-trodden masses. His tenure from 1954-1963 is hailed as the “Potkaalam” or golden era of the state. By empowering the poorer sections of society and promoting the use of Tamil in multiple spheres, Kamaraj began the process of redressing grievances exploited by the Dravidian movement to make a case for secessionism.
Education-wise Kamarajar opened up nearly 14,000 new primary schools. Every village within a radius of one mile or having more than 350 people had a school. The number of high shools was increased from 650 to 2200. The high school student number went up from 386,000 to 1.3 million.In order to encourage student attendance Kamaraj introduced a free noon-day meals scheme through which 1.6 million students benefited. Free school uniforms were provided. Children from poor families receiving an annual income below 1500 rupees per annum were given free education. School teachers were given pensions and provident fund benefits. During Kamaraj’s rule the percentage of school going children increased from 44 % to 76%.Medical, Engineering, Agricultutal and Technical institutions of higher learning proliferated. A rural electrification scheme was implemented successfully. Land reform was brought in with a ceiling of 30 hectares . Irrigation schemes increased the area of cultivable lands. High yielding crops were encouraged. Industrial sector made vast strides.
Empowering The Tamil Language
Unlike the DMK which thunders frequently about its commitment and devotion to the Tamil language, Kamaraj seldom talked emotionally of Tamil. In any event he was a man of few words. But in his own, quiet way Kamaraj enacted many measures empowering the Tamil language.The Congress under Kamaraj in 1956 made Tamil the official or administrative language of the state. It was the Kamaraj-led Congress that submitted a budget in the Tamil language for the first time. Tamil as a medium of instruction was expanded to university level. Glossaries in Tamil for all subjects were compiled. An encyclopaedia in Tamil was published the first of its kind in India.
Kamaraj also introduced the reservation scheme in higher education and government employment. This ensured greater opportunities for the caste groups described as non-forward, backward and scheduled. The forward caste domination in educational and employment spheres was reduced.The reservation scheme was hailed by Periyaar as he realised that Brahmin ascendancy would be gradually curtailed and the so-called lower castes would gain more benefits incrementally. The Madras state was making significant strides and the poorer sections of society were getting empowered slowly. The Tamil language was also receiving its due place in the state.
Thanks to Kamaraj it appeared that caste domination could be removed among Tamils while remaining within the Indian union. Socially oppressed caste groups could be emancipated within the Indian union. Poorer sections of society could be uplifted economically within the Indian union. Inequalities could decrease and equality of opportunity increase within the Indian union. Tamil language could be restored to its rightful position within the Indian union.
All this meant that the grievances of the people exploited by the Dravidian movement were becoming less intense. Ideas can only be defeated by superior ideas. The secessionist idea of Dravida Nadu/Tamil Nadu was being overcome by the idea of emancipation and equality within an undivided India. The underlying grievances highlighted by the secessionists were being done away with. Nevertheless they did not vanish overnight.
Dravidian Lanka King Ravana
With Kamaraj implementing many projects close to Periyaar’s heart the DK began reducing its opposition to Congress rule. Gradually Periyaar moved closer and closer to the Congress. The DK began losing its position within the Dravidian school of thought. While Periyar did not deviate from his policies in theory the DK in practice moved away from hard, confrontational politics. The DK concentrated on countering what it termed as cultural hegemony of the Aryan north. For instance to counter the north Indian festival “Ram Leela” where Lord Rama an “Aryan” was extolled, Periyaar started the “Ravana Leela” where Ravana the “Dravidian” king of Lanka was eulogized. Periyaar was now turning into a “nuisance” factor from being a vibrant political force.
But the pragmatic Annadurai had other ideas. Notwithstanding the Kamaraj effect the DMK leader felt that it was time for the DMK to enter electoral politics. While Periyaar expressed disdain for elections and kept the DK out of such contests , Annadurai began leading his party into the electoral arena.In 1952 the DMK had not contested elections but extended support to parties and independent candidates supporting the Dravida Nadu cause. The Vanniyar community was represented then by the Commonweal party led by Manickavelar and the Toilers party of SS Ramasamy Padaiyaachi. The former had clout in then North Arcot and the latter in the then South Arcot districts. Both signed a pledge before polls to get DMK support but shifted stance later and joined the Congress govt.
Annadurai set the stage carefully for the DMK’s entry into electoral politics. The DMK’s 2nd state convention was held in May 1956. The issue of contesting the 1957 elections was raised. An internal opinion poll was taken to decide the issue. Those who supported contesting polls had to put their votes in a red box. Those opposing in a black box. (DMK party colours were red and black).More than 60,000 DMK members voted. Those who supported contesting elections numbered 56,942.Those opposing numbered 4203. With such a sweeping result the DMK contested the elections to both the Madras legislative assembly and Lok Sabha central parliament in 1957. The DMK got fifteen seats in the legislative assembly and two seats in Parliament. The DMK election manifesto had specific clauses demanding a separate Dravida state.
In what was clearly a policy contradiction , Periyar and the DK campaigned for Kamaraj and the Congress in the polls. So great was Periyar’s distaste for his ex-disciple that Periyaar personally focused on Kanchipuram where Annadurai contested. Despite Periyaar’s active support for Congress candidate Dr. Sreenivasan, Annadurai triumphed. Both the DK and DMK flung mud at each other in their respective election meetings.The DMK also contested Madras city municipal elections in 1959 and formed the administration. In 1962 the DMK contested again and got fifty seats in the Assembly and eight seats in Lok Sabha. Except for Karunanidhi all the sitting MLA’s including Annadurai lost but the DMK founder -General secretary was made Rajya Sabha (Upper house) member.
Right Of Self Determination
CN Annadurai n his Rajya Sabha maiden speech on May 1, 1962 reiterated DMK’s demand for an independent Dravida Nadu. “Anna” said, “Dravidians demand the right of self determination . . …… We want a separate country for southern India.” Later on while speaking about his maiden speech in parliament, Annadurai said at a public meeting in Chennai (Madras), “I am steadfast in the Dravida Nadu demand I spoke of in the upper house of parliament.” Once in response to a statement made by the then President of India Dr S.Radhakrishnan, Annadurai said, “You say that India is one country because Rama and Krishna are worshipped from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. Jesus is worshipped throughout Europe, yet there are so many countries in Europe.”
During this period from 1957 to 1963 the DMK kept up its drive for a separate Dravida Nadu. As stated earlier the DMK wanted the four south Indian states to break away from India and then merge together as a Dravida Nadu confederation. There was no support at all for this proposal in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Mysore (Karnataka) states. But there was considerable support in Tamil Nadu chiefly because of attractive DMK propaganda.The DMK leaders addressed meetings in flowery, alliterative language with musical tones. Their writing too was fiery and emotional. A host of Tamil newspapers like “Kanchi”, “Nam Naadu”, “Thiraavidam” “Thendral”, “Mandram” etc were published apart from the flagship “Murasoli”. A number of books and booklets were also released. There was regular reference to a Dravidian state for the Tamils in the speeches and writings of DMK stalwarts.
A constant feature of the political meetings were the rousing speeches on the theme “Aen Vaendum Inba Thiraavidam?” (Why do we need this sweet Dravidian land?) Different leaders spoke at different meetings on this topic. Pamphlets and booklets with the same heading were also issued. Another familiar emotional proclamation at meetings was “Adainthaal Thani Nadu. Illaiyael Sudukaadu” ( Achieve either a separate state or the cemetery)Much propaganda mileage was derived through the stage and screen. DMK policies were referred to directly and indirectly in the dialogue. Songs would refer to these in poetic fashion. The Dravida Nadu concept was also publicized very much in film and stage.
One such illustration is the song written by Kannadasan for his own production “Maalaiyitta Mangai” in 1957. The song has martial melody composed by the duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthy. It is sung effectively on a very high note by TR Mahalingam. The chorus is “Engal Thiraavidap Pon Naadu. Kalai Vaazhum Thennaadu” (our golden Dravidian country. The southern land where the arts flourish) The film’s story line was also of four daughters in law from the four “Dravida” states of south India.
An amusing example of how film dialogue was utilized to promote Dravida Naadu is from the film “Puthiya Paathai” starring Gemini Ganesh in 1960.( different to the one directed and acted in by Parthiban in 1989). The dialogue was written by “Murasoli” Maaran the nephew of DMK leader and formr chief minister Muttuvel Karunanidhi. Maaran’ s son Dayanidhi was a cabinet minister in Manmohan Singh’s Congress led government. The elder son Kalanidhi owns the “Sun group” media conglomerate.
In this film the hero Gemini and his friend played by Balaji are discussing the kind of wife they would like to have. One tells the other “her complexion must be fair like that of a woman from Kerala; her figure must be perfect like that of women from Andhra; her voice should be sweetly melodious as that of a Kannada woman; her face must have beautiful features like that of Tamil women”.The friend then responds “Surunga sonnaal oru Thiraavida Naadu vaendum engiraai” (in short you are asking for a Dravida state) Since the four South Indian states were to comprise the envisaged Dravida Naadu this crude yet direct piece of contrived dialogue summed up the secessionist cause for film fans.In today’s enlightened age this description of the ideal desirable woman would receive scornful laughter. But more than fifty years ago it was well received by the target audience.
Separate Tamil Nadu State
It was mainly through propaganda stratagems and cinematic devices like these that the DMK espoused the secessionist cause. There were two schools of thought within the DMK who were getting disillusioned with the Dravida Nadu demand. One group wanted the party to discard Dravida Nadu and focus on a separate Tamil Nadu State demand alone. The other felt secession was unattainable and therefore should be dropped in favour of a demand for greater autonomy for the state within India.But Annadurai was reluctant to alter course.
CN Annadurai’s foremost deputy at one time was EVK Sampath the son of Periyaar’s brother Krishnaswamy. Sampath had fallen out with his paternal uncle and crossed over with Annadurai in 1949.Initially Sampath urged Annadurai to drop the Dravida Nadu demand and take up the Tamil Nadu secessionist demand. But Anna disagreed and persuaded Sampath to stick with the Dravida Nadu demand whereby the DMK wanted all four South Indian states to secede and then confederate. One reason Annadurai adduced was that the sharing of river waters would be a big problem for Tamil Nadu if the South Indian states did not belong to a practical political arrangement.(Currently there is much bickering among the Southern states over the river water sharing issue)
Annadurai felt that the DMK should stick to it’s Dravida Nadu policy until the party increased political representation significantly. Rightly or wrongly Annadurai felt then that political mobilization was easier along lines of Dravidian secessionism than through Tamil Nadu secessionism. While his fiery deputies thundered about Dravida Nadu and Tamil Nadu, the articulate Annadurai avoided both references to a great extent and instead used the term “Thani Nadu” (separate state) more in his Tamil political discourse.
In 1961 Sampath, Kannadasan, MP Subramaniam, P. Nedumaran and some others broke away from the DMK and formed the Tamil Thesiyak Katchi or Tamil Nationalist party. The TTK initially demanded a separate Tamil Nadu and bitterly criticized the Dravida Nadu demand as unrealistic and unachievable.When Annadurai was questioned on this he retorted in style. Referring to the Ramayana, Annadurai said “would we accept it if those who went in search of Sita returned with another woman and said we did not get Sita so we brought this Chinthamani ( Chintamani is a woman after whom a Tamil epic is named). Likewise our quest is Dravida Nadu or Sita not Tamil Nadu or Chinthamani”.
The DMK held its Third General Convention on July 13-16, 1961 at Thiruparankundram in the suburb of Madurai. There were loud shouts of “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians” when DMK leader Annadurai hoisted the “Red and Black” party flag on the first day. There was vociferous chanting of the separate state demand from party cadres throughout the four-day conference. There were also references to an independent Dravida Nadu in the speeches made by party leaders. In his concluding speech on the fourth day, Annadurai urged everyone to work hard for “our independence”.
“Dravida Nadu For Dravidians”
DMK held its Special Election Conference in the city of Coimbatore (Kovai) on December 16 and 17, 1961, in preparation for the forthcoming 1962 general election. Shouts of “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians” were heard throughout this two-day event and all the speakers touched on the need for independent Dravida Nadu. The 1962 general election for the Madras State Legislative Assembly was held between February 17 and February 24, 1962. The DMK contested on a platform of separatism demanding a Dravida Nadu for Tamils. The party won 50 seats in the state Legislature and Eight seats in the “Lok Sabha”Parliament. Annadurai was appointed to the “Rajya Sabha” upper house where he argued eloquently for an independent Dravida Nadu.
Shortly after the 1962 elections a by-election ensued in the Thiruchengode electorate. The victor Dr.P. Subbarayan of the Congress party resigned his MP seat to take u the position of Maharashtra state Governor. The by – election on August 11th 1962 was a straight fight between the Congress and DMK. The by -election turned out to be a “Mini-referendum” on Tamil secessionism. The Congress party which was then ruling both the state and the central government mounted an intensive polls campaign urging that people should not vote for the DMK as the election result would be interpreted as an endorsement of the separate state demand. The voters of Thiruchengode reversed the earlier result by voting conclusively for the DMK Candidate K. Anbalaghan who in later life was a senior DMK minister. Thus the prevalent mood then (1962) was in favour of secessionism.
A month after the By -election victory ,the DMK organized a “Dravida Nadu Viduthalai Vizaa” (Dravida Nadu Independence Festival) in Chennai then called Madras on September 22, 1962. Over 200, 000 people participated in the procession organized as part of that festival. More than 300,000 people attended the public meeting that followed. The mood was buoyant. The secessionist cry resonated throughout the event.
One month later war erupted between India and China. The war lasting one month and one day from October 20th to November 21st 1962 proved a military debacle for India. The silver lining was that the war with China aroused patriotic feelings in all parts of India. Even the DMK espousing separatism closed ranks with the rest of India against a common enemy. DMK leader Annadurai made an emotionally charged patriotic speech requesting that the DMK too should be included in the “roll call of Honour” of those defending the nation. The DMK contributed lavishly to the “Defence Fund” launched by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Former actor turned Tamil Nadu chief minister MG Ramachandran who was a Legislative Councillor in 1962 , topped the list of individual donations in the state with a six figure contribution.
16th Amendment of Indian Constitution
New Delhi shattered by the China war undertook several measures in the political, military and diplomatic spheres in the aftermath of the war. One such measure was the prohibition of fissiparous tendencies. Secessionism in any part of the country was perceived as a threat to national security and territorial integrity. The Committee on National Integration and Regionalism appointed by the Indian National Integration Council recommended that article 19 of the Indian Constitution be so amended that adequate powers become available for the preservation and maintenance of the integrity, and sovereignty of the Union.
The Committee was further of the view that every candidate for the membership of a State Legislature or Parliament, and every aspirant to, and incumbent of, public office should pledge himself or herself to uphold the Constitution and to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of the Union and that the forms of oath in the Third Schedule to the Constitution should be suitably amended for the purpose. It was proposed to give effect to these recommendations by amending clauses (2), (3) and (4) of article 19 for enabling the State to make any law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the rights conferred by sub-clauses (a), (b) and (c) of clause (1) of that article in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India.
It was also proposed to amend articles 84 and 173 and the forms of oath in the Third Schedule to the Constitution so as to provide that every candidate for the membership of Parliament or State Legislature,Union and State Ministers, Members of Parliament and State Legislatures, Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India should take an oath to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.Accordingly a bill to achieve the above mentioned objectives was presented in Parliament. The sixteenth amendment to the Indian constitution disavowing separatism was passed in October 1963 one year after the war with China
The 16th Constitutional amendment placed the DMK in an unenviable position. The DMK was then the single largest Indian political party championing secessionism in India. There were mixed feelings among party members on their future course of action. If the DMK was to abide by secessionism the party could not contest polls and would have to do politics as an “extra – Parliamentary” entity. This entailed an unpredictable future. With patriotic fervour being aroused by the China debacle there was every likelihood that the Indian people may turn against separatist organizations. Besides the central govt too could crack down severely on advocates of separatism. On the other hand prospects were bright for the DMK in future elections. There was every chance of the party capturing political power through elections in the near future.
“Maanila Suyaatchi”(State Self-Rule)
The pragmatic Annadurai decided to stoop and conquer. He decided to abandon secessionism. The DMK “Mathiya Seyal Kuzhu”(Central Committee)met on November 3, 1963 at the DMK party Office in Royapuram. The party Gen Secy V.Nedunchezian presided. Annadurai in a passionate speech stated that the DMK would be only dropping the separate state demand but would not abandon the reasons which led to the separatist demand. He said the party would capture power in the future and struggle for greater autonomy within the Indian union in the form of “Maanila Suyaatchi” (State Self-Rule). The central committee approved Annadurai’s stance and voted unanimously to drop its demand for an Independent state. Thus ended Tamil secessionism promoted by the DMK in India.
Annadurai’s pragmatic political approach in abandoning secessionism paid enormous dividends in four years. The mishandling of Hindia as the sole official language in India by the Congress party at the state and central levels resulted in massive anti-Hindi demonstrations by Tamils. Over 25 Tamils self -immolated themselves and hundreds of thousands courted arrest. The anti-Hindi protest churned up a huge anti- Congress wave among Tamils at the 1967 elections.
The DMK along with its political allies swept the polls in 1967 winning 138 out of 234 seats in the Legislative Asembly and 25 out of 39 Constituencies allocated to the State in the “Lok Sa bha”. Annadurai became chief minister and formed his state government. One of the first things done by the new administration was to change the name of the state from Madras to Tamil Nadu. It was a symbolic achievement. The Tamils may not have a Tamil State outside the Indian union but there would be a Tamil Country within India.
Annadurai passed away in 1969 and was succeeded by Karunanidhi. MG Ramachandran(MGR) who split from the DMK in 1972 and formed the All – India Anna-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham(AIADMK) became chief minister in 1977. After MGR’s death in 1987 his widow Janaki Ramachandran served as chief minister briefly. She was followed by MGR’s paramour the actress turned politico Jayalalithaa Jayaram who took over the AIADMK leadership and became chief minister.
Thereafter political power in Tamil Nadu has remained in the hands of the Dravidian movement with the DMK and AIADMK ruling the state at different times. It is indeed noteworthy that Tamil Nadu has been governed by one Dravidian party or the other for fifty years from 1967 to date. Furthermore both the DMK and AIADMK have on different occasions shared power at the centre holding cabinet posts in different coalition governments.
Politics Is The Art Of The Possible
And all this was due to the enlightened political approach of DMK founder CN Annadurai who knew when to let go of an unrealistic, non – viable secessionist demand and adapt pragmatically to prevailing political realities.It was the Prussian statesman Otto Von Bismarck who said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”! CN Annadurai and the DMK adhered to “realpolitik” and chose the attainable second best option instead of pursuing the mirage of a desirable objective.
This article written for the “DBS Jeyaraj Column” appears in the “Daily Mirror” of December 23, 2017, it can be reached via this link:
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org