For the People

C.N. Annadurai
E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and C.N. Annadurai

By Cho S. Ramaswamy

Both electrified Tamil Nadu with dynamism and easy charm. But what's left of the Dravidian movement is just a shadow of what either of them dreamt and planned for.

He abused Tamil as the language of barbarians and ridiculed the Tamil people by claiming that he, a Kannadiga, could become a leader of the Tamils because there was no Tamilian fit to lead them.

Looking back at the life and times of E.V. Ramaswami Naicker, revered as Periyar (1879-1973), one may safely conclude that he was accepted and acclaimed as the leader by a significant section of the Tamil population in spite of all his contempt for Tamil and disdain for Tamils only because he was perceived to be a genuine individual, a rarity among those in public life. There was no shade of hypocrisy in him and he never attempted sophistry while propounding his social philosophy. And what a philosophy it was!

His message was clear. For the people to advance and prosper, they must abandon the Hindu religion, the superstitions that went with it, the idols and ceremonies created by it, and the caste system born of it. This was the essence of the social doctrine enunciated by Periyar. His scheme of action was as simple as the doctrine itself: get rid of the Brahmin. With him would go all other things associated with the Hindu religion.

This unconcealed anger against the Brahmins is said to be the result of a practice in a gurukulam, a school run by a Congressman in the 1920s, in which food was served to the Brahmin boys and others in different sections. If the objectionable practice hurt the sentiments of EVR, the cold indifference with which his justifiable complaint was treated by the Congress shattered his faith in the party and made him believe that it was a party of Brahmins. Later EVR left the Congress to form the Self-Respect Movement. While in the Congress he had actively participated in the khadi propaganda effort, the agitation for prohibition, and led the Vaikom Satyagraha for the temple entry of Harijans. It was a poignant irony that having played a commendable role as a Congressman in the Independence movement, he, in 1938, found himself leading the Justice Party which was somewhat of an asylum for blind supporters of the British. It was the only party in India to have supported the infamous Rowlatt Act; not only that, they had even the depravity to defend the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

But far from blemishing that party's chronicle of dishonour, Periyar made his own contribution to it. The man who sold khadi on the streets of Madras Presidency while in the Congress, was now trying to sell the state to the British. This craving for British rule persisted with EVR even after the Justice Party was reborn as the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the mother of all Dravidian parties. His hatred of the Brahmins consumed him to such an extent that he even abhorred Independence and pleaded with the British to retain Madras Presidency under them even if they were to leave the other parts of India. Fortunately for himself and his party, his demand was not taken seriously by anyone, including the British.

Was EVR a success? No doubt he is hailed even today as one of the leaders of the Tamil people but what was the fate of his philosophy, his message? Total and complete disaster there.

He broke the idols of Vinayaka; today the Vinayaka procession is a gala event in Tamil Nadu. He tore pictures of Rama and applied the chappal to it; a few years ago Tamil Nadu sent a strong contingent of devotees of Rama carrying bricks for the shilanyas at Ayodhya. He fought superstitions; his followers in the aiadmk tonsured their heads for the good health of their leader, J. Jayalalitha. He cursed the caste; now the offshoots of his movement, the DMK led by K. Karunanidhi and the aiadmk, are fighting elections dependent on caste-based votes, and caste-based parties have come up in Tamil Nadu. He poured his wrath on the Brahmin; now the leader of DK is an unabashed trumpeter Jayalalitha, a Brahmin. He was the apostle of secession; his followers swear allegiance to national integration.

In spite of this failure on all fronts, Periyar is still revered because of the solid contribution he made in the demystification of the Brahmin from the exalted position in society. But in his crusade against the caste system, however, he did not concentrate on the liberation of the Harijans, perhaps for fear of alienating his followers, mostly from the other castes. The man who fought for the Harijans while in the Congress, started passing over their miserable plight once he was leading his own party. In this regard, the worth of EVR's work could be judged by the plight of the Dravidian parties. They are unable even today to gain the confidence of the Dalits who have formed their own organisations to fight for their rights. The judgement then of the political and social history of Tamil Nadu could only be that while Periyar the singer was admired, his song was ignored. As a man Periyar was the embodiment of civility, which is why he is still loved. The man was greater than his message.

In fact, his message was so unsaleable a commodity that C.N. Annadurai (1909-1969) had to abandon many aspects of it when he quit the DK, to form the DMK in 1949. As with everything concerning the Dravidian parties, the split too had a touch of the ludicrous, as it occurred not on any policy differences or ego clashes, but on the question of the marriage which EVR contracted at a ripe old age, probably for ensuring companionship and nursing. CNA and his men condemned the marriage, quit the DK and formed the DMK. Maybe, CNA and his colleagues were waiting for an excuse to break free of the shackles of non-electoral functioning, which EVR had imposed on his party.

But CNA had openly aired his differences with EVR even earlier in 1947, when EVR called upon his followers to observe Independence Day as a day of mourning. Though CNA as a member of the DK had not demurred when EVR pleaded for direct British rule for Madras Presidency, even after they left the other parts of India, he began to cast away the more bizarre platforms of EVR once he became a leader in his own right. Thus for CNA's DMK it was "one God" in the place of EVR's "no God". It was Brahminism which had to be rooted out, not the Brahmins as was the programme of EVR. Tamil for CNA was his first love, while for EVR it was a pet aversion. More than all this, CNA abandoned the Dravidanadu demand for sheer political survival in the context of the Anti-Secession Act. Originally the slogan of the DMK was "Let us get Dravidanadu or go to the burial ground". Ultimately it was Dravidanadu which was sent to the cemetery.

CNA's DMK won the 1967 elections in alliance with several parties, including that of Rajaji's Swanthara Party. His success was the defeat of EVR, for the latter campaigned vigorously against the DMK, and irony of ironies, for the Congress. It never recovered in Tamil Nadu from the kiss of death, and the DMK grew in strength in spite of all the abuse showered on it by Periyar. CNA, known for his wit and sarcasm, dedicated the DMK's victory to Periyar, after deliberately burying his most cherished goals. Though CNA had given up the demand for Dravidanadu only to escape the clutches of the Anti-Secession Act, he also exhibited rare courage in doing it, for it was the foundation on which his party had been built. But this kind of political nerve came naturally to him. He was perhaps the only leader of any party, who allowed a second line of leadership to emerge in his own lifetime but even went out of the way to spot such talent and encouraged them to develop as future leaders. This paid rich dividends to the party, which produced a notable line of leaders. An orator of extraordinary brilliance, a writer of considerable merit, a parliamentarian of remarkable talent, CNA's worth as an administrator could not be assessed as his tenure as chief minister was cut short by his untimely death, an event mourned by the entire state irrespective of party affiliations. His greatest achievement was that he could emerge as one of the respected leaders of Tamil Nadu after having begun his political career as a mere rabble rouser with a reputation which was at best, debatable. EVR got his movement isolated by his attitude of obstinate confrontation; CNA synthesised his party in the mainstream of national politics by judicious use of the art of compromise. While the movement of EVR stands debilitated today, the party of CNA is still a force. What was left after CNA, of the Dravidianism propounded by EVR got diluted still further by M.G. Ramachandran, the founder of the AIADMK. He could be described as an illegitimate child of the Dravidian movement, as he was the offspring of the cohabitation between the movement and the movies. The remnants of the Dravidian philosophy have been entombed by Jayalalitha. She parades the present leader of Periyar's anti-Brahmin movement as her principal apologist. Periyar wanted to change society with his movement; his followers have changed his movement. The metamorphosis is complete.

Cho S. Ramaswamy is editor, Tughlak.

If Karnataka boasts of being India's pioneering software centre today, some of the credit must be apportioned to Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, Maharaja of the erstwhile Mysore state (1884-1940). But computers in the country in the early 1900s? Not exactly. Wodeyar's contribution lay in the fact that at a time when most maharajas were content to stay in the lap of luxury, his bold initiatives gave the state a headstart with education and industry, among other areas.

If Wodeyar had a vision for the state, he also had an able architect in Sir M. Visvesvaraya (1861-1962) to give shape to it. Together they turned Mysore into an industrial, agricultural and human- resource power centre of their times. A trained engineer, industrialist and statesman, Viswesvaraya had pioneered state-of-the-art water supply, drainage and irrigation systems in townships of western India during the late 1800s. He came to Mysore on a special request by Wodeyar. Among the foremost planners of India, Viswesvaraya wrote several books elucidating his ideals. That one of them, Reconstructing India, is still considered a reliable guide by policymakers speaks volumes for the man -- and his maharaja.



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