A 25-year-old Kannadiga Congress leader E V Ramasamy Naicker goest to Kasi (Banaras,UP) on a pilgrimage in 1904. It brings disillusionment in his life about Hinduism. He witnessed reprehensible activities such as begging and floating of dead bodies. EVR experienced what he called Brahmanic exploitation. He was not offered food despite being hungry since he was a non-Brahmin. He was forced to feed on leftovers from the streets. This was a turning point in his life. His self-respect was hurt.
The second time he felt hurt was in 1925 and resigned from Congress. Even when he played a key role in 1924-25 Vaikom Satyagraha in Travancore State where the Untouchables (now known as Dalits) were not allowed to walk in and around the temple area, Congress mouthpiece “Young India” report on Vaikom Satyagraha did not even mention his name. He was elected the President of Madras Presidency Congress Committee in 1922. EVR, now revered as Periyar (Big River), got the Self-Respect Movement Institution registered with the objective of political education of the masses, freedom from slavery of caste system, meaningless ceremonies and blind superstitious beliefs in society. His movement was described as “dedicated to the goal of giving non-Brahmins a sense of pride based on their Dravidian past”.
Periyar took over the leadership of a non-Brahmin political party, called the Justice Party, officially the South Indian Liberal Federation, established in 1917 by T M Nair and P Thengataya Chetty when it lost election to Congress headed by C Rajgopalachari in 1937. The Justice Party earlier had won the elections and ruled Madras for 13 years after 1920. Rajaji as Chief Minister (Premier) imposed compulsory Hindi in schools. This gave a golden opportunity to Periyar to agitate. Periyar transformed the Justice Party into a social organisation called Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and withdrew from electoral politics in 1944. He wanted to carve out Dravid Nadu (Dravidian Nation) from Madras Presidency. In 1939, Periyar raised the slogan “Dravid Nadu for Dravidians” replacing the “Tamil Nadu for Tamils” which was used since 1938. He became blind supporter of the British as head of the Justice Party. The party supported the infamous Rowlatt Act and even defended the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. In a separatist conference held at Kanchipuram, Periyar released the map of the proposed Dravida Nadu. The demand for Dravidistan was made in August 1940 Conference, five months after the Pakistan resolution at Lahore. Even Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar were sympathetic to Periyar’s dream.
Since DK became quite influential due to the popular movement in the society, some of Periyar’s activists, including C N Annadurai, insisted on contesting the elections. EVR was resisting but when the 70-year-old widower Periyar married a 32-year-old Maniyammai – Annadurai, who belonged to weaver community, broke away from him. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was formed in 1949. “Anna” (Elder Brother) was not for a separate nation, but Periyar continued demanding it even after the British left. Periyar gave a call to consider August 15, 1947, the Indian Independence Day, as a day of Mourning. In 1955, Periyar was arrested for his public agitation of burning pictures of Rama. He also shoed the image of Krishna and Rama , stating that they were Aryan gods that considered the Dravidian Shudras to be “sons of prostitutes.” Even in 1957, he agitated for an Independent Tamil Nadu. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment for burning Indian Constitution. Not only Periyar but his widow Maniyammai, who took over his party DK after his death in 1973, also continued the tirade against Hindu and Aryan symbols. She set fire to the effigies of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana at Periyar Thidal, Madras (now Chennai) in retaliation to the Ramaleela celebrations where effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Indrajit were burnt in New Delhi.
The Congress had C Rajgopalachari, a Brahmin, and K Kamraj Nadar, a non-Brahmin, as some of the finest Chief Ministers of national stature, but the Dravida Movement gaining momentum deprived Congress of power. In 1967, Congress rule came to an end in Tamil Nadu. Annadurai of DMK became Chief Minister after winning majority in the assembly elections but he could not live long as he died of cancer in 1969. He challenged PM Jawaharlal Nehru on Hindi in 1953 and led Madras Anti-Hindi agitation in 1965. This made him a hero of the people. Anna was a journalist of repute and a personality from the film world. A mammoth 15 million people attended his funeral as per the Guinness records. After his death his lieutenant and film scriptwriter M Karunanidhi, a barber, became the Chief Minister and boss of the party and continues to head the party even at 92.
If Karunanidhi was a screenwriter in Tamil cinema, M G Ramachandran was a superstar of Tamil films. Though a Brahmin of Malayali origin, he was accepted by Tamil film fans as their own. Married to one-time actress Janaki, MGR continued to have affairs with his heroines. J Jayalalithaa was one among them. MGR could not get along well with Karuna and his breakaway faction of DMK was named All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in 1972. His popularity and fan clubs brought him the political power in 1977. MGR became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Karuna and MGR became CMs again and again. Even Jaya was also fortunate to be CM six times. Karunanidhi wants his son M K Stalin to be his successor.
Recently the heroin of MGR films and his protégée J Jayalalithaa, a Tamilian Brahmin, died. She was born in Karnataka. All the three Chief Ministers Anna, MGR and Jaya Amma died in harness. She was so popular with the masses that even after refusing to enter into coalition with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP, Amma could get her party win 37 out of 39 seats in the Lok Sabha and majority in the assembly elections for two consecutive terms. The Dravida ideology has taken a back seat. The administration is run on the whims of the leaders. Personal interests of the leaders are taking the centre stage unlike in Rajaji and Kamraj era. Current Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, a Thevar, was nominated by Sasikala, who has just been a close friend of the late Jayalalithaa. The Dravida movement has turned into a money minting movement for both the DMK and the AIADMK. Periyar is almost forgotten in practice.
Next Column: Lokmanya Tilak preached Gandhian Non-violence
(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected])