Looming heirlooms

Political Leaders leave many kinds of legacies ranging from properties to parties to pet theories and pronouncements. Unlike a nondescript individual, the legacy of a public person raises more complications on the latter’s death: The claimants are not just blood relatives but include, to put it in TN’s political lingo, Blood’s Blood and Co-borns too (Raththaththin raththam & Udanpirappugal). Clearly, any disputes are therefore for stakes higher than mere monetary spoils. The recent verdict of the Chennai HC (since stayed) declaring that there could be no copyright over Periyar’s writings, particularly in the absence of specific assignment by him, offers a dicey opportunity to exhume the estate, material or otherwise, of such leaders.

Those who take to writing as a profession or for passion are not our concern here. In any case the copyrights laws in such cases are more or less settled. But those public personalities whose writings were just a vehicle for their ideology or politics fall in a different league. Even, here there are some resourceful ones who vested their publishing rights with individuals or publishing houses or charitable organisations, leaving little room for litigation. But what of those who died intestate, vis-a-vis their intellectual output, like Periyar? In any case, should the words of men who moved multitudes, in whatever direction, be confined to private coffers, even if they themselves have willed so?

The court battle over Periyar’s writings has rekindled debate on the ‘notion of commons’. While this idea cannot be extended to private property, particularly in the modern material milieu, patenting thoughts remains a grey matter. I too believe nobody can claim propriety over ideas; what occurs to one may occur to someone else too since all emanate from the one same cosmic consciousness. Still, verbal expression varies amidst individuals and that makes the difference that may entitle one to a copyright. Even so, with public personalities, their thoughts expressed in their unique style should become public property by passage of time, just as some drugs come out of patents after a specified period. Governments get over this conundrum by nationalising the works of such public persons. If the rights are formally vested with some inheritors, they get a compensation, usually upto Rs 25 lakhs in TN. Otherwise, a simple official notification makes those writings common property which means anyone can quote or publish them without legal shackles. But here too, disputes may arise on who is the worthy, his work and its worth. For instance, recently the families of Kannadasan and Sundara Ramaswami had protested the nationalisation on valid lines but had to give in eventually.

Politics and the penchant of those in power for a place in posterity are the prime provocations for the posthumous recognition of past greats. Of course, public pressure and popular opinion have been powerful propellants too. The works of Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak, Rajaji, Radhakrishnan and a host of such luminaries were automatic candidates for a rightful presence in public sphere. Many ashrams, Orders and mutts too hold rights for the utterings of their gurus, but these too can be taken to be in public domain because the intent is to propogate which is often borne out by the subsidised pricing. To their credit, it must be said that those thinkers never intended their works to become commodities. Yet, that has not prevented the subsequent generations from living off their intellectual legacy, made free and accessible by decree. Bharathiyaar, who lived and died in penury, still feeds not just the hearts and minds, but also the stomachs of scores of publishers, writers, lyricists, musicians et al who owe no royalty to him for the ‘riches’ he had bequeathed to them.
It may seem odious to talk of Periyar in the same breath as the great poet, (For one, Periyar lived well and was a master fund raiser) but something similar has happened to that ultimate rationalist too. The entire edifice of Dravidian politics and power was built on the personality of Periyar. Now, several works of several Tamil scholars and savants have been nationalised after Independence. Surely, forty years of rational regimes which have invoked Periyar in every breath do not need a court ruling to bring his works into the public domain. I am not for a moment making out a case for that, but only pointing out the duplicity inherent in the lapse. The reason is not far to see: Periyar, his properties and his pronouncements are all the sole preserve of one man! If indeed Periyar is the presiding deity of dravidanadu, Veeramani is its chief priest! And the rational world will have to perforce await this poojari’s boon, even if Periyar had granted his! And Periyar’s parivar sees no slight to their self-respect at their patriarch being under bondage.

Now to brass tacks. Periyar’s legacy runs into crores. The posthumous accretions have been phenomenal thanks to V’s polemic and PR skills. J or K, this self-appointed inheritor has always had it good: public lands and for that matter, any official concession, have been there for the asking … all it takes is a recognition or award or certificate in the name of Periyar for whoever the ruler is and presto, the rationalist kitty would swell. At the time of going to press, there are around fifty institutions under the banner of Periyar Self-respect Propoganda Institution and Periyar Maniammai Institute of Science and Technology, all run on sound commercial lines in tune with the ‘academic’ trends in town, if you see what I mean. And this man also claims complete overlordship over his lord’s speeches and writings too, because others would ‘distort’ them or make money! How pious! Or probably V thought Periyar’s rational rhetoric needs to be rationed for public good, given that the Thanthai was a champion of contradictions and cared less about his cavalier ways too. He had no taboos and many of his views would actually tally with Kushboos’. Indeed, Periyar deserves to be unshackled on that count alone! So now that V’s titles are under court clouds, why not the Govt open the sluices for rational milk and honey to flow and flood TN? And also take an inventory of Periyar’s material legacy, now in DK’s custody so that the nation can know the ‘true market value’ of social justice?

But our K can put even V in the shade in making the most of Periyar’s legacy. Kalaingar’s legacy itself is mind-boggling in many ways. K of course, is still a chip off the old block in one respect: his prolific, profuse, but not often profound, writings. His peers MGR or J have no such claims. However, K stands out more as a sterling father, uncle and grandfather whose largesse can sustain generations of legatees. His offer to ‘donate’ his Gopalapuram residence for a hospital, therefore, sounds suspicious, for we know the man and his motives. Indeed, with him you have to look the gift horse in the mouth, for, every act of his has a domestic angle to it as his latest Delhi Dealings bear out. His wish has to translate into a will and even here one has to read the fine print, for the master script-writer can plant punches between the lines too. In any case, what’s a mere house, when the nation, State and even air-waves have been hived off to his progeny and some chosen pets? But that has not stopped the fraternity of flatterers from already pasting posters and posting paeans and poems hailing a ‘promise’ that is subject to the vagaries of providence and K’s own personal and political priorities!

Kamaraj gave and built everything only for the Congress. Anna had very little as property to bequeath, but his political legacy has been most profitable for the inheritors in DMK and its off-shoots. A good part of MGR’s material legacy went to charity and some are in dispute: While every wannabe kollywood star claims the puratchi actor’s political legacy, J and now, V’Kanth are the only survivors. J’s legacy would need to be cross-checked with foster sisters. But what has the people of TN got as legacy from its leaders, particularly the dravidian ones, whose worth is no state secret? Well, apart from those crisp Rs 500/- notes at polltime, I can’t recall much. Rationalism in ‘real’ terms is yet to come down to the masses!

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Jawahar T R