Why TN is forbidden land! — 6: A Century in a capsule

The writer T.R.Jawahar is Group Editor of Chennai-based News Today, Maalai Sudar and Talk Media publications.

It is time to move from the politics of history to the history of politics. With a small step in this series I am making a giant leap across 900 years to 20th century. Here, I am just tabling a timeline for future cross-sectional analysis of issues as they criss-cross across this period. Of course, I will be dipping back into history at, er, will. But we are surely in the present and its politics, to be precise.

Still, even this present has a past. For convenience and in all correctness too, let’s peg the start of this chronology in 1919, when the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms were introduced by the Brits. Right from the late 19th and through early 20th century, there has been a simmering anti-Brahmin undercurrent in what was then Madras Presidency. The provocation was the disproportionate positions vis-a-vis their population held by Brahmins in the administration and assembly.

Repeated appeals to the Government to rectify this situation evoked no response. Also, all efforts to consolidate the non-Brahmins on an anti-Brahmin platform also failed, despite many rallies. Finally, a few influential non-Brahmins like T.M.Nair and Thiagaraja Chetty, inspired by C. Natesa Mudaliar, formed the South Indian Liberal Federation with seeds of secession built in, in 1916. This soon became Justice Party, thanks to a newspaper it ran named ‘Justice’. This party’s constitution asserted anti-Brahminism as its only objective.

Till 1919, the Governor of the province was its sole authority. The M-C reforms introduced a system of dyarchy by which a parallel elected Government was also put in place, a democratic landmark. In the polls held in Nov 1920 in Madras Presidency, the Justice Party stormed to power, the first Dravidian regime actually. Agreed, because the Madras Presidency covered almost the whole of ‘Dravidanadu’: The present TN, Malabar in Kerala, Lakshadweep, Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema of AP, large parts of Telangana, some southern districts of Orissa, and Bellary, Udupi and Dakshin Kannada from Karnataka. The princely states of Hyderabad and Travancore were not included. Madras was regular capital while the admin cooled its heels and chilled it out in ‘kulu, kulu’ Ooty in Summer.

From then to 1937, this party ruled intermittently for 13 years. But these years were very turbulent thanks to infighting on ideological and individual piques. Governance became a sham and in just about a decade and a half, the early Dravidian regimes brought upon themselves and the people such misery that the Justice Party was unceremoniously booted out in 1937 polls. The Indian National Congress came to power with Rajaji as CM.

From then on, the Justice Party gradually came under the complete control of ex-Congressman, E.V. Ramasamy Naicker and his self-respect movement. The party remained in opposition for sometime and then was re-christened Dravidar Kazhagam in 1945 with EVR morphing into Periyar. DK declared it will refrain from electoral politics and remain a social organisation. But a few who had always rebelled against Periyar’s ‘undemocratic’ leadership continued to contest polls under the banner ‘Old/Original Justice Party’. It faded soon but for a single seat won by P.T.Rajan in post-Independence 1952 Assembly polls.

Rajaji’s Congress regime of 1937 resigned in 1940 to protest the British dragging India into World War 2. Governor’s rule ensued and lasted till end of the war in 1945. Congress came back to power in Madras Presidency that year with T.Prakasam as CM. With the advent of Independence in 1947, Madras Presidency was named Madras State. In the polls that year, the INC won and Omandur Ramasamy Reddiyar became the first CM of Madras post-independence. The Congress ruled for the next twenty years primarily owing to the freedom struggle hangover and revered leaders like Rajaji & Kamaraj as CMs till it was thrashed at the hustings by Anna’s DMK in 1967. The decimation of Congress marked a landmark shift: It was not Congress alone that was defeated, but all ‘prospective’ national parties and national politics itself in TN for eternity, as it seems.

A little back-and-forth travel on time machine. In 1948, Anna parted company from Periyar and formed the DMK with a host of wannabe young leaders who all adored him for his leadership, knowledge and oratorical skills. The DMK was a full-blown political party that would contest elections, even while pressing for a separate ‘Dravidanadu’. Also. between 1955 and 1960, Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala were carved out as separate States from the Madras State on linguistic lines, each event a separate history by itself. Really, the Dravidian tag should have ceased with that because what was left was only the Tamil-speaking areas.

Once out of the purview of the Madras State, the new States virtually distanced themselves from the Madras-centric Dravidian image and sought to assert their own linguistic identity. ‘Dravidian’ is a Justice Party legacy with its pioneers and stalwarts including most CMs being Telugus and Malayalees, besides upper caste non-Brahmin Tamils. But one can hardly hear the term ‘Dravidian’ or for that matter, even mention of Justice Party in the politics of these States. With Anna bidding bye to a separate ‘Dravidanadu’ in mid-1960s, Dravidian is even more a misnomer.

Also, after the DMK came to power, it renamed the Madras State as Tamilnadu, not their much trumpeted Dravidanadu, which would not have been unconstitutional. Perhaps, TN politicos are holding on to the imaginary ‘Dravidian’ umbilical chord, having been irrevocably indoctrinated by, and therefore committed to, the prima donna of their political pantheon, Periyar, whose mother-tongue is actually Kannada and who spent all his political life here! And so, we too have no choice but to use ‘Dravidian’ for semantic continuity and convenience.

Anna’s DMK gradually grew at the expense of Congress, gnawing at its grassroots while making a macro pitch on several parochial issues in flowery rhetoric that drew masses in droves. Mobilisation was its greatest strongpoint. By the late 1950s, DMK was in the Assembly and Parliament. It was a pioneer in using cinema effectively in politics, a trait that defines TN till date. All its leaders were master communicators and the Congress with its slack leadership and high command syndrome was no match for the DMK’s slick, sly gimmicks packaged in enticing slogans. And after the 1967 debacle, the Congress in TN collapsed under the weighty egos of its geriatric leaders.

By 1969, Karunanidhi was CM, post Anna’s untimely death in harness. In Delhi, Indira Gandhi, after having purged her opponents in the Congress, consolidated her power as PM. Though Congress lost TN in 1967, the real surrender of the State to the Dravidian parties was made by Indira in 1971. In this year’s election to the Assembly and LS, she struck an unholy deal with original enemy DMK by which Congress did not contest a single Assembly seat, while the DMK gave Congress a paltry nine LS seats. The polls were a resounding success for both the leaders and their parties and this so-called win-win was the last nail on national parties’ coffin in TN.

But even till 1991, under Indira and Rajiv, TN voters considered Congress as a national favourite for LS while preferring the Dravidian parties for the State, no matter the alliance. But having dismantled its party framework and thanks to factional infighting, the Congress had and still has no choice but be a pillion rider to either of the Dravidian parties, a situation that the latter exploited to the core. As a result, Congress’ MPs from TN have dwindled drastically over the decades. Ironically, the BJP is studiously following its prime opponent’s blurred footsteps.

Tail piece: To cut a long story short, from K to MGR and Art-356-happy Centres; the 25-years J & K musical chair; the Fort-Court roulette and bail-jail routines … are all familiar history! The rest, EPS-OPS current cameo, is however a mystery!

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Jawahar T R