Powerful orator and magnetic writer, the first leader of post-independence
India who did not play a role in the freedom struggle, gave
voice to the aspirations of upwardly mobile non-Brahmin youth
and safely accomodated Tamil nationalizm within the state
(By A.R. Venkatachalapathy)
Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai died, his funeral, attended
by many lakhs of people(15 Million), was one fo the largest
the country had seen – and as Indians are often
fond of claiming – it is supposed to be a Guinness
recond. Anna, not only the diminutive of his name but
which means “respected elder brother” as well
in Tamil (an ambiguity capitalised on by the Dravidian
movement), was born of rather undistinguished parentage
for which he was often ridiculed by petty-minded political
rivals. In the rise of this barely five-and-a-quarter
feet man with a balding pate, tobacco-stained teeth, stubbled
chin and a captivating husky voice to prominence lies
the story of modern Tamil Nadu.
Anna was the first leader of post Independennce INdia who did
not play a role in the freedom struggle.
Education-an M.A. proudly tagged to his name – was his
only claim to respect and he cut his political teeth i the non-Brahmin
Justice Party, translating into Tamil and high-flown public
speeches of its leaders.
the first anti-Hindi agitation of 1937-39 clearly established
his skills with language-on the platform and with the pen to
which he later added film script writing. In him Periyar E.V.Ramasam
found the lieutenant who would, however, soon upstage him. In
1944, with freedom only a matter of time, Anna gave the crucial
reorientation to the non-Brahmin movement, which would rid it
of the stigma of loyalism, he prepared it for challenges of
a newly independent nation state. His alliterative rhetoric,
radically new to the Tamil language, changed Tamil public speaking
forever. combind whith his voracious reading in western rationalism,
his linguistic skills greatly enamoured the Tamil youth from
upwardly mobile non-Brahmin families.
What perhaps contributed to Anna’s ultimate success was
his ability to harness and tame the ideas and energies let lose
by Periyar. Given his controversial and radical ideas on nation,
caste, religion, women and language, inderstandably Periyar
eschewed leectoral politics. In Anna, the emergent backward
castes saw leader who could take them to political power. He
skilfully repackaged Periyar’s iconoclastic ideas to make
them palatable in the public domain. Periyar’s rustic
atheism became “Onre Kulam, Oruvane Devan” (One
God, One Community) n a skilful appropriation of the veneratd
medieval Tamil saint Tirumular. When Periyar went about breading
the idols of Pillaiyar(Ganapati) Anna famoulsy aboserved that
he would neither break the idol nor the coconut (in worship).
The first open sign of break came when Periyar declared August
15, 1947, as a day of mourning. In perceptively judging the
public mood-a trait he was to display many times in his political
career-Anna declared that there was now one enemy less (the
British). Periyar’s mismatched marriage in 1949 with a
young Maniammal provided the pretest for the birth of the Dravida
Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Over the 1950s he built a part which
expressed the dissatisfaction of Tamils with the Indian state,
especially the imposition of Hindi. The congress’s will-planned
defeat of Anna in the 1962 assembly exections led his into the
Rajya Sabha. The abdication of the secesionist demand in the
wake of the Chinese aggression was yet another indication of
his political acumen.
DMK pretty much set the terms of the debate in early post 1947
Tamil Nadu. Ina perhaps now justly forgotten, book called India:
the Most Dangerous Decade (1960), a US analyst Selig Harrison
observed of Anna: “There is no doubt that this powerful
orator is the single-most popular mass figure in the region”
– a point completely missed by his political rivals. And
when DMK swept the polls – cobbling up a coalition with
C.Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party the Communists and
the Muslim League, therby gaining political acceptabilty accross
the board – in 1967 efectively ending Congress dominance
in the state, it surprised no one except the Congress.
But the electoral success disturbed no one more than Anna himself,
for he feared that success had come a little too early –
DMK’s first cabinet was the oungest in India then. He
had assiduously built up a party apparatus that spread to every
corner of the state through a wide and democratic network of
reading rooms that doubled up as party offices. A magnanimous
man who was generous to a fault. Anna had also groomed a distinguished
line of second rung leaders by whom he never felt threatened
– lesson that every party leader in India should learn.
The dazzling rise a Anna was cut short by death. He was not
yet 60. The Indian nation state owes much to him for safely
accomodating Tamil nationalism within it.
What did he do before joining politics?
A: Wrotes film scipts and dialogues.
Which state did he rename?
A: Tamil Nadu. Earlier known as Madras.
How many publications did he start?
A: Three – Dravida Nadu, a Tamil Weekly in 1942 and to
in English – Home Land(1957), Home Rule(1966)
What was unusual about his funeral in 1969?
A: About 15 million people attended it, a record.
author is historian and Tamil writer)