Annadurai's mission incomplete
to Article Titles
is the 96th birth anniversary of Anna. His sense of mission, his
simplicity, compassion, and talents may seem outmoded. But so
long as human values remain a worthy goal, his legacy will be
NIGHT of March 5, 1967, C.N. Annadurai, known better by his diminutive
`Anna' or elder brother, remained sleepless. There was reason
to be excited. He was to be sworn in Chief Minister of Madras
State the next day. But it was not his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's
flush of victory against the Congress Goliath that kept him in
that state. Anna explained: "I was wide awake through the
break of dawn. I visualised huts, the faces of those in search
of food and those waiting in queues, with their legs aching, before
ration shops. I kept wondering how I could remedy the situation.
I could not fall asleep."
opted for public life over a potential career to serve. Office,
Anna soon realised, was also a sentence. Only 20 days into his
new job, he wrote dolefully: "I am already tired of my new
ministerial status filled with mirthless laughter, contacts devoid
of context and insipid conversations." He wondered how Congressmen
had spent 20 years in this state.
us be clear. Anna was neither antipathetic to power as an instrument
nor averse to the Machiavellian machinations that politicking
entailed. In fact, he parted company with his mentor E.V. Ramasamy
(Periyar) in pursuit of power. He possessed great equanimity and
his four decades of public life, Anna espoused social justice,
regional autonomy, and the interests of Tamils and Tamil Nadu.
As party leader, he felt secure unlike many others in similar
positions. While nurturing talent and leadership within the party,
he remained faithful to democratic precepts — staying clear
of nominating an heir even when he was afflicted with a serious
illness. In the end, the party witnessed an organic choice in
the election of `Kalaignar' M. Karunanidhi.
DMK was Anna's family. Partymen or thambis (younger brothers)
found their Anna at once awesome and accessible. The thambis and
their families began to internalise Anna's successes and defeats
as their own, even as their elder brother instilled self-esteem
and Tamil nationalist pride in them. Anna treated all thambis
with equal affection although he showed great judgment and foresight
in tapping their potential. He thus invited the genial `Navalar'
V.R. Nedunchezian, an Annamalai University graduate, to take over
from him as party general secretary. Early on, a multifaceted
Mr. Karunanidhi attracted Anna's attention for his organisational
and other abilities. Anna also skilfully utilised the services
of the charismatic actor, `Makkal Thilagam' (the people's darling)
one hailing from a modest family background, a backward class
scholarship brought a college education in Madras. Drawn to public
service and the non-Brahmin ferment, Anna resigned his job as
schoolteacher and spurned other offers and suggestions of employment.
Anna's gifted oratory and élan in both Tamil and English
marked him out quickly. Together with Periyar, he espoused rationalism,
social justice, and an independent south India (Dravida Nadu).
A more mellowed Anna, secular to the core, later described himself
as a Hindu sans the sacred ash, a Christian minus the holy cross,
and a Muslim without the prayer cap. He was also to give up the
Dravida Nadu demand, although he had seen separation as a panacea
and believed that Pakistan's emergence would have a domino effect.
40 years old, Anna had founded the DMK in 1949. The young leader
beckoned `thazhntha Tamizhagam' (the fallen Tamil nation) to rise
to its former splendour through his dazzling powers of oratory
and writing. Anna's plays, Chandrodayam (Moonrise), Oar Iravu
(One night) — Anna literally wrote it overnight —
Velaikkari (Servant Maid), Sorgavasal (The entrance to paradise)
and Needhi Devan Mayakkam (The Judge's dilemma), heralded a new
era of social introspection and revolutionised an entertainment
industry long captive to epics and legends. His script was no
poet, Bharatidasan, and the nationalist journalist, Kalki Krishnamurthy,
aptly called Anna Arignar (scholar) with the latter comparing
him with playwright George Bernard Shaw. As Anna's genius enlisted
actors N.S. Krishnan, K.R. Ramasamy, Sivaji V.C. Ganesan, D.V.
Narayanasamy, S.S. Rajendran and M.G. Ramachandran in the party's
service, the organisation grew in strength. It finally captured
power in a span of just 18 years.
how has Anna's legacy fared since? Institutionally, social justice
— Anna's main plank — remains strong. The unanimous
demand from political parties for legislation to undo the effects
of the recent apex court judgment on affirmative action in self-financing
colleges is a classic case. In practice, however, the sense of
alienation of the Adi Dravidas (Dalits) in Tamil Nadu and also
elsewhere appears to have accentuated. While the intermediary
communities and individual Dalits have shown social mobility,
a cross-section of them seems to feel excluded despite the Dravidian
parties' casteless and social welfare moorings. The emergence
of caste-based and exclusive Dalit organisations is testimony
that Anna's vision of inclusiveness has not been fully realised.
Some parties seem to have reacted by installing the depressed
classes and women in senior positions. Institutional arrangements
notwithstanding, it is time to de-emphasise caste-based politics
and vigorously promote social reform.
Ironically, the proliferation of regional parties has achieved
little in securing more power for the States. In Anna's native
Tamil Nadu, the Congress remains permanently emaciated. The Dravidian
parties, which between themselves have a two-thirds share of the
popular vote, remain the largest players. Despite their long stint
in power and their significant roles in coalition governments
at the Centre, their influence is yet to fully translate into
the State's gains. Anna's political philosophy of "opposition
if necessary and cooperation where possible" is eminently
retrospect, Anna's Dravida Nadu demand might be interpreted as
a carefully preserved negotiating position for regional autonomy
leading to a more equitable distribution of power, wealth, and
resources between the Centre and the States. Regretfully, however,
the Sarkaria Commission recommendations on Centre-State relations
continue to gather dust even as regional parties concentrate on
power-sharing at the Centre. Compare this with Anna's disinterested
response to Congress leader P. G. Karuthiruman — the latter
wondered about Anna's reaction in the wake of speculation that
his Government might face punitive action for excluding Hindi
from government schools as part of the DMK's two-language formula.
Anna's response was that he would tender his resignation and leave
as happily as when he had taken office. Today education remains
on the concurrent list (since its transfer in 1976 from the States'
list, a post-Anna development). Is anyone seriously interested
in getting it back to the State list?
was an important issue during Anna's time. Some might argue it
remains crucial even today. It is important to note that Anna
himself had an open mind on the question, asking only for a home-grown
solution over a period of time. He wanted all `regional languages'
to have the status of national languages. This is yet to become
from practicalities, concerns about the quality of education,
governance, and integration remain. It is surely a matter of satisfaction
that civil servants who did their exams in the `regional languages'
have proved just as able and committed as has anyone else. Anna
would have treated the question of language as a personal one,
leaving the choice in the individual's hands. Besides, globalisation
and the Internet revolution seem to have taken the political sting
out of the language issue.
years on, Anna appears ubiquitous in Tamil Nadu. His statues abound
even as thousands of streets and hundreds of institutions and
buildings proclaim his name, thanks to the efforts of those claiming
his legacy. Yet Anna remains at best a symbol. His individual
thambis and thangais (younger sisters) are a generally prosperous
lot. The elder brother, however, might have found a large majority
of them otherwise poor. Anna's sense of mission, his simplicity,
compassion, and talents may look outmoded. But so long as human
values remain a worthy goal, his legacy will be relevant —
he cared not for those who could help themselves, but for those
who needed help.
writer heads Civil Affairs with the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in
HINDU on 15th August 2005.