New Delhi: He began his working life as an English teacher. When seen from the prism of what he stood for – self-respect for the marginalised, downtrodden, also opposed to majoritarianism, one may wonder at his choice of profession. But that was in the initial years of his life and it was well known that if there was one thing which attracted Conjeevaram (as Kanchipuram was once spelt) Natarajan Annadurai, it was knowledge, Today is his 113th birth anniversary and a perfect day to recall the man who founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK. That he was also the fifth and last CM of Madras state from 1967-69 and the first CM of Tamil Nadu for 20 days is also a fact.
What makes Anna (as he was popularly known; in Tamil, meaning elder brother) iconic is that it was he who was the first to dovetail Tamil cinema into politics and thus made it a successful template for successive leaders to follow like M Karunanidhi and MGR. His 1949 novel, Vellaikari (the Maidservant) was a telling commentary on the cruelty perpetrated by rich landlords. One may wonder if this was new for there have been several writers in India like, Premchand, who did it with much aplomb.
But here’s is the difference—Anna’s writings was an extension of his political ideology and slowly seeped into the psyche of the Tamil people. It was also said that the zamindar characters in Vellaikari was a reference to Jawaharlal Nehru and his acolytes.
In 1948, his first movie titled Nalla Thambi (the Good/honourable Brother) was released and was actually a precursor to Vellaikari. During the days of strict censorship in Tamil Nadu, the references to an Anna (elder brother) in movies would send audiences into raptures even as the character would make direct references to what Annadurai stood for.
The other most significant aspect which forms the kernel of Dravidian politics is its anti-Hindi stand and protecting its federal structure. It was Annadurai who was one of the first leaders to take part in the anti-Hindi agitation in 1938 when the Congress government in Madras Presidency helmed by Rajaji tried imposing Hindi as a compulsory language.
By now, Annadurai had begun his political journey by joining the Justice Party (later called the Dravida Kazhagam) in 1935. However, what was by far the most brilliant retort by Annadurai apropos what he thought was the imposition of Hindi in 1950 when it was made the official language, was as follows: “ It is claimed that Hindi should be the common language because it is spoken by the majority. Why should we then claim the tiger as our national animal instead of the rat which is so much more numerous? Or the peacock as our national bird when the crow is ubiquitous?” The 1960s anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu which gave a major fillip to the Dravidian ideology and pushed the Congress back, had its origins in Anna’s conviction.
The birth of the DMK had its origins in what is unheard of in contemporary politics which only revolves around genuflecting to the top leader or leadership. At the time when Annadurai joined the Justice Party or DK, Periyar was its president. Initially, the two men agreed upon the basic principle of the party which was anti-Brahmin and iconoclastic and hence an anti-thesis to what the Congress represented which was peopled by upper caste men and also run by North Indians.
That Periyar was a known atheist who went around breaking Ganesha idols was well known and firmed up the Dravidian ideology even more forcefully. Periyar’s opposition to the Congress and what he perceived to be north Indian hegemony over the Tamil people was so strong that he called the day of India’s independence, 15 August 1947, as a day of mourning.
That was the first time when Anna openly differed with his mentor and progressively moved away from the party and he launched the DMK which was based on what he had always stood for—the marginalised Tamil people who were voiceless and hence had little or no social capital. So far his views on religiosity was concerned, he said openly that he neither believes in breaking idols, nor coconuts in prayers. He also said Ondre kulam oruvanae Devan (There is only one race, only one God) thereby in a way negating the atheism of Periyar.
It was also Annadurai who after becoming chief minister in 1967 changed, what was perceived to be colonial and therefore an assault on the Tamil people, the name of Madras state to Tamil Nadu. There cannot be any better testimony than this to celebrate the great icon of Tamil politics, particularly today.