Split in Dravidian Movement And the Decline of Tamil Separatism

Split in Dravidian Movement And the Decline of Tamil Separatism



By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

India gained freedom from Britain at midnight on August 15th 1947. At the time of Indian independence there was a separatist movement in South India spearheaded by the “Dravidar Kazhagham” (DK) or Dravidian Association led by E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as “Periyar”(Great Person).
As stated in an earlier article the DK demand was for a separate state in South India comprising areas where the Dravidian languages Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tulu were pre-dominantly spoken. The envisaged state was called “Dravida Nadu”(Dravidian State).
Although the agitation for a Dravida Nadu had been conducted intermittently from 1940 onwards the chances of Britain partitioning South India too and creating a “Dravidastan/Dravida Nadu” on the lines of the proposed Pakistan were extremely remote. India was on the verge of Independence from the British in 1946/47 but Dravida Nadu was not on the agenda.

As political stakes were raised and India/Pakistan partition became inevitable the question of Dravida Nadu was totally eclipsed.
Periyaar himself had contributed to this situation in 1941 by suspending all agitation for Dravida Nadu so as to not hinder British war efforts. It was off the political radar for many years during world war two. In retrospect this was a blunder as no effective campaign had been mounted for Dravida Nadu.
If Periyaar had expected the British to hand over Dravida Nadu on a platter as reward for his cooperation during the war the rationalist patriarch was sadly mistaken.

Periyaar had also relied on Muhammad Ali Jinnah and thought that the Muslim League leader would extend support for “Dravidstan” like “Pakistan” as promised at the decisive stage. But Jinna found it politically practical to espouse the case for a theocratic state of Pakistan on the basis of a Hindu-Islam divide rather than cloud his case with the caste and ethnicity based demand for Dravidastan.

“Malayalam speakers wanted the Kanniyakumari District bordering the “new” Kerala; Telugu speakers wanted Madras city and the Thiruthani area. Kannada speakers wanted Hosur in the Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu. Sivagnanam spearheaded political resistance to these moves.”

The greatest weakness of the Dravida Nadu demand lay in the inability of its proponents to gather support among the non-Tamil Dravidian people inhabiting the envisaged state. Though Tamils were the single-largest ethnicity in the old Madras presidency the non-Tamils taken together were the majority. Support for Dravida Nadu was virtually nil among those non-Tamils. Besides the majority of Tamils too were against a Dravida state at that juncture and treated it as a joke then. Freedom from the British was the dominant line of thought among most Tamils in India at that time. Thus Dravida Nadu was a non-starter at the dawn of Independence. Periyaar found himself let down by the British and betrayed by Jinna, discarded by non Tamil Dravidians and rejected by the bulk of Tamils.
In his anger at this turn of events, Periyaar took up an extremely hardline against Independence and urged Tamils to declare Freedom day on August 15th 1947 as a day of mourning. He said that independence was only a change of masters for Dravidians. But his deputy C.N. Annadurai known as “Anna”(elder brother) sharply differed in this. Annadurai took up the position that the Dravidians had been oppressed by both, the British and Aryan/ Brahmins. Now one set of oppressors were departing. This by itself was most welcome. So Dravidians should rejoice at independence from the British and launch a struggle for secession from India thereafter was Annadurai’s position.

EVR Per iyar and CN Annadurai

These contrary perspectives led to further tension between both factions. The divergent views were articulated by both factions in the media controlled by both groups. Post-Independence saw both groups engaged in an undeclared power struggle within the DK. There were however more deep-seated reasons for the differences between EVR Periyaar and CN Annadurai.
Firstly Periyaar was a virtual autocrat. He ran the party like a dictator having been appointed life time president. Most of the property and finances belonging to the party were under his personal control. Periyaar being a rich man in his own right had also spent a lot of his own funds for the party. So there was a very thin line demarcating personal and party-owned property.
Within the party there was very little true democracy. Those whom Periyaar selected were automatically elected to posts without contest. It was a virtual appointment. There was practically no inner party discussion or debate on important decisions. What Periyaar decided and announced was party policy. Annadurai on the other hand was of a more liberal democratic disposition. His vision was of a full-fledged democratic party with well established procedures for inner-party polls. He was also for a consultative, consensual approach within party folds in policy formulation and implementation.

Annadurai had outgrown Periyaar and had to break free of autocratic shackles.

Secondly Periyaar and Annadurai had diametrically opposite views on the future of the Dravidian Movement. Periyaar was firmly against any kind of participation in democratic elections. He derided participatory democracy in an Aryan-Brahmin-North Indian dominated India as a sham. He wanted the DK to remain aloof of electoral politics and concentrate instead on social reform and eradication of caste oppression. Periyaar also feared that entering hurly-burly politics would corrupt the idealist purity of the party. He felt that the party’s ideology would be diluted in the long run to garner more votes and that the DK may compromise its policies for electoral success.
Annadurai however had opposite views. He opined that the party could realise its ideals and objectives through participatory democracy also rather than rely alone on agitational tactics and confrontational demonstrations as propounded by Periyaar.
Annadurai felt that it was better to capture the structures of power and engineer social reform from inside rather than try to bring about reform by influencing or pressurising from outside.

The politically astute Annadurai realised that with the passage of time, political power through democratic elections would pass into the hands of the non-Brahmins as they vastly outnumbered the Brahmins who were a microscopic minority in numbers. Annadurai’s thoughts on this issue were well expressed by his disciple Muttuvel Karunanidhi who succeeded Anna as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Karunanidhi a famous script writer for films once wrote the following dialogue for a Tamil movie. “Arohara endra makkal kural Aandavanai ettinaal pothaathu. Arasaangathai etta vaendum” (It is not enough for the voice of the people chanting “Harohara” to reach God. It must reach the Government)

“Medium was the Message”

Thirdly Periyaar was to some extent old-fashioned and conservative in his attitude towards the arts, literature and cinema. He despised films and had the uttermost contempt for those in cinema and drama except perhaps M.R. Radha the famous actor, who was politically on the same wavelength as Periyaar and articulated his policies through film and stage.
But Annadurai recognized the vast potential for mass-communication and the “electoral revolution” it could bring about if adroitly exploited or handled. Long before Marshall Mcluhan , Annadurai subscribed to the dictum that the “medium” was the “message”. Annadurai had once referred to famous cine idol MG Ramachandran (MGR) in this way. “Avar Vaakkukku pathulatcham. Avar mugathukku muppathu latcham” (Ten lakhs (one million) for what he says; thirty lakhs (three million) for his face”. What Annadurai was driving at was the vote-getting capacity of MGR. His attractive countenance would gain more votes than his speech.

Annadurai himself was involved in cinema and had written story, screenplay and dialogue for many films. He was also a playwright and stage actor. So too was Karunanidhi. There were other “Dravidian” stalwarts who wrote story and dialogue for films like AVP Aasaithamby, CB Sittarasu, Naanchil Manoharan, Rama Arangannal, Kannadasan and Murasoli Maaran. There were also actors like NS Krishnan, KR Ramaswamy, TV Narayanaswamy, SS Rajendran, Sivaji Ganesan and MGR. Under these circumstances Annadurai felt that Periyaar’s harsh attitude towards cinema and drama would hamper his plans of utilising them for politicisation and political mobilisation. Periyaar was a constraint in this respect.
Annadurai also differed with Periyaar over the questions of substance and style. Periyaar believed in substance alone and that the message should be told simply in a straightforward manner. Annadurai however relied on form more than content in delivering his message. While Periyaar wrote and spoke in a dry, terse direct manner, Annadurai had evolved an attractive, flowery, alliterative style (Adukku mozhi) in oratory and writing.Against this backdrop it was apparent that Annadurai was biding his time to break away from the DMK and form his own party. Tension was increasing between both factions. Annadurai himself waited patiently for the right reason and opportune moment to break away. That moment soon arrived. The reason for the split was covertly political and overtly personal.

“The Tiruppathy area in Andhra Pradesh, The Kolar area of Karnataka and Devikulam-Peermedhu areas of Kerala were all claimed by Sivagnanam as being integral to the “Tamil” state of Madras.”

Periyaar lost his wife Naahammai in 1933. Being sick and old he required someone to nurse him. There was an ardent DK supporter in Vellore called Kanagasabhai. He had a daughter called Kaanthimathy. She was an ardent follower of Periyaar’s ideals and highly politicised. Kaanthimathy changed her name to “arasiyalmani” (political gem) and refused to marry spurning the institution of marriage. When her father Kanagasabhai passed away suddenly Kaanthimathy/Arasiyalmani was bereft of support. Periyaar then brought her to his residence. The young woman became a nurse and maid to the veteran leader. Periyaar himself called her Mani or Maniyamma (mother mani) Gradually she began running the lonely, childless widower’s household and even attended to the tight-fisted Periyaar’s personal and party financial accounts. She had studied up to grade ten. Slowly party faithfuls got used to her as a permanent fixture and began addressing her as “Maniyammai” (Mani Madam).

Paradoxically Periyaar’s chief political rival was also his close personal friend. This was Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari known as Rajaji who was then the Governor-General of India. Rajaji visited Thiruvannaamalai in Madras state on May 14th 1949. Periyaar accompanied by Maniyammai paid a sudden visit and had a discussion for 75 minutes with the Brahmin Governor-General. When news broke about the private discussion, DK party members were aghast. The DK membership had been brainwashed into hating Brahmins. Rajaji was more or less a Brahmin symbol. Now their leader had had a clandestine discussion with him. The rank and file was in a state of revolt.

Rising Tide Of Discontent

Annadurai gauged the rising tide of discontent against Periyaar. He decided to give voice to this resentment openly. Shortly thereafter a conference on “Muthamizh” (Triple Thamizh) was held in Coimbatore. Annadurai and Periyaar were both speakers. It was then that Annadurai challenged Periyaar openly by asking him bluntly on stage “Why did you meet Rajaji? What did you discuss with him? The people demand disclosure”. Periyaar exploded on stage “That’s my personal matter. It is not to be aired in public”.
This duel percolated downwards to the rank and file. Periyaar himself wrote in his newspaper “Viduthalai” (Liberation) that he had met with Rajaji to discuss a trustworthy heir to his wealth and political legacy. This revelation added more fuel to the raging controversy.

Then came another shock

Periyaar announced that he was going to marry Maniyammai. He felt that she was a trustworthy heir and would manage party affairs well after he was gone. The law did not permit him to adopt a woman as heir. So he would register his marriage with her thus enabling her to be his legal heir. Notice of intended marriage was given on June 18th 1949. Periyaar was nearing seventy. Maniyammai was thirty-one. The Dravidian movement was ripped asunder. How could their leader marry a woman less than half his age? Moreover a rumour spread that she was a Brahmin (Incorrect). It was also speculated that Rajaji had advised Periyaar to follow this course. While the DK became the laughing stock of Tamils the party itself split vertically. Only a formal break had to be accomplished. Annadurai realised his time had come and struck. He met with his supporters and drafted an open letter to his leader.

In that missive , Annadurai issued an ultimatum. Periyaar marrying Maniammai was an insult to the party. He should refrain from going through with his plan. Otherwise party members would be compelled to criticise his action and oppose it. Periyaar remained adamant. On July 9th 1949 EV Ramaswamy married Maniyammai at a marriage registrar’s office in Thiyagarayanagar, Madras (Now Chennai).The next day “Viduthalai” newspaper announced that Maniyammai would henceforth be known as EVR Maniyammai. There followed a war of words but Periyaar remained unfazed. He felt that things would normalise after some party members let off steam. Some Loyalists remained faithful to Periyaar defending and justifying his conduct.

Annadurai was waiting for September. The 15th was his fortieth birthday. The 17th was Periyaar’s 70th birthday. While Periyaar loyalists conducted Birthday celebrations for the newly-wed septuagenarian, Annadurai in his capacity as DK general-secretary summoned an executive committee meeting on the same day.

Twenty-three of the forty-six ex-co members attended. Annadurai stated unambiguously that he had no intention of gaining control of the party. Instead he and his followers will go out with sorrow and form a new party he said. Annadurai had been waiting long for this chance. Now he was going out claiming moral high ground. An organizing committee for the party in formation was appointed. Events moved at a hectic pace. The new organizing committee met at a house in Pavalakkaaran street, Chennai and drafted the party constitution. The party was to be the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) or Dravidian Progressive Association. Annadurai was elected organizing secretary.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham

On the next day (Sep 19th) the newly formed Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham held its first public meeting at Robinson’s park in Chennai. Annadurai said that there will not be a Party president post as the only “Thalaiver” (leader) he had ever known and will ever acknowledge was Periyaar himself.Until Periyaar himself came and occupied the president’s chair the party would not have a President. He also revealed that the policies and ideals of the DMK would be the same as that of the DK. “Thikavum Thimukavum Irattai Kuzhal Thuppakki” (The DK and DMK are double-barrels of a gun) he announced. Annadurai said that the party was formed with “kanneer thuligal” meaning tear drops.

  • How the Dravida Nadu for Dravidians demand suffered a massive setback due to State re-organization.

  • No longer was it possible to demand a Dravidian state for all the Dravidian linguistic nationalities

Thereafter Periyaar used to refer derisively to the DMK as tear drops. When all these political convulsions were on within the Dravidian movement the key demand of a separate “Dravida Nadu” state had been put on the backburner.The Dravidian movement had been unable to cope with the reality of Indian independence and plan out political strategy due to intra-party conflict and dissension. Now the crisis was over and a new configuration had emerged, There were two political parties espousing secessionism within newly independent India. The stage was being set for a long , intense struggle for a break-away separate state from the Indian Union. The “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians” slogan changed to “Thamizh Naadu for Thamizhians”.The coming years was to see Tamil secessionism rise to considerable heights and then rapidly fall into decline in Independent India.

After the tryst with destiny on August 15th 1947 Independent India embarked on its historic journey. In what was then the Southern state of Madras the “double-barreled” Dravidian movement comprising the Dravida Kazhagham (DK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) commenced its own march towards the goal of Dravida Naadu.
Initially both the DK and DMK focused more on social reform rather than political emancipation from New Delhi. Both remained steadfastly opposed to Hindi imposition, North Indian domination and Brahmin supremacy. As time progressed it became apparent that an unplanned division of labour was emerging. The DK spurned participatory democracy and relied more and more on extra-Parliamentary agitational politics. The DK priority was the re-structuring of society through socio-cultural reform.

The DMK also espoused these goals but the emphasis was more on reform through political means. The DMK leader CN Annadurai known popularly as “Anna” (elder brother) was veering around to the view that the DMK policies could be implemented from the inside by capturing state power rather than “agit-prop” from outside.

Though the DK and DMK were of the view that a Dravidian state was most desirable there were practical difficulties. Chief among them was the fact that the majority of Tamils in the state were not enamoured of secession. Another problem of equal dimension was the total apathy and even antipathy of the other non-Tamil Dravidian ethnicities towards the Dravida Nadu ideal. While the DK and DMK strove together to keep the flames of Dravida Nadu demand flickering new developments in “Free India” began changing the political landscape.

Cry For a New Telugu Speaking State

Tamils were the single largest ethnic group in the Madras state of that time. But the Telugu speaking people were a close second. They were not very happy to play second fiddle to Tamils within Madras state. The cry for a new Telugu Speaking state being carved out of Madras state was raised. There were also Telugu speaking people in the princely state of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam.
The Hyderabad Nizam had resisted being absorbed into the Indian union and “Iron man” Sardar Vallabhai Patel had to send in the armed forces to annex it. With this annexation the numerical strength of Telugu people in the Indian union increased. Telugu people in the Telengana regions of the erstwhile Hyderabad princely state along with those in the northern Telugu districts of Madras state made up a population numerically larger than the Tamils themselves.

 “India gained freedom from Britain at midnight on August 15th 1947. At the time of Indian independence there was a separatist movement in South India spearheaded by the “Dravidar Kazhagham” (DK) or Dravidian Association led by E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker popularly known as “Periyar”(Great Person).”

So, Telugu nationalism grew. The demand was for a greater Telugu State comprising both segments. The new state within the Indian union was to be called Andhra Pradesh. Telugu nationalists began agitating for Andhra Pradesh and also wanted the Madras city to be the new capital. “Madras namadhe” (madras is ours) was the Telugu cry.
The demand for Madras by Telugu nationalists was resented by Tamils of Madras state. The “commonality” of Dravidian affinity was shattered by the Telugu-Tamil rivalry.

The Telugu demand for Andhra Pradesh increased momentum when a Telugu political leader Potti Sree Ramulu went on a fast unto death and died after 66 days. The Indian government of Jawarhalal Nehru gave in to the demand and created the new state of Andhra Pradesh in 1953. It consisted of 16 Telugu-majority districts in the north of Madras state. Initially the Telengana regions of Hyderabad were not included in the new Andhra Pradesh State. Madras city too remained within the old Madras state.

Jawarhalal Nehru being an enlightened leader saw that linguistic nationalism within Indian borders could tear the fabric apart unless it was contained through appropriate adjustments. He decided to re-structure Indian states on a linguistic basis. Nehru appointed the States Reorganization Commission in December 1953 under Justice Fazal Ali to recommend how states should be formed on linguistic lines. The Home minister Govind Ballabh Pant oversaw the commission’s functions. The Fazal Ali commission submitted a report in 1955 with recommendations. On the basis of that report, Nehru got the States Reorganization Act of 1956 passed. It came into effect from Nov 1st 1956.

Myth of a United Dravidian State

Madras state out of which the new Andhra Pradesh had been carved out in 1953 suffered further truncation as a result of state re-organization. The Malayalam speaking Malabar districts were absorbed into the new Kerala state. The Tulu speaking regions were incorporated within Kerala (Kasargod)and the newly re-demarcated Mysore state (Dakshina Kannada and Udupi) Mysore state was renamed Karnataka later just as Madras state was renamed Tamil Nadu (Tamil Country) . Andhra Pradesh formed in 1953 was further enhanced with the incorporation of Telugu speaking regions including Hyderabad.(In 2014 these regions were formed into the new Telengana State).With the re-organization and creation of states the residual Madras state was now preponderantly Tamil-speaking but territorially reduced.
In a single, decisive move the territorial basis for a Dravida Nadu had been undermined. With the Telugu, Malayalee and Kannada ethnicities having states of their own the demand for the erstwhile Madras state becoming an independent Dravida Nadu had lost its validity and power. Furthermore cracks and fissures within the Dravidian communities were clearly visible. There was much conflict among the states-in-formation over the borders. Each demanded greater real estate. This bickering further exposed the myth of a united Dravidian state.

  • The Madras state was now predominantly Tamil and therefore more susceptible to Tamil or ultra-Tamil nationalism

  • When asked “What constitutes Dravida Nadu now?” by the press, Periyaar replied bluntly “Whatever that remains of the old Madras State is the new Dravida Nadu now

This inter-state strife caused much unease among the ruling Congress as well as the Dravidian parties. The Congress stood for an all-embracing Pan-Indian identity and this fighting for territory on the basis of linguistic states was frowned upon. The Dravidian movements espousing a greater Dravidian homeland were embarrassed by this intra-Dravidian competition.

It was left to a veteran Congress stalwart and freedom fighter Mylapore  Ponnuswamy Sivagnanam to take up the cause of Tamils. “Ma. Po. Si” as Sivagnanam was known started a movement to protect the territory of Madras state. He was expelled from the Congress for his “parochial” politics. Sivagnanam formed the “Thamizharasu Kazhagham” (Tamil State Association).

Malayalam speakers wanted the Kanniyakumari District bordering the “new” Kerala; Telugu speakers wanted Madras city and the Thiruthani area.
Kannada speakers wanted Hosur in the Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu. Sivagnanam spearheaded political resistance to these moves. At the same time he led the agitation for some other border areas to be merged with Madras State.
The Tiruppathy area in Andhra Pradesh, The Kolar area of Karnataka and Devikulam-Peermedhu areas of Kerala were all claimed by Sivagnanam as being integral to the “Tamil” state of Madras.

“Ellaik Kaavalar”(Guardian of the Borders)

“Maposi” did not succeed in getting the territory he asked for but the movement claimed success in protecting the Kanniyakumari District, Madras city, Thiruthani and Hosur.
Sivagnanam upstaged the Congress and Dravidian parties in preserving the territory of the Tamils in Madras state. He was dubbed “Ellaik Kaavalar” (Guardian of the borders).
The Dravida Nadu for Dravidians demand suffered a massive setback due to State re-organization. No longer was it possible to demand a Dravidian state for all the Dravidian linguistic nationalities.

On the other hand the Madras state was now predominantly Tamil and therefore more susceptible to Tamil or ultra-Tamil nationalism. The plain speaking Periyaar was the first to acknowledge the changed situation. When asked “What constitutes Dravida Nadu now?” by the press, Periyaar replied bluntly “Whatever that remains of the old Madras State is the new Dravida Nadu now.”



About editor 3017 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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