In a year, it will be 70 years since CN Annadurai parted ways from EVR Periyar. September 17, 1949, witnessed the historic Anna-Periyar split. This event occupies a significant place in Dravidian, Tamil, and Indian history. The most common and stereotypical answer that we get when asked about this rift is that Anna dissented with Periyar’s decision to marry Maniyammai – who was half his age – and exited DK. But was that the real reason for the drift?
This accusation made by the then-DMK in 1949 against Periyar is used to defame him till date. There is also a theory which states that this entire controversy could have been avoided if Periyar had adopted Maniyammai instead of marrying her. But history tells us otherwise. History states that Periyar could not possibly have been able to adopt Maniyammai.
Even though Periyar forcefully opposed the Hindu religion and its Varnashrama Dharma, he never renounced it. Hence, he was bound by the then-prevailing Hindu Civil Code. According to it, a women can neither adopt, nor can she be adopted. Periyar, who had chosen Maniammai as his successor to administer Dravidar Kazhagam and its assets, had no other option but to marry her.
It is not Periyar who is to be criticised for marrying Maniyammai. It is the Hindu Civil Code that is to be berated for not giving women equal rights, on par with men. It is not surprising to see that the present generation is unaware of the then-persisting legal difficulties. But was CN Annadurai, who was celebrated a scholar, unaware of these legal issues – or did he turn a blind eye to them?
Anna’s submission to public sentiment
It is said that Annadurai felt that Periyar’s decision to marry Maniyammai would bring disgrace to the organisation, as it was against public sentiment. If the Dravidian Movement was to fear public sentiment, it could not have taken any of its progressive stances. However, Anna registered his displeasure every time Periyar took a stand that went against public sentiment.
The Blackshirt saga is a classic example of the same. Even though Anna was not personally convinced with Periyar’s decision to convert the ‘Dravida Nadu Liberation Brigade’ to ‘Blackshirt Brigade’, he always pitched in for it. But Anna expressed his discord when Periyar insisted that everyone in DK should wear black shirts, and not just the Blackshirt Brigade. Anna reckoned that wearing a black shirt would distance the organisation from the people. He also felt that, they could appease the people by wearing Tamil Nadu’s culturally accepted dress, white veshti and shirt.
On keenly observing Anna’s life and writings, one can easily observe his hesitance in going against people’s sentiments. While in his early public life, Anna detested Kamba Ramayanam and went to the extent of burning it down, in later life the same Anna installed a Kambar statue. In 1947, Anna included the line ‘One community, one god’, in his play ‘Velaikkari’, while Periyar was aggressively advocating rationalism among the public.
There is a long list of Anna’s decisions that reveal his reluctance to go against public sentiment.
In his play ‘Or Iravu’ written prior to ‘Velaikkari’, zamindars were villainised rather than brahmins. Landlords were the direct oppressors of the oppressed and the backward sections of people. His opposition to landlords in his plays and movies was better received and became more popular among the people. Hence, he history witnessed a mellowing of his anti-brahmin stance.
Even before these incidents, Annadurai and Periyar had different opinions on dramas and plays. Anna reckoned that plays and movies were straightforward means to communicate their ideology to the populace. Periyar did not agree, as he believed that these tools of communication would blunt the thinking of the people.
In 1949, Anna participated as a special speaker in the Tamil Provincial Dramatics Development Conference. It was convened by the famous theatre group of TK Shanmugam. Periyar considered this conference to be deceitful, as it was convened by theatre groups who predominantly staged plays based on religious and mythical stories. Even before the commencement of the conference he criticised it in his magazine, ‘Kudiyarasu’. He also called it a ‘colossal failure’ at its conclusion. At the same time, Annadurai’s magazine ‘Dravida Nadu’ declared the conference to be a success.
Yes! Even though Anna and Periyar were the Leader and General Secretary respectively of the same organisation, two separate magazines were run by them. The rationale being, right from the time Anna came under the leadership of Periyar, there were several disputes between them. There were instances when Anna, due to such tiffs, would leave to Kanchipuram. He would return back to Erode only after receiving a letter from Periyar. Under such circumstances, where Anna was not given the independence of thought, he commenced his own magazine ‘Dravida Nadu’ in 1942. The very existence of a separate magazine for Anna to express his opinion indicated that he was no given the freedom of expression in Kudiyarasu.
Indian independence not only led to the separation of India and Pakistan but also of Anna and Periyar. Even though they continued to express their diverging opinions in separate magazines, the issue of Indian Independence resulted in a straightforward clash of their opinions. Periyar took a stance that Indian Independence is merely a transfer of India from the British to the Brahmin dacoits. He also said that true independence has not been obtained yet. He decided to observe the Independence Day as a ‘Day of Mourning’. In addition, he also announced his decision of mourning for the Independence on behalf of DK without consulting Anna, who was then the General Secretary of DK.
On the other hand, Anna wrote in his magazine that India has been freed of one of its two enemies and hence it is a day to be celebrated. He took a conscious decision of avoiding the slander of being pro-British.
Periyar and Anna embraced Social Justice and Equality as theirs. But they adopted starkly different approaches. Periyar adopted iconoclasm and didn’t think twice about smashing the ideas of Nation, Language and Race. Especially if they were to prove as stumbling blocks for the progress of humanity. Meanwhile, Anna was committed to the ideas of Nationalism, Linguistic identity and racial identity. He firmly believed that the binding forces of these ideas would bring people together and would result in the elevation of the human condition. He had also mentioned that he was open to the idea of being expelled from the organisation for his ideas. It is evident from this statement that he was ready to exit from the organisation back then.
At this point of time, there were two factions within DK. Yet he waited for Periyar to expel him from the organisation. But Periyar never did, and neither did their differences settle. The same year, Anna was cryptically criticised in the Dravida Nadu Liberation Conference, which Anna did not attend. Anna replied to those criticisms via his short stories. Thus, the cold war persisted.
After proclaiming Anna as the successor of Dravidar Kazhagam in Erode Conference of 1948, Periyar dropped the idea. He did so after confirming his hunch that Anna would take up the path of Electoral Democracy and would give in to compromise. Hence, he attempted to appoint EVK Sampath as his successor and undertook preparations to adopt him. On realising the devotion that EVK Sampath has towards Anna, this plan was dropped as well.
In addition, there was a previous instance of a person by name Arjunan, who was about to get adopted but faced an untimely death in 1946. After every possibility was exhausted, Periyar decided to select Maniyammai, as there was no one else who enjoyed the trust of Periyar.
Anna then decided to point to this decision of Periyar as a reason to leave the Kazhagam with his supporters. Hence, what history tells us is that Anna would have left the Kazhagam even if Periyar hadn’t married Maniyammai.
Puthiya Parithi is a journalist in Tamil Television media. His interests lie in understanding the Dravidian movement. Here, he would like to credit Yazhini PM for translating his Tamil writing to English.
Views expressed are the author’s own.