Early demise of Madras Uni’s Dravidian centre reflects the larger failure of the movement

Will the Dravidian movement be consigned to history, just like Madras Uni’s Dravidian centre?
Early demise of Madras Uni’s Dravidian centre reflects the larger failure of the movement
Early demise of Madras Uni’s Dravidian centre reflects the larger failure of the movement
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A newspaper report that the Madras University has aborted the takeoff of the Chair for Research on Dravidian Movement by not using funds allotted for it has led to a debate on whether the kazhagams, which have been ruling Tamil Nadu for 50 years, are only paying lip service to a movement they swear by.

According to the Times of India, the centre set up by the Karunanidhi government in 2006 has now become defunct for want of funds. The centre was to evolve into a full-fledged department to study the contribution of Dravidian patriarchs “Periyar” EV Ramaswamy and his protégé CN Annadurai for the development of Tamil language and empowerment of women and the depressed classes, and to strive for federalism at the Centre and autonomy at the State level.

An audit report tabled at a recent senate meeting in March says that the university budgetted Rs. 3.96 crore for the Dravidian centre, out of which the state government sanctioned Rs. 1 crore and the rest was to come from the Union Human Resources Development Ministry. The university appointed a director and two research associates. It started to construct a building and a library.

But delay in execution led to cost escalation. The university used only Rs. 16.84 lakh from the amount sanctioned by the state government. The audit report says that the state government did not reply to the university request for assistance of Rs. 1.14 crore in April 2013. Since then, it has been lying dormant.

As is to be expected, DMK working president MK Stalin has blamed the AIADMK for showing indifference to the study centre because it was the brainchild of Karunanidhi. Party spokesman Saravanan, in a more forthright comment, has said the study centre has become a victim of vendetta politics and cited how late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa stalled the Secretariat project and converted it into a multi-specialty hospital and starved the Anna Library of books and funds, all because they were pet schemes of Karunanidhi.

However, is the indifference shown by the university also a reflection of the attitude of the new generation towards a movement, that started nearly a hundred years ago, has degenerated over the years and is now gasping for breath? What we see today is the antithesis of all that the founders of the Dravidian movement fought for.

Started as a self-respect movement by Periyar to fight Brahmin supremacy, it was inspired by the Justice Party led by Sir Pitti Thiagaraja Chettiar and TM Nair in 1917, which was engaged in competing with Brahmins in government jobs as a means to end their domination.

When Jayalalalithaa assumed the leadership of the AIADMK in 1989 after overcoming resistance from MGR’s wife Janaki, another Brahmin, she called it evolution of the Dravidian movement and proclaimed proudly in the Assembly, “I am a Brahmin,” meaning there is nothing to be ashamed of. It also meant that in the last century, Brahmins have evolved and the suppression of the lower castes is coming more from intermediate castes, which ironically got empowered as a result of the affirmative action, an offshoot of the Dravidian movement.

Jayalalithaa was only partly right. Periyar was against Brahmin domination in society and in government jobs, and not against Brahmins per se. He started as a Congressman and as a close associate of Rajaji. When Rajaji led the temple entry in Tamil Nadu, Periyar joined the Vaikom satyagraha launched by Narayana Guru.

Periyar left the Congress only when he resented at the Erode district party conference, the pride of place given to Brahmins at the dinner table.

But Periyar and Rajaji remained life-long friends. It was on Rajaji’s advice that Periyar took Maniammai, 30 years younger to him, as wife, leading to Annadurai and other followers leaving the DK to start the DMK in 1949.

When Rajaji died in December 1971, Periyar attended the funeral and, in a Viduthalai editorial the next day, hailed him as a true Brahmin, meaning a truly evolved soul.

Periyar also had a lofty contempt for his followers, including Annadurai who relied on stage plays and cinema to propagate the Dravidian ideologies. He called them “koothadi pasanga” (third rate street performers).

Cult or hero-worship was against the grain of the self-respect movement. It was given the go-by when people venerated MGR as demi-god. When MGR and later his protégé Jayalalithaa came to the centrestage, the DMK called it glamour politics. It has since grown to the point of Rajini-worship.

A signal of the contribution of the Dravidian movement is the empowerment of the intermediate castes. The first amendment to the Constitution was in response to the DK’s agitation against the Madras High Court striking down a communal GO providing for jobs in government to the OBCs.

The immediate beneficiaries were the Mudaliars and Pillars, so much so that at one point, the DMK came to be known as the Dravida Mudaliar Kazhagam. The two communities have since surpassed the Brahmins in all spheres. They are known as neo-Brahmins and are in the forward communities list.

A failure of the caste-based politics of the Dravidian parties is the neglect of the Dalits who are outside the pale of Hindu caste system. Result, they have their own outfits like the Puthiya Tamizhagam and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Dalit Panthers).

The Centre was also expected to study issues like gender justice. Periyar had radical ideas about women’s empowerment, the fulcrum of which was that morality is common to both sexes. His idea of a self-respect movement, a civil marriage without religious rituals, was aimed at making a dent on dowry. The self-respect marriage was given legal status under Karunanidhi's rule. It is a different matter that there are few takers for it now, like the study of Dravidian movement.

When Annadurai founded the DMK after breaking away from the DK and entered electoral politics in 1957, he had to make compromises on core values, much the same way the BJP did to win wider acceptance. One was the shift away from Periyar’s atheism to monotheism. When he joined hands with Rajaji under an umbrella coalition in the 1967 election, he won the Brahmin support by saying that he was for one God, one community and was not against Brahmins, much like Modi’s current slogan ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’.

On the ground, it translated into gut level hatred of Muslims, in the case of BJP, and Brahmins when the DMK was under Karunanidhi’s leadership.

Curiously, the Dravidian movement did not take part in the freedom struggle, much the same way as the RSS. Periyar wanted the dawn of Independence to be observed as a mourning day. However, Annadurai differed with him. Periyar, like Ambedkar, felt that India would be truly independent when the oppressed classes found their voice.

While the DK, both under Periyar and K Veeramani, remained a non-political social reform movement, DMK has compromised all the way. The biggest compromise was the dropping of the separate Tamil Nadu demand. Started as a separate Dravida Nadu, it was later confined to Tamil Nadu as the demand could not find roots in other southern states. It substituted the separatist demand with the slogan, “federalism at the Centre and autonomy at the State level”.

Under Karunanidhi, many more compromises were made, be it on Hindi or domination of the north over south. But it was these compromises which led to the DMK sharing power with the national parties at the Centre, first in the National Front Government under V P Singh and later with the BJP and the UPA regimes. In the process, it realized the ushering in of a coalition era at the Centre, which ended only in 2014 when Modi got a majority on his own. Even he swears by the cooperative federalism and believes in making States partners with the Centre’s progress.

All these positive aspects have been eroded by institutional corruption. So much so, the 50 years of Dravidian rule in the state have come to mean corruption and maladministration. When the DMK swept to power ten years after entering the election arena, Annadurai feared the newly empowered would be rapacious in power. And when DMK swept to power in 1967, ousted Congress Chief Minister M Bhaktavatsalam prophesied, “A deadly virus has come to plague the State.”

Now the Dravidian parties are in shambles, with the AIADMK split after passing of MGR and Jaya, and DMK under the leadership of M K Stalin with his father M Karunanidhi virtually out of politics. The future of the Dravidian parties has become a question mark.

Will the Dravidian movement be consigned to history, just like the Dravidian study centre?

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