Matinee idol and DMK’s star campaigner MG Ramachandran had broken away from the parent party, floating the ADMK in 1972

Indira Gandhi never forgave MGR for 1977Photo:
news Dravidian Chronicles Sunday, May 01, 2016 - 16:01

The News Minute brings you the Dravidian Chronicles, a collection of narratives from the past on the margins of the 2016 election spotlight. Here we chronicle smaller, subtler shifts that catalyse and metamorphose the grand narratives of the electoral juggernaut.

Indian history remembers 1977 for being the year the Emergency was lifted. Fear had enveloped people across the country in the 21-month period. Democracy, as Morarji Desai succinctly put it, had been vasectomised.  It was also the year the country’s first non-Congress government – the loosely knit Janata Party – was voted in to power.  

The political landscape was shifting in states like Tamil Nadu as well. Matinee idol and DMK’s star campaigner MG Ramachandran had broken away from the parent party, floating the ADMK in 1972. There were whispers of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi engineering the split as the DMK and the Congress drifted apart. When Mrs. Gandhi declared a state of Emergency, the DMK condemned the imposition of Emergency and stridently opposed it. Several DMK leaders including Murasoli Maran, MK Stalin and Arcot Veerasamy were thrown into jail and allegedly beaten up.

While the DMK sheltered those from the resistance including leaders like George Fernandes and Subramaniam Swamy, arch-rival MGR and his fledgling ADMK party supported Indira Gandhi and her 20-point programme. “In Tamil Nadu, Indira Gandhi helped sustain the anti-DMK movement during the Emergency through MGR,” says veteran journalist S. Murari. The actor-turned-politician submitted a memorandum listing corruption charges against Karunanidhi’s government to the governor. On January 31, 1976, the DMK government was dismissed by the Centre on charges of corruption while the Justice Sarkaria Commission was set up to probe the allegations.

When Emergency was finally lifted and Parliamentary Elections ordered, it came as no surprise when MGR aligned with Indira Gandhi. Karunanidhi was forced into the arms of the newly-formed Janata Party.  “Unlike the north, everyday life wasn’t affected for the average man during the Emergency in Tamil Nadu. As a result, the Emergency was not a voter’s issue during the elections,” notes Gnani Sankaran, a writer and political commentator. The corruption charges against Karunanidhi’s regime became a talking point in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls as the ADMK-Congress-Left alliance swept the elections bagging 34 out of 39 seats in the state. The rest of the country was however, not so forgiving, as the Grand Old Party was dislodged by the Janata Party. Indira Gandhi suffered a personal blow, losing her Rae Bareli seat. 

More than two months later when Tamil Nadu went to polls, MGR was quick to dump Indira Gandhi. The polls saw a four-cornered contest among the ADMK, DMK, Congress and the Janata Party. MGR’s charisma and mass following together with the corruption charges plaguing the DMK ensured that the ADMK sailed through its first Assembly elections, winning 130 seats.  As Chief Minister, MGR realised it was prudent to be on the right side of the Centre, especially after Morarji Desai dismissed a number of Congress-led state governments.  “MGR realised maintaining good relations with the Centre would be beneficial to the state. There were also rumours that MGR was fearful of IT raids,” observes N. Sathiyamoorthy, director of the Chennai-Chaper of ORF.  The ADMK not only went on to support the Janata Party but also became the first regional party to be a part of the Union Cabinet during Charan Singh’s tenure.

Indira Gandhi, however, never forgot nor forgave MGR’s betrayal. In an about face, the 1980 Parliamentary Elections saw Mrs Gandhi align with the DMK, whose leaders she persecuted and whose government she dismissed in 1976. MGR went with the Janata Party and came a cropper – winning just 2 seats.  Indira Gandhi, who had ascended to the Prime Minister’s chair once more, dismissed the MGR government

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