The propaganda song used to be the perfect way to take the party’s ideology to the masses, but has that now changed?

Collage of Kamal Stalin and Edappadi K Palaniswami
Features 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly Election Thursday, March 11, 2021 - 18:13

With less than a month left, election campaigning is happening at fever pitch in Tamil Nadu. Among many things that herald the election season are loudspeakers blaring party songs, songs on victory and songs to remind the voters that the time for “change” is here.

Just a few weeks ago, the DMK released a teaser and then came the full high-definition video of its party song titled ‘Stalin thaan vararu, Vidiyal thara poraru…’ (Stalin is surely coming, he is going to bring in the dawn). This song is not unlike the AIADMK’s ‘Vetrinadai Podum Tamizhagame’ [Tamil Nadu which is on a victory march] that came earlier. ‘Vetrinadai Podum Tamizhagame’ is the AIADMK’s election campaign theme this year.


Needless to say, both songs have fairly good production value. The DMK’s song has been sung by popular singer Anthony Dasan, and has montages from Stalin’s meetings with people. On the other hand, the AIADMK's song has a roundup of all its schemes over the past term. We mainly come across these song videos as television or YouTube advertisements and they are also being played during election campaigns and rallies.

What is the idea behind such songs, and what is their place today? Here is a brief history of Tamil Nadu’s relationship with election songs.

About about two decades ago, when it was still the early internet era, such propaganda songs by parties played a different role. Writer Stalin Rajangam explains, “Propaganda songs were very important at one point in time, but now they are not. The party vans that went around villages during election time played these songs in between 'vote for' announcements.”

The propaganda song used to be the perfect way to take the party’s ideology to the masses, and therefore the songs were written to suit the purpose. According to Stalin Rajangam, such songs could be categorised into three — propaganda, leader and election specific. “Songs written based on the party’s ideology were meant to take the party’s symbol to the people, like ‘Odi varugiran udhaya sooriyan’ [The rising sun is running towards you] by Nagore EM Hanifa. Such songs were mostly a continuation to awareness songs. For instance, Namakkal Kavignar wrote ‘Kaththi indri, ratham indri, yudham ondru nadakudhu’ [A war without knives and blood is taking place] during the salt satyagraha march that was happening here in Tamil Nadu. In addition to having lines based on the ideology behind the salt march, it gave those participating in the march a very good energy. Party propaganda songs are also meant to evoke that sense of energy and inspiration especially during campaigning,” Stalin Rajangam elaborates.

Songs such as ‘Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’ by SC Krishnan and ‘Vazhga Dravida Naadu’ by Nagore EM Hanifa are part of the DMK’s regular propaganda songs jukebox. Nagore Hanifa was the DMK’s voice when it came to election songs. The songs recreate an early campaigning period when the Dravidian ideology was spreading throughout the state and was at its peak.

In the early years, parties would put up music shows before the speaker arrived during massive rallies, and it was here that the songs gained their most recognition. Parties would also make videos, a little later around the '90s, to be played in villages and town centres. Stalin Rajangam recalls having watched the DMK’s propaganda songs like ‘Kamatchiye Kamatchiye Naalai Varum Nallatchiye’ [Kamatchi oh Kamatchi, good governance will come tomorrow] performed by actors Chandrasekar and Radikaa in videos during his childhood days.

Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam, one of the latest parties to join the bandwagon this elections, released its party song in 2018 during a public meeting in Trichy. Speaking to TNM, Rangarajan IAS, who was fielded by the party from the Chennai South constituency during the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, says that the song penned and performed by Kamal reflects the emotions of the party. “Which is that ultimately a democracy is ruled by people. That is what the song brings out. ‘Makkal aatchi seiyum nam Makkal Needhi Maiam,’ [our MNM will perform people’s rule] is the primary philosophy of our party and that of the song,” he explains.

But such songs have definitely become rare. Interestingly, the MNM’s party song is among the very few in recent times written for a party’s symbol or ideology. “Today, the importance of such songs is no longer there. We could say that around 2000, this became obsolete. In fact, the Dravida Iyakkam itself has seen its end. Now songs are probably launched to target advertisements,” Stalin Rajangam says.

Then there are songs written for specific leaders, the ones that we are most accustomed to. Such songs continue to be written to this day. “Again, this is not new. Gandhi has had such songs, Anna did too, everyone does. ‘Kallakudi thandha Karunanidhi’ [Karunanidhi who gave us Kallakudi] was written for Karunanidhi,” Stalin Rajangam says.

As for MGR, who was a popular film star before he became a people’s leader, such songs were already available. “There was no need for them to write songs for him in specific. Songs like ‘Neenga nalla irukanum’ [You should be well] etc., were used widely. In fact, ‘Naan padichen Kanchiyele netru’ [I studied in Kanchi yesterday/Netru Indru Naalai] was used specifically after he split from the DMK. He sang it in the film and the lyrics were a dig against Karunanidhi. People believed that it was a direct challenge by MGR against Karunanidhi,” Stalin Rajangam says.

When the AIADMK came to be led by Jayalalithaa after MGR’s demise, the party continued to make use of his songs such as ‘Vanagiya Vaathiyaraiya’, ‘Vetriyai Naalai’ etc. Songs too have been written for Jayalalithaa, hailing her as Amma.

The latest songs from the political parties fall under the last category of election-specific songs, highlighting the party’s merits and weaknesses of its rivals. But, such songs have a very brief shelf life when compared to other kinds of propaganda songs. Stalin Rajangam says. “People tend not to buy audio cassettes or CDs of party songs when they are just election specific. However, audio cassettes or CDs of party ideology songs continue to hold a spot in households of staunch party supporters even to this day.”

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