On May 14, 1949, a dramatic development took place at Tiruvannamalai. Rajaji, the then Governor General of India was on a visit to the temple town. The founder of the Dravidar Kazhagam, Periyar (EV Ramasamy Naicker), accompanied by Maniyammai, his personal assistant, met him and had discussions for over an hour.
When newspapers published this report, members of the DK were shocked, and had no clue what had transpired at the meeting. One must remember that Rajaji was a Brahmin, and the DK was against what it called Brahmin domination. CN Annadurai (popularly known as Anna), the DK general secretary and considered to be Periyar’s heir apparent, referred to this meeting in Dravida Naadu, a Tamil weekly which had Anna as its editor. Anna wondered what transpired there. There was no response from Periyar.
Who was Maniyammai? She was born as Gandhimathi to Kanagasabai Mudaliar of Vellore, a member of the Justice Party. Soon after her father's death, Gandhimathi joined the DK founded by Periyar in 1942–43. She liked to call herself Arasiyalmani. She became Periyar's personal assistant, taking care of him. Periyar began calling her Maniyammai.
Despite the anti-Brahmin rhetoric of the DK, why should Periyar consult Rajaji, that too in the presence of Maniyammai? This was a question that intrigued senior DK leaders like Annadurai.
Periyar and Rajaji. Image: DK
At a subsequent meeting in Coimbatore, Anna, in the presence of Periyar, again raised the issue and wanted Periyar to reveal what he discussed with Rajaji. Periyar merely said it was a personal matter and had nothing to do with the organization. Yet again at the next meeting in Panruti, Anna provoked Periyar, wondering what could be so personal that Periyar did not want to divulge.
On June 19, 1949, Periyar released a statement in Viduthalai, “In view of my poor health, I wanted to hand over the organization to a capable person but I could not find even one such person. Therefore, I have decided to appoint an heir to the organization, who would conduct its affairs. It was to discuss this situation that I met Rajaji.” This set alarm bells ringing in the DK, as it was only a few months earlier that he wanted to hand over the DK to Anna, and now he was changing his tune.
Periyar, replying to criticism from various quarters, set the record straight on June 28 in another statement, where he said that Maniyammai had looked after him in the last five years. She was also committed to the DK ideology, he said. Therefore, he had decided to enter into wedlock with Maniyammai. Periyar said he wanted to set up a trust for his personal property and that of the DK under the chairmanship of Maniyammai, and that she would be his political and personal heir. Sources close to Periyar had indicated that Maniyammai, being a woman, could not be named his heir, and therefore he took to the legal recourse of marrying her so that she could become his legal heir.
That Periyar, who was close to 70, would marry Maniyammai, around 32, came as a shock to several leaders in the organization. Intermediaries tried to convince Periyar against the proposal. Anna was urged by a section of the workers to resolve the situation. On July 3, 1949, several leaders of the DK issued a statement urging Periyar to reconsider the move.
Two delegations of senior leaders met with Periyar but failed to dissuade him. A number of regional leaders, individually or in small groups, issued statements that they would not participate in party activities under Periyar because they were against the proposed marriage. The Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) Administrative Committee met in Thennoor on July 10, 1949 and passed a resolution asking Periyar not to proceed with the marriage. The DK executive, attended by 32 of its 46 members, resolved to send a team to convince Periyar to reconsider the decision. However, before the team could meet him, Periyar announced that his marriage with Maniyammai had been legalized. The committee received a telegram that the marriage had taken place. On July 10, Viduthalai announced that Maniyammai would henceforth be called EVR Maniyammai.
Anna was requested by DK workers to guide them.
Differences between Periyar and Anna had already surfaced during Periyar’s call in September 1945 to form a militant outfit called Mahaana Dravida Viduthalai Padai (Provincial Dravidian Liberation Force) and asked DK men to join the force and wear black shirts. Anna disliked the concept. Periyar convened a Black Shirts conference in Madurai in May 1946 and asked Anna to be the chief speaker, as if to force a reluctant Anna to wear the black shirt. Much as he disliked it, Anna wore a black shirt, borrowed from the tall and gangling figure of Nedunchezhiyan, and as everyone could see on stage, it did not fit him at all!
The second flashpoint came on the eve of the country’s first Independence Day in August 1947. Periyar, shaken by the reluctance of the British to create a Dravida Naadu, gave a call to observe the Freedom Day as a day of sorrow and mourning. Anna, his own general secretary, publicly repudiated Periyar, by stating that “Independence Day should be celebrated without any reservation… We have made it very clear that our opposition to the Congress should not be misconstrued as our opposition to freedom.”
Anna, in an editorial in his weekly Dravida Nadu, said “we have been very consistent in our demand that the British should leave our soil without any further delay so that we may look after our own affairs… it would be suicidal not to participate in the celebration of the most glorious day in Indian history but consider it a day of mourning.”
“To consider this day as a day of mourning would be nothing short of doing great injustice to their (freedom fighters) memory and that would not be in keeping with the high traditions of the Tamil people,” he said in a critical reference aimed at Periyar, invoking the wrath of Periyar supporters. Periyar considered it a disloyal act.
Periyar and Anna drifted further apart. A conference of the Dravidar Kazhagam convened in Tuticorin was boycotted by Anna. However, the move to re-introduce Hindi in schools became an occasion for a re-union at the Erode conference on October 23, 1948, when Periyar asked Anna to take over the organization. Periyar said Anna will handle the keys from now on. Anna remarked that he may have the keys but the suitcase would remain with Periyar!
However, a few months later, things took a surprising turn for the worse with the Maniyammai issue cropping up.
Anna and Periyar. Image: DMK
While one group stood loyal to the party president Periyar, the rival group did not want to engage in party activities under Periyar's leadership. The "rebels" met on July 30, 1949 and decided to publish their own daily newspaper to present their views and to counter Periyar's Viduthalai. The first issue of Malai Mani (Evening Bell) was released on August 10, 1949, with Anna as the editor and Nedunchezhian as chief deputy editor.
The breakaway group of DK met in Chennai on September 17, 1949, under the chairmanship of KK Neelamegam, at which Anna read out the statement about the birth of the new organization called Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).
The party formed an Organizing Committee on September 18 and adopted the party Constitution.
At a public meeting in Chennai on September 19, Anna, amidst pouring rain, set out the priorities of the party which would not be a rival to the DK. Instead, the two would function as a double-barrel gun, with the DMK subscribed to the socialist way of life on the economic front, even while outlining the party’s political agenda of wanting to carve out a separate state for the Dravidians. Anna said that the post of president would be kept vacant for Periyar.
The Maniyammai issue was not the only reason why Anna and other leaders of the DMK wanted to create a new organization. They realized that the DK, because of its ideology, had only limited appeal and would not facilitate a political role. Periyar followers believed that Anna and others wanted to launch a political party as that was the only way out in a situation where the Congress had gained due to the exit of the British and the Independence of the country. The Maniyammai issue was cleverly made use of by Anna, they charged.
What was Rajaji’s role regarding the marriage? The inscrutable Rajaji, in whom Periyar must have confided his plan to make Maniyammai the heir to his property and the organization, must have known about Periyar’s plan to marry her. In a public posture, Rajaji even advised Periyar not to go for this marriage “at this age”, but the Periyar camp also referred to a message of greetings from Rajaji to Periyar on the occasion of his marriage. Periyar continued to call Rajaji “Acharyar”. After Periyar’s death in 1973, Maniyammai took charge of the affairs of the DK till her death in 1978.
It was ironic that on September 17, which is Periyar's birthday, Anna chose not to give a birthday gift to Periyar, not even a wedding gift, but a parting gift!