TN2016
A red sun rising from twin peaks as its yellow rays spread far and wide. This is the symbol people across Tamil Nadu recognise as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The News Minute brings you the Dravidian Chronicles, a collection of narratives 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.

Eight years after breaking away from the Dravida Kazhagam, the DMK took the electoral plunge in the 1957 general elections. According to The Economic Weekly the DMK won 15 out of the 112 Assembly seats it contested in. The party also won 2 parliamentary seats in the same elections.

But the Dravidian giant that we know of today was not recognised by the Election Commission in the 1957 poll. Grouped as independents, the DMK was not united by its rising sun symbol.  In fact, many of DMK’s candidates were forced to contest under another symbol – the rooster. (Interestingly, following the death of MGR and the split of the AIADMK into two factions, Jayalalithaa’s party was allotted the very same rooster symbol for the 1989 Assembly Elections.)

By 1962, the Election Commission formally recognized the DMK as a political party and had by then also allotted it the rising sun symbol. The origin of the party symbol was, in fact, inspired from leader and scriptwriter M. Karunanidhi’s 1950s play ‘Udaya Surya’ (Rising Sun in Tamil) which had been banned, writes historian S. Muthiah in his ‘Tales of Old and New Madras: The Dalliance of Miss Mansel and 37 Other Stories of 375 Years’. As far as symbolism goes, the DMK’s poll symbol signifies the ‘rising’ spirit of the Dravidian people. 

Over the years, the party has appropriated the rising sun to English weekly of the same name and to the brand logo of its television channel – Kalaignar TV. Of course, numerous journalists and their editors also share a love for the DMK’s poll symbol for the ample punning opportunities it provides – the most obvious being a reference to party chief M. Karunanidhi’s heir apparent and younger son MK Stalin.

DMK’s symbol has had its fair share of controversies too. Actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi had wanted the Election Commission to allot his Praja Rajyam party the ‘rising sun’symbol in 2008. While the DMK had objected on the grounds that it had presence in Andhra Pradesh, Chiranjeevi was eventually allotted the ‘rail engine’.

In 2009, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking to prohibit the DMK from using the ‘rising sun’ symbol on the grounds that it was a religious symbol and the Sun was worshipped as a God (the DMK is aethist). The country’s apex court dismissed the petition observing, “Many of the signs allocated as symbol to the political parties are in one or the other way is related to religion. In India, cow, sheep, horn etc are related to religion.”  

Also read: 

How Biju Patnaik nearly pulled off a DMK and AIADMK merger

Indira Gandhi never forgave MGR for 1977

Dravidian Chronicles: TN’s first polls saw a jailed communist elected to the Madras Legislative Assembly

Dravidian Chronicles: MGR's first electoral victory was from a hospital bed