Veteran DMK leader K Anbazhagan passed away at the age of 97 in Chennai in the early hours of Saturday. He was considered one of the pillars of the 71-year-old Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party. Anbazhagan was admitted to a private hospital on February 24 after having trouble breathing. He was on ventilator support for the last few days after his condition deteriorated. He is survived by two daughters and a son.
Popularly referred to as perasiriyar (professor) in the DMK camp, Anbazhagan was a mix of calm and the storm. He was a member of the Lok Sabha between 1967-71 and had been elected to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for nine terms. He retired from active politics ahead of the 2016 Assembly elections owing to ill-health.
DMK chief M K Stalin, who addressed Anbazhagan as periyappa (like an uncle), announced a mourning period of a week. All DMK party functions have been postponed, and the party flags are set to fly half-mast.
In a handwritten letter, Stalin said a ‘Dravidian Everest’ has fallen. “When my Appa (father) passed away, I consoled myself that periyappa is there to guide me. Now, after the demise of periyappa, who will I look up to for advice? How will I solace myself?” he asked.
Stalin recalled how it was difficult to get a word of appreciation from Anbazhagan, adding that he was fortunate to have received some. He added that his heart aches for the man who gave him the greatest honour of his life by declaring him the next party chief after Kalaignar (Karunanidhi).
முப்பாலூட்டிய பேராசிரியப் பெரியப்பா…! pic.twitter.com/TzztvmnxLk
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) March 6, 2020
Born on December 19, 1922, in Kattur near Thiruvarur in Thanjavur district (now Thiruvarur district) of Tamil Nadu, Ramaiah who later became Anbazhagan was inspired by Dravidian politics from a young age. His father Kalyanasundaram was a voracious supporter of Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam’s founder Periyar E V Ramasamy. Kalyanasundaram would take his son to political meetings of the Dravidian ideologue, which inspired the young Ramaiah to endear Dravidian politics.
Anbazhagan has been the general secretary of DMK for more than 40 years. Any announcement from the party was made through him.
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He secured an MA (Tamil) Degree from Annamalai University in Chidambaram. Former TN chief minister V R Neduncheziyan also secured his degree at the same university. Anbazhagan later served as a professor of Pachiayappan College for close to 13 years. His admiration over Dravidian ideology increased after his friendship with Neduncheziyan. He participated in meetings and spoke at a length about the importance of the self-respect movement. The association with Nedunchezhiyan made Anbazhagan a familiar name in the university’s Dravidian ideology circle.
Anbazhagan’s first political meeting was held in 1942. He was invited to address leaders as a special speaker in Thiruvarur, organised by Muslim outfits. The meeting was chaired by the DMK leader and former CM Annadurai, during which Karunanidhi was felicitated for his article in Annadurai’s journal ‘Dravida Nadu’ (sovereign state).
Anbazhagan’s first encounter with Karunanidhi took place during this meeting. Cherished by his oratorical skills, Karunanidhi invited Anbazhagan to address students at a couple of meetings. The friendship they developed at this meeting lasted until Karunanidhi’s death in 2018.
As Annadurai used to call Anbazhagan ‘perasiriyar thambi’, the DMK cadre soon picked up the name perasiriyar (professor) for him. Despite being among the chief disciples of Periyar, Anbazhagan left the Dravidar Kazhagam, following Annadurai, and became an important member of the DMK.
In pictures | A glimpse into the life of the veteran DMK leader
Anbazhagan was highly regarded by Annadurai for his efforts in establishing the party during its nascent stages. When DMK faced its maiden elections in 1957, Anbazhagan was chosen by Annadurai to contest from the Egmore constituency against Congress candidate Radhakrishnan. He won the election with a margin of more than 20,000 votes. In 1967, Anbazhagan won the parliamentary elections from Tiruchengode constituency against Congress candidate T M Kaliannan.
He was then elected from the Purasawalkam Assembly constituency thrice in 1971, 1977 and 1980. In support of Sri Lankan Tamils, Anbazhagan resigned as a member of the Assembly in 1984.
During the DMK regime in 1989, Anbazhagan was made an education minister. He retained this position between 1996-2001. He also held the finance portfolio from 2006 to 2011.
Not just by DMK cadres, Anbazhagan was widely acclaimed even by Opposition leaders. Congress leader and former chief minister of Madras state M Bhaktavatsalam once hailed Anbazhagan as the “best parliamentarian”.
Anbazhagan has written close to 40 books on the Tamil language, Dravidian ideology, and the self-respect movement, among other things.
A close aide of Karunanidhi, Anbazhagan was always referred to as ‘inamana perasiriyar’. Once, when Anbazhagan was asked how he would describe himself, he said: “I am a human first, my name is Anbazhagan, I am Anna’s brother and a friend of Kalaignar.”