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The Dravida Family Tree

Over a century after it began, the Dravidian Movement may have exhausted its energy, but parties that claim its legacy continue to dominate the political landscape of Tamil Nadu.

Written by Amrith Lal |
Updated: April 27, 2016 2:57:23 pm
dravidian movement, tamil nadu elections, tamil nadu polls, tamil nadu assembly elections, jayalalithaa, AIADMK, karunanidhi, vaiko vijayakanth, india news, latest news Important people of the Dravidian Movement

The Dravidian Movement played a seminal role in shaping the history of Tamil Nadu. The Justice Party, a major strand of the movement, held office in the Madras Presidency from 1920-26 and 1930-37. Since 1967, the DMK or AIADMK, both offshoots of the movement, has been in office in the state. In historian K Sivathambi’s words, “the sway it (the Dravidian Movement) has over the electoral politics of Tamil Nadu since 1967 is so complete that a) it is the major “ideology” in power, and b) all the “national” parties have been forced to come to some form of arrangement with one or the other of the Dravidian parties. Equally important is the role of the movement in re-formulating the entire concept of Tamil culture on a secularistic basis and make it an effective form of political consciousness at social level. In a way, the Dravidian Movement radicalised the politics of Tamil Nadu.”

The Beginnings

The Dravidian Movement emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the response of non-Brahmin communities to Brahmin dominance in public life, especially government. The South Indian Liberal Federation (popularly called the Justice Party) was the first organised platform of non-Brahmins in Madras presidency. The Party won elections in 1920 on an anti-Brahmin, anti-Congress platform. Its anti-Brahmin manifesto, while complaining about Brahmin domination in jobs, did not, however, challenge the ritual status of Brahmins. The Self Respect Movement begun by Periyar E V Ramasami (left), who had left the Congress over its conservative approach to caste, provided the radical edge to the Movement. Periyar was anti-caste and anti-religion.

1944: Dravidar Kazhagam (DK)

In 1938, Justice Party (1916) and Self Respect Movement (1925) came together under Periyar’s leadership. In 1944, the new outfit was renamed Dravidar Kazhagam. DK was anti-Brahmin, anti-Congress and anti-Aryan (read North Indian). In 1938, when Rajagopalachari’s Congress ministry imposed Hindi in the state, DK launched protests that became a movement for an independent Dravida nation. DK is today led by K Veeramani (right).

1949: Annadurai Forms DMK

DK did not accept Indian independence and continued the demand for Dravida Nadu. Periyar also refused to contest elections. In 1949, the DK split and Periyar’s charismatic lieutenant, C N Annadurai, walked away with supporters to form the DMK. Annadurai joined the electoral process, with social democracy and Tamil cultural nationalism defining his politics. He was silent on Dravida Nadu. In 1967, DMK won office; Annadurai became Chief Minister (taking oath, left).

1972: DMK Splits, MGR Walks

In 1969, Annadurai died and M Karunanidhi (left) took control of DMK. In 1972, differences between Karunanidhi and M G Ramachandran (right), actor and charismatic campaigner, split the party. MGR formed the AIADMK, with associations of his fans as the organisation’s bedrock. In 1977, MGR came to power, and remained undefeated until his death in 1987. He diluted the rationalist and anti-Brahmin agenda, and opted for welfarism as party ideology.

1988-89: ADMK splits, reunites

After MGR’s death, the AIADMK split into two factions, one led by his wife, Janaki Ramachandran (above), the other by J Jayalalithaa (left). In 1989, after a heavy electoral defeat, the factions merged under Jayalalithaa’s leadership. In 1991, Jayalalithaa became CM for the first time.

1994: Vaiko Breaks Away from DMK

The DMK split in 1994, and V Gopalasamy, known as Vaiko (above), formed the Marumalarchi (Revival) DMK. Many district secretaries of the DMK joined him. It is said Vaiko was expelled from the DMK to ensure Karunanidhi’s son Stalin’s smooth succession.

# 92-year-old Karunanidhi has led the DMK since Annadurai’s death, a giant of Indian politics spanning a six-decade career. His chosen successor is his son M K Stalin, who, however, could face opposition from his elder brother M K Azhagiri, should the party win the polls.

2005: Vijayakanth Forms DMDK 

The DMDK, Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam, was formed in September 2005. Though it carries Dravida in its name, the party, led by actor Vijayakanth, is not a part of the Dravidian Movement’s direct lineage.

The Dravidian Movement Today

It is represented by DK, DMK, AIADMK and MDMK. DK does not contest polls; propagates Periyar’s ideals including atheism and rationalist practices. In the May 16 elections, DMK and AIADMK are the main contenders for power. DMDK and MDMK are part of the People’s Welfare Front, a third front that includes the CPM, CPI and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) as well.


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