Andimuthu Raja, the DMK MP from Nilgiris, said in the presence of Chief Minister M K Stalin on Sunday (July 3) that if the central government did not give Tamil Nadu greater autonomy, the DMK could be “compelled” to revive the demand for a “separate” state.
“Chief Minister is walking on Anna’s way, don’t push us to Periyar’s way. Don’t compel us to ask for our own country, give us state autonomy. Until then we will not rest,” Raja wrote on Twitter, where he posted a video of the speech. Raja did underline, however, that “national integrity and democracy are important”.
E V Ramasamy ‘Periyar’ (1879-1973) had started the Self Respect Movement to “redeem the identity and self-respect” of Tamils. He envisaged an independent Dravida homeland of Dravida Nadu, comprising Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada speakers, and launched a political party, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), to pursue this goal.
C N Annadurai (1909-1969) was the last Chief Minister of Madras state, and the first Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. He founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) after breaking with Periyar. which ultimately chose to go slow on the demand for an independent Dravida Nadu and instead worked for greater autonomy for Tamil Nadu and better cooperation among the southern states.
Raja’s comments come in a period in which the DMK government in Tamil Nadu has repeatedly and vocally disagreed with the policies of the central government, and accused it of undermining India’s federal structure.
The movement for a separate Dravida country has passed through several stages and meanings. The early 20th century agitations against the colonial government of Madras state (of which, along with Tamil Nadu, portions of modern-day Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala were part) often included expressions of regional aspirations.
The South Indian Liberal Federation, popularly known as Justice Party, which was founded in 1917 by Sir Pitti Theagaraya Chetty, Dr T M Nair, and Dr C Natesa Mudaliar, was the first to raise the flag of anti-Brahminism, and oppose the caste system that put Brahmins at the top of the social hierarchy.
At the time, the presence of Brahmins in the Madras government was disproportionately higher than their population in the state, and the Justice Party demanded opportunities for those lower in the caste hierarchy.
In 1920, the Justice Party won the first legislative council elections held under the Government of India Act, 1919, and formed the government. The Congress had boycotted the elections. The Justice Party remained in power until 1926, and then from 1930-37.
Periyar, the founder of the Self-Respect Movement (1925), was both anti-caste and anti-religion. He advocated major social reforms, including equality for women in society, and supporting birth control for women for their health and well-being. He also opposed the domination of Hindi and emphasised the distinct cultural identity of the Tamil nation.
In 1938, the Justice Party and Self-Respect Movement came together, representing the merger of the party and the movement. In 1944, the new outfit was named Dravidar Kazhagam. DK was anti-Brahmin, anti-Congress, and anti-Aryan (read North Indian), and launched a movement for an independent Dravida nation.
Post-independence, DK continued to demand Dravida Nadu. and Periyar refused to contest elections. In 1949, Annadurai split from Periyar due to ideological differences, and his DMK joined the electoral process. The DMK’s platforms were social democracy and Tamil cultural nationalism, but Annadurai was silent on Dravida Nadu. In 1967, Annadurai became Chief Minister.
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The Linguistic Provinces Commission (or S K Dhar Commission) set up in 1948 argued against a linguistic basis of reorganisation of states, reasoning it could lead to further division. “When a conflict of interest, real or imaginary, arises between linguistic groups differing in numerical strength and in mental and moral equipment, it does not take long for the minority to feel that it has no chance against the majority, and it finds an easy solution of its difficulty in a desire for separation,” the Commission said.
In 1952, the freedom fighter Potti Sriramulu died at the end of a 56-day hunger strike undertaken to demand a separate Telugu state. In the face of intense public anger, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced an intention to create a separate Andhra state, and in 1953, the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) was constituted under Justice Fazl Ali, historian K M Panikkar, and parliamentarian H N Kunzru.
The report of the commission was in favour of a linguistic division of states; however, it cautioned that “It is neither possible nor desirable to reorganise the State on the basis of a single test of either language or culture; a balanced approach which takes all relevant factors into account is necessary.”
The States Reorganisation Act, 1956, which incorporated some of the suggestions of the SRC, redrew the boundaries of states along linguistic lines, and created the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Mysore and Kerala in southern India. In the process, a major demand of the linguistic movements was fulfilled, and the idea of an independent Dravida Nadu was weakened further.
Since 1967, as power has moved between the DMK and AIADMK, the preservation of Tamil culture and language has been a major focus area of successive state governments. The state opposed the three-language formula, which meant Hindi would be taught in schools of South Indian states in 1966, and has continued to protest the introduction of Hindi in education.
Annadurai had said in Rajya Sabha in May 1962: “We from the South, especially from Tamil Nad, while we are sitting here, find Hon. members though they know English, speaking in Hindi and getting answers in Hindi. At that time I find a twinkle in their eye, as if to say ‘You people, unless you learn Hindi, you have to keep quiet’.”
The demand for Dravida Nadu was gradually replaced by a demand for greater autonomy in education and cultural practices. In 2018, Stalin, who was then DMK working president and Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, said that if a demand was made for a Dravida Nadu comprising the southern states, he would support it.
He subsequently clarified that he did not suggest a revival of the movement, but added: “Anna gave up the idea for Dravida Nadu and clarified that there were reasons for its creation. Anna has been proved right, especially now that we see how the southern states are being ignored by the BJP government.”