For 93-year old DMK Chief M Karunanidhi, the anti-Hindi agitation was something that gave a fillip to his political career as an emerging leader in the 1960s when he was in his 50s. It was a struggle that was also to wipe out the Congress and its regime from the state. Now, it looks like Karunanidhi has plans for yet another anti language agitation, this time against Sanskrit.
At a private function while attending the wedding of the daughter of party MLA Poongothai Aladi Aruna, he warned against some “mad persons” who are trying to include Sanskrit in the curriculum.
He said: “We have gathered here at a time when the Vadamozhi (Sanskrit) is being imposed yet again. When we talk about pure Tamil, there are ‘mad persons’ who are trying to include Sanskrit in the curriculum. Let me tell those who try to impose Sanskrit: don’t create a situation for another agitation like the anti-Hindi agitation. If they are planning to impose it, then every Tamil should come together to root out the dominance of Sanskrit. Let’s take a pledge that there is no place for Sanskrit in Tamil Nadu.”
The issue surrounding Sanskrit had first irked Tamil Nadu leaders earlier this year after Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani announced her plans to make Sanskrit a third language in all the CBSE and ICSE schools across the country.
A high-level central committee had also urged the CBSE and ICSE schools to implement the three-language formula up to Class X strictly “to facilitate an opportunity for students to study the Sanskrit as an optional language.”
Elections in the state saw the DMK taste defeat in May. Except for local body elections later this year, the next three years are going to be a relatively dull period for Karunanidhi so he has time to pursue his favourite Tamil card yet again.
However, playing the anti-Sanskrit card in the present climate will be different, a lot has changed in the last five decades and today’s Chennai is a far cry from the Madras of the 1960s. However, with his proven track-record Karunanidhi, who always played the ‘language’ card,’ won’t shy away from leading yet another protest to take on the BJP at the Centre.
The anti-Hindi agitation saw many involved in the protests go on to become leaders of the state. Karunanidhi’s son M K Stalin, then 14 years old was one among many such leaders.
The freedom to assert that “our language is not inferior to that of people in the north,” triggered anti-Hindi agitations in the 60s after protests had first broken out in then Madras city, largely led by students. It took no time at all to spread across the state, lasting over three months, with academics, teachers, intellectuals and workers joining the protests. It is often referred to as the largest ever students’ uprising in Tamil Nadu.
Even if Karunanidhi’s latest threat is just another political stunt, the memories he cherishes of those heady days won’t be easy to forget. One memorable incident happened at the peak of agitation on February 25, 1965. A protest march by nine students representing Pachaiyappas College, Law College and Presidency College was heading from Napier Bridge near the University of Madras to the Mount Road Post Office. Hundreds of people stood along the road stretch to greet those nine students. By the time they reached their destination, six more students had joined them. All of them were arrested immediately.
As the news of arrests had spread, many more protests erupted in city campuses. It was then that a battalion of police entered Pachaiyyappas College without seeking the permission of the principal. He immediately told then vice chancellor of the University of Madras A Lakshmanaswamy Muthaliyar. The latter had immediately dialled the hotline to then Congress Chief Minister M Bhaktavatsalam. He questioned the right of the CM to send his police team into a campus without the permission of the VC.
However, Bhaktavatsalam, who had been struggling to control the anti-Hindi agitation across the state, dodged Muthaliyar. An agitated Muthaliyar’s next call was to the then president of India, S Radhakrishnan. Muthaliyar asked the President to intervene in the matter. In no time, the President had sent directions to the CM’s office and the police force was withdrawn from the college premises. The matter was finally resolved after CM Bhaktavatsalam had paid a visit a few days to the VC’s office to explain why he had sent in the police. The CM was made to wait for some 20 minutes before meeting Muthaliyar.