The DMK MP and ex-Union minister, A Raja, has sparked a controversy by asking the BJP-ruled Centre not to compel the Dravidian party to revive the demand for a “separate Tamil Nadu” by denying state autonomy.
Significantly, Raja made these remarks in the presence of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president M K Stalin while addressing a conference of the party’s local body representatives in Namakkal on Sunday.
‘அண்ணா வழியில் பயணம் செய்கிறார் முதலமைச்சர், எங்களை பெரியார் வழிக்கு தள்ளிவிடாதீர்கள்’
‘தனிநாடு கேட்க எங்களை விட்டு விடாதீர்கள்,
மாநில சுயாட்சி தாருங்கள்’
— A RAJA (@dmk_raja) July 3, 2022
During his speech peppered with multiple references to various developments in pre- and post-Independent India, Raja asserted that Tamil Nadu has continued to fight for state autonomy since it was formed.
“The Prime Minister claims that all Indian states are treated equally. Amit Shah (Union Home Minister) believes that the Hindi language is critical to uniting India. Please don’t think I’m being arrogant because I’m part of the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, or because our Chief Minister is on stage here; let me remind you that the DMK came to embrace the federal system for the unity and love for India by relinquishing the demand for a separate state,” Raja told the conclave.
“Simultaneously, Periyar, considered the founder of our political ideology, had been advocating a separate Tamil Nadu till his death. We have also abandoned his insistence… So I’d want to advise Amit Shah and the PM – and I’m saying this in front of our CM Stalin himself – don’t push us to return to the Periyar route. Don’t corner us. Don’t force us to raise a separate Tamil Nadu demand again. Give us the state autonomy we deserve. We will not rest and will battle until we achieve our goal,” Raja asserted.
Periyar wrote three months before his death, the DMK leader said, that “Hindu religion would retain me as a Sudra as long as I remain a part of India… as long as my Tamil people remain part of India, they will not have appropriate representation, share in jobs, or prosperity”.
Periyar had even criticised the DMK for abandoning the desire for a separate Tamil Nadu, Raja said. “He (Periyar) urged the youth to build an independent Tamil Nadu. He said that an independent Tamil Nadu is the final destiny. Even though we regard him as the founder of our political thought, we have abandoned his call for the sake of India’s unification.”
Raja said the DMK has been championing the cause of state autonomy for the last several decades. “A month earlier, when the PM came to Chennai, CM Stalin made a speech regarding state autonomy before Modi, and he was questioned by some people who asked if a CM can speak like this before the PM. But, as you can see, the problem is simple. Tamil Nadu contributes 10% of the nation’s overall GST income, as well as 6.5 per cent of its total tax revenue. Nonetheless, the financial return it gets from the Centre is less than 1.2 per cent, which is unfair for a federal system. Yes, Stalin is the only leader who has dared to ask that question,” he said.
Referring to the DMK founder and first Tamil Nadu CM, C N Annadurai’s visit to Delhi in 1969, Raja said, “After meeting with the President and Prime Minister then, Anna said that democracy is more than just the formation of a government; it is also an attitude of respect and admiration for one’s fellow people… He said we don’t feel respected, and he brought up the problem of states receiving much too little money.”
Noting Annadurai’s frequent assertions that India is a Union of States, Raja said the DMK stalwart late M Karunanidhi used to draw an analogy between the condition of states in Independent India and a man freed from jail with his hands tied, while posing the question, “When are we going to break this chain?”
Lauding Stalin for allowing him to speak on the issue of state autonomy before the DMK local body representatives, Raja also claimed that it was the then Congress party’s “opposition” to state autonomy that led to India’s partition, quoting Mohammad Ali Jinnah as saying that “I trust Nehru, I believe in Congress, but I don’t trust the Hindutva forces behind the Congress party”.
He alleged that the attack on state autonomy has crossed all limits under the current BJP-led central government and that it has turned the states into “beggars before Delhi for funds”. He charged that the Congress, too, was consolidating powers at the Centre against states’ interests until 1967, when the party lost not only Tamil Nadu but several northern states, including Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Raja also alluded to a 1974 DMK meeting in which Karunanidhi’s photo was printed along with Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s picture on its posters, saying the party had then justified it by flagging Rahman’s assertive stance in support of state language and autonomy.
The DMK leader’s fiery speech created a stir in political circles, drawing sharp criticism from the Opposition camp.
Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai charged that the DMK believed they were entitled to “plunder” the state when in power, and if questioned, they will pull out their “oldest trick called state autonomy and propagate separatism”. The DMK should be reminded that this is not the 1960s, he said.
“What’s generally pre-election rhetoric has begun this early isn’t surprising given the obstacles DMK men face in their pursuit of wealth through corrupt means. DM ex-ministers facing trial for corruption charges making vile threats is a display of desperation,” said Annamalai. “Facing falling popularity after failing promises, CM Stalin should invent a better excuse for not delivering instead of pushing their defunct propaganda,” he added.
State BJP vice president Karu Nagarajan hit out at Raja for sending out a “wrong signal”. “Nobody should speak like that, not only Raja but nobody in any Indian state has the right to make such statements. I am sure that nobody in Tamil Nadu is going to accept such separatist thoughts,” Nagarajan said.
BJP national general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu, C T Ravi reportedly said Raja’s statement amounted to the DMK’s “acceptance of failure of its Dravidian politics”.
The AIADMK’s spokesperson Kovai Sathyan said Raja was allegedly sowing the seeds of division while CM Stalin saw it as a “mute spectator” without making an effort to correct him. “In their 17-year-long alliance with Congress, they (DMK) never complained about federalism. They never called out Union government. Now they are using new terms to refer to the central government, they are talking about financial share and federalism. But we can see that DMK had been doing this all along … whenever they are cornered and face challenges, they will raise separatism to cover up the corruption, failures and inefficiency of their government,” he said.
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Mafoi Pandiarajan, former AIADMK minister, alleged that “Stalin was seemingly smiling when Raja spoke”. “I was surprised at his (Stalin’s) reaction. Nobody in Tamil Nadu will accept that. I think the central government should take a note of this,” he said.
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