Tamil Nadu conundrum

Nikhil Bhave
Saturday, 20 January 2018

The state always evokes a sense of curiosity amongst us non-Tamils (or Thamizhs). After all, this is a state known for the almost fanatic level devotion to Dravid parties and actors, and despite the legacy of having India’s oldest quota system and avowedly rational leaders in power remains deeply divided into caste lines.

After a very long time, actors are once again making their mark on Tamil Nadu political stage. Both Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth enjoy huge following across entire South India, and both are stepping into the political arena. Whether they join hands or become political rivals, remains to be seen.

The state always evokes a sense of curiosity amongst us non-Tamils (or Thamizhs). After all, this is a state known for the almost fanatic level devotion to Dravid parties and actors, and despite the legacy of having India’s oldest quota system and avowedly rational leaders in power remains deeply divided into caste lines.

The state wasn’t always like that. Like the rest of India, till the 1960s, it had a Congress state like rest of India, with party stalwart K Kamaraj leading the charge. Then came the silver screen personalities, led by the charismatic EV ‘Periyar’ Ramaswami Naicker.

Periyar, a militant atheist whose stated goals were to do away with caste-based inequality and preached about the Dravid vs Aryan theory, soon attracted a huge following. Among his disciples were former chief ministers MG Ramachandran (MGR), CN Annadurai (Anna) and M Karunanidhi. While three came with movie backgrounds, Annadurai and Karunanidhi were also established authors, their work became a platform for Dravidian ideology.

The initial fodder for the movement was (unwittingly) provided by Jawaharlal Nehru with the proposal to make Hindi, the country’s official language. The proposal to introduce Hindi in the state had been proposed and met with fierce opposition in 1937, the same thing happened this time, too.

The DK had already split following differences between Periyar and his followers. The party led by Annadurai and Karunanidhi, the Dravida Munnetra Kalagham (DMK), came to power in 1967. 

The government, led by Annadurai, was the last cabinet of the erstwhile Madras state. However, the splitting of the state failed to put a dent in the DMK’s fortunes. The war once again came from within. Following a lengthy feud between the once friends MGR and Karunanidhi, the former formed the Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK), the forerunner of AIADMK.

MGR passed away in 1987, and the war for his successor began between his wife Janaki and his disciple J Jayalalithaa. Both had a feud and lost to the DMK in 1989. The state has since then continued to switch between Jaya and Karunanidhi.

However, both parties seem to struggle now with a succession crisis. While Jaya did not have any remarkable political heir, Karunanidhi’s sons Alagiri and Stalin reportedly don’t see eye to eye. The Congress and the BJP have almost zero presence in the state. Sensing the opportunity, the actors have stepped in. 

It remains to be seen if they can fill the political void.

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