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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Gandhi, Madras Hindu and the Brahmin Establishment

Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha

Gandhi, Madras Hindu and the Brahmin Establishment

15 April 1992

Let me present a scenario in the vast Dravidian land, known for its antiquity and conservatism. A non-conformist revolutionary who espoused agitational techniques unfamiliar to the entrenched ruling class gets a cold shoulder.

The ruling class consists of two types:

(1) The Establishment, who are aliens to the Dravidian land, but garbed with military and intelligence arm;

(2) The Brahmin brown sahibs, who control the press and other law enforcement agencies.

The non-conformist revolutionary was born to a ‘class’, considered as ‘low caste’ by the Brahmin brown sahibs. The revolutionary’s idea of agitational techniques receive only a rebuke from the majority in the Madras land. Only about 120 people identify with the revolutionary and provide the founding, emotional support to him. To make matters worse, this revolutionary never stood for any election and canvassed for votes like an ordinary politician.

No, I am not writing about 1992 and Velupillai Prabhakaran. I refer to the year 1919, and a revolutionary (with the name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) who came to Madras Presidency for soliciting support for his agitational technique – civil disobedience. The Brahmin brown sahibs, who did not mind Gandhi then (and who don’t mind Prabhakaran now) are the same – the owners of the Madras Hindu establishment.

At the beginning of 1919, Mahatma Gandhi wasan ‘outsider to India’s political establishment’. Though his satyagraha campaigns against the British in South Africa did make Gandhi a recognizable figure, the highest Congress Party leadership had yet to admit him into their cabal. Gandhi, a non-conformist, did not wait in line for a formal admission. He captured the leadership from the lethargic bosses of the Congress Party, using his organizational skills.

On March 17, 1919, Gandhi arrived in Madras city to campaign for his opposition against the Rowlatt Bills. He went on a tour to five towns – Tanjavur, Tiruchi, Madurai, Tuticorin and Nagapatnam. And when he left Madras on March 28, only 120 people in the whole Madras Presidency did sign his satyagraha pledge. Only 120 people out of a total population of the then 20 million. Compared to the LTTE’s current support in Tamil Nadu, Gandhi was in a worse situation then.

According to David Arnold’s 1977 book, ‘The Congress in Tamil Nad; Nationalist Politics in South India, 1919-1937’, while in Madras,

“Gandhi had suggested that a proscribed book should be printed and circulated to the satyagrahis in defiance of the law. When the publishers of the Hindu were requested to undertake this effort, ‘they protested that they have invested one or two lakhs in their presses and that confiscation would ruin them’.”

David Arnold had further observed that,

“The Gandhians had limited access to the press in Tamilnad. Of the four principal English dailies in 1920-21, three – Mail, Justice and New India – were persistent, often vociferous, opponents of non-cooperation. The fourth, the Hindu…would not risk government displeasure and the possible confiscation by too daring an editorial policy.”

Gandhi had hoped that after the Nagpur Congress in Dec.1920, “the Hindu would swing over to non-cooperation, for it was an extremely influential paper among the western-educated in the Presidency, but its support was never more than lukewarm”, according to David Arnold.

Well, if the then ownership of the Hindu could not come to grips with Gandhi’s ideals then, it is no wonder that it cannot agree with the message of LTTE….One may confront me by saying that the Hindu is right in opposing the LTTE, because the Tigers are espousing violence, in their freedom struggle. If this be the case, then how can one explain the opposition of the Hindu to Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence campaigns, in its early phases? Isn’t it nothing but hypocrisy?

At least, in one aspect, we can identify the similarity between Mahatma Gandhi and Prabhakaran. Both came from outside the Brahmin class, and to the Brahmin, leadership by non-Brahmin talent is an anathema.


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