காஞ்சீபுரம் நடராஜன் அண்ணாதுரை
Annadurai: Politician, 1909 - 1969
Letter and spirit
Historian and Tamil Writer
India Today , 10 April 2008
Q: What did he do before joining politics?
A:Wrote film scripts and dialogues
Q: Which state did he rename?
A: Tamil Nadu. Earlier known as Madras
Q: How many publications did he start?
A: Three—Dravida Nadu, A Tamil weekly in 1942 and two in English—
homeland (1957), Home Rule (1966)
Q: What did he die of?
A: Oral cancer as he used to chew tobacco
Q: What was unusual about his funeral in 1969?
A: About 1.5 million people attended it, a record
When Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai died, his funeral, attended
by many lakhs of people, was one of the largest the country had seen—and as
Indians are often fond of claiming—it is supposed to be a Guinness record.
Anna, not only the diminutive of his name but which means “respected elder
brother” as well in Tamil (an ambiguity capitalised on by the Dravidian
movement), was born of rather undistinguished parentage for which he was often
ridiculed by petty-minded political rivals.
In the rise of this barely five-and-a-quarter feet man with a balding pate,
tobacco-stained teeth, stubbled chin and a captivating husky voice to prominence
lies the story of modern Tamil Nadu.
Anna was the first leader of post Independence India who did not play a role in
the freedom struggle. Education—an M.A. proudly tagged to his name—was his only
claim to respect and he cut his political teeth in the non-Brahmin Justice
Party, translating into Tamil the high-flown public speeches of its leaders.
The first anti-Hindi agitation of 1937–39 clearly established his skills with
language—on the platform and with the pen to which he later added film script
writing. In him Periyar E.V. Ramasamy found the lieutenant who would, however,
soon upstage him.
In 1944, with freedom only a matter of time, Anna gave the crucial reorientation
to the non-Brahmin movement, which would rid it of the stigma of loyalism.
Rechristened the Dravidar Kazhagam, he prepared it for challenges of a newly
independent nation state. His alliterative rhetoric, radically new to the Tamil
language, changed Tamil public speaking forever. Combined with his voracious
reading in western rationalism, his linguistic skills greatly enamoured the
Tamil youth from upwardly mobile non-Brahmin families.
What perhaps contributed to Anna’s ultimate success was his ability to harness
and tame the ideas and energies let lose by Periyar. Given his controversial and
radical ideas on nation, caste, religion, women and language, understandably
Periyar eschewed electoral politics.
In Anna, the emergent backward castes saw a leader who could take them to
political power. He skilfully repackaged Periyar’s iconoclastic ideas to make
them palatable in the public domain. Periyar’s rustic atheism became “Onre
Kulam, Oruvane Devan” (One God, One Community) in a skilful appropriation of the
venerated medieval Tamil saint Tirumular. When Periyar went about breaking the
idols of Pillaiyar (Ganapati) Anna famously observed that he would neither break
the idol nor the coconut (in worship).
The first open sign of break came when Periyar declared August 15, 1947, as a
day of mourning. In perceptively judging the public mood—a trait he was to
display many times in his political career—Anna declared that there was now one
enemy less (the British).
Periyar’s mismatched marriage in 1949 with a young Maniammai provided the
pretext for the birth of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Over the 1950s he
built a party which expressed the dissatisfaction of Tamils with the Indian
state, especially the imposition of Hindi.
The Congress’s well-planned defeat of Anna in the 1962 assembly elections led
him into the Rajya Sabha. The abdication of the secessionist demand in the wake
of the Chinese aggression was yet another indication of his political acumen.
DMK pretty much set the terms of the debate in early post-1947 Tamil Nadu. In a,
perhaps now justly forgotten, book called India: the Most Dangerous Decade
(1960), a US analyst Selig Harrison observed of Anna: “There is no doubt that
this powerful orator is the single-most popular mass figure in the region”—a
point completely missed by his political rivals.
And when DMK swept the polls— cobbling up a coalition with C. Rajagopalachari’s
Swatantra Party, the Communists and the Muslim League, thereby gaining political
acceptability across the board—in 1967 effectively ending Congress dominance in
the state, it surprised no one except the Congress.
But the electoral success disturbed no one more than Anna himself, for he feared
that success had come a little too early—DMK’s first cabinet was the youngest in
India then. He had assiduously built up a party apparatus that spread to every
corner of the state through a wide and democratic network of reading rooms that
doubled up as party offices.
A magnanimous man who was generous to a fault, Anna had also groomed a
distinguished line of second rung leaders by whom he never felt threatened—a
lesson that every party leader in India should learn. The dazzling rise of Anna
was cut short by death. He was not yet 60. The Indian nation state owes much to
him for safely accommodating Tamil nationalism within it.