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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri KanthaAnna's Legacy
19 September 2000
[see also One Hundred Tamils
of 20th Century - C.N.Annadurai
and The Decaying of the Dravida Movement - Shan Ranjit]
If C.N.Annadurai (known to millions of Tamils by the diminutive, endearing word 'Anna') was alive, he would have celebrated his 91st birthday on Sept.15. His death in Feb.3, 1969 at a relatively young 59 years, has even entered the Guinness Book of World Records, as the funeral with the largest attendance of humans, counted at approximately 15 million. Undoubtedly, this is a record which will be difficult to break by any internationally-renowned politician in the near future.
Anna's lieutenants who were with him 51 years ago when he founded the DMK are also disappearing from the scene. This year has seen the deaths of two notable leaders: V.R.Nedunchezhiyan (who was Anna's original No. 2) and Nanjil K. Manoharan (who was one of the ranking parliamentarians of the undivided DMK).
Analysts are now taking stock of the legacy and impact of Anna's career on Tamils. For me, some reviews appear half-baked. Last year, one analyst (identified with only an initial MT) wrote in the Economic and Political Weekly (Nov.27, 1999)
"Annadurai was undoubtedly a leader of stature and a moulder of ideology. But in his time he was a purely regional figure. He died soon after his party came to power and so the adulation bestowed on him has been mainly posthumous."
This analyst has thought only of Anna's political career. But, like Winston Churchill, Anna was both a politician and a litterateur. In this era of ghost writers and speech writers who peddle their skills to politicians who cannot express themselves verbally or in writing, Churchill and Anna were exceptions. Thus, in my opinion, Anna's legacy has to be studied in depth from two perspectives: political and literary. If one perspective is missing from an analysis, that analysis will bound to be an incomplete one. However, in this commentary, I will annotate only on Anna's political legacy.
Another recent view presented by M.S.S.Pandian on Anna's political legacy was thought-provoking for me. In a commentary entitled, 'Tamil-Friendly Hindutva' (Economic and Political Weekly, May 27-June 2, 2000), Pandian states,
"Though those incorrigible pan-Indian nationalists present the history of Tamil nationalism as an unwavering saga of anti-nationals, it was in fact a story of incredible wavering. It took less than two decades for the DMK to swap its dream of a Tamil homeland for power at Fort St.George. Perhaps it was never a serious dream. Then on, it spoke a convoluted language of state autonomy, greater degree of federalism and the rights of the Tamil not so much in India but in Sri Lanka. Even the surrogate nationalism of supporting the Sri Lankan Tamils slowly withered away during the 1990s."
Pandian then presents his case that power-sharing in the Central Government of India had led to DMK's dumping of its cherished ideals. I quote,
"The flip side of the semantic shift in the DMK's discourse on Tamil nationalism is indeed its slow and steady drift towards pan-Indian nationalism. The 1980s and 1990s saw its emergence as a key player in Delhi. The power in Delhi is as addictive as that in Chennai. The DMK has no desire to return to its regional cocoon. But being condemned to be a regional party because of the burden of its past, Tamil matters to it. It continues to speak of Tamil, its hoary past, its promises for the future. It is a sort of a ritual, but a necessary ritual. It has to keep its regional identity going while partaking in the left-overs of power in Delhi."
One feels sad about his turn of events which had overtaken the party founded by Anna. Based on the blemished record of DMK in the post-Anna period, quite a number of critics have come to infer that Anna's ideology of Tamil nationalism itself is a flawed one. I, for one, do not subscribe to this masochistic breast-beating. Anna's critics in Tamil Nadu make an error in studying a case, without proper controls. This is a cardinal sin in scientific analysis. One assesses the results of an experiment based on proper controls, conducted simultaneously at the same time.
I would suggest that for a proper evaluation, Anna's ideology of Tamil nationalism has to be studied in comparison with other political ideologies (or movements) which were popularised around 50 years ago. Three examples would suffice.
1. Within India, what happened to Gandhian ideals of non-violence?
2. In the USA, what happened to the liberal democratic ideals promoted by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman?
3. In the (then) Soviet Union, what happened to the Leninist-Stalinist ideals of communism?
If Anna's Dravidian nationalism has to be counted as a failure, then the Gandhian, Rooseveltian and Leninist-Stalinist ideals also have met the same fate in their places of origin. However, Gandhian ideals were picked up by Martin Luther King Jr. in America and these led to advancement of civil rights for Blacks in the 1960s. The liberal-democratic ideals of Roosevelt got rooted (however imperfectly) and supplanted the existing feudalistic social arrangement in Japan. Even the Leninist-Stalinist ideals found roots in Cuba under the leadership of Fidel Castro in 1959 and is still not supplanted, despite aggressive bullying by Yankee capitalism. Similarly, though Anna's ideology of a 'separate state for Tamils' became a lost cause in India, it did become a rallying cry for the younger generation of Eelam Tamils in mid-1970s. Thus, Anna's legacy lives in Eelam.