September 15th bore hallmarks of a festival this year (2008), in Tamil Nadu. It was the birth centenary of CN Annadurai, the founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam who formed the first non-Congress government in Tamil Nadu in 1967. Leaders of various political parties garlanded statues of ‘Anna’, as he is fondly called, across the state and organized meetings to recall the contributions of the first DMK Chief Minister. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Mr. Karunanidhi, announced a slew of schemes to commemorate the occasion including the ‘One kg rice for a rupee’ scheme, a new emergency response service and the release of convicts who had completed a certain period in prison. AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha and MDMK leader Vaiko addressed huge gatherings in Theni and Madurai respectively. Though they had forgotten his ideals, the Dravidian parties could not afford to forget the man who heralded them into power.
Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai was born in a lower-middle class household in Kanchipuram. An avid reader and a brilliant student, he did his MA in economics from Pachaiyappa College, Chennai. Influenced by Periyar’s radical views against Brahminism, he joined the Dravida Kazhagam. He quickly gained name for his oratorical skills, both in Tamil and English. His extensive reading in western thoughts enhanced his speeches, greatly attracting Tamil youth from all socio-economic backgrounds. Annadurai’s active involvement in the first anti-Hindi agitation of 1937 gave credibility to his views. Periyar, who spotted the potential for leadership in the young man, engaged him as a writer and an interpreter. Annadurai gave the anti-Brahmin movement greater momentum with his vitriolic speeches, articles and plays.
While Periyar focused on reforms alone eschewing politics, Annadurai believed that reforms could be implemented better with political power. Annadurai and his followers broke away from the Dravida Kazhagam citing Periyar’s mismatched marriage with a much younger Maniammai as a reason. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came into being in 1949. There was no looking back for Annadurai who had already gained considerable popularity among the Tamil masses by then. Aided by able lieutenants like Nedunchezhian and Karunanithi, he was able to forge the DMK into a mass movement.
The political immaturity of the central government also contributed to the DMK’s success. By imposing Hindi in Tamil Nadu, the Indian state provoked the sentiments of the Tamil people. Annadurai compared Hindi imposition to the assertion of the hegemony of the North Indians over the Tamil people. The DMK launched a series of anti-Hindi protests throughout the 1950’s and till the mid 60’s. Though there were demands for a separate country initially, they were given up after the Indo-China war of 1962. Annadurai, who was Member of Parliament then, was noted for his remarkable speeches on the floor. Many legislators compared his oratorical skills and charisma with that of Nehru. The anti-Hindi agitations became the major plank for political mobilization in Tamil Nadu during this period and the DMK swept to power in 1967, forming the first non-Congress government, with Annadurai as its first Chief Minister. Since then, it was only a Dravidian party that has been in power in Tamil Nadu.
As a person, Annadurai was modest to a fault. He cared little about his appearance or attire. His friendly demeanor even to opponents was a virtue rare in Indian politics. His tenure as Chief Minister was cut short by his untimely death in 1969. A person who had lived a remarkable life, he created a record in his death. Over 1.5 million people attended his funeral – the largest procession of mourners as noted by the Guinness book. His legacy is something the people of Tamil Nadu cannot afford to forget for it was his efforts that guaranteed the people their rights as an distinct cultural entity in the subcontinent.