Foundations of justice

Excerpted from The Dravidian Years: Politics and Welfare in Tamil Nadu by S. Narayan

Published : Aug 17, 2018 11:00 IST

 February 10, 1969: At the Raj Bhavan in Madras, M. Karunanidhi, the new Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, with Governor Sardar Ujjal Singh (second from right), the Governor’s wife, and Cabinet colleagues (sitting, left) K.A. Mathialagan, (standing, from left) S. Madhavan, S.J. Sadiq Pasha, A. Govindaswamy, Satyavani Muthu and M. Muthuswamy.

February 10, 1969: At the Raj Bhavan in Madras, M. Karunanidhi, the new Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, with Governor Sardar Ujjal Singh (second from right), the Governor’s wife, and Cabinet colleagues (sitting, left) K.A. Mathialagan, (standing, from left) S. Madhavan, S.J. Sadiq Pasha, A. Govindaswamy, Satyavani Muthu and M. Muthuswamy.


ANNADURAI M. Karunanidhi, the winner of a party election for leadership, became Chief Minister in 1969. The Cabinet consisted of ideologues of the erstwhile anti-Hindi, anti-Delhi movements as well as young, educated, and articulated persons keen to show that the government could do as well, if not better, than earlier governments for development. The policies that followed between 1969 and 1976 are a mix of these ideas.

There was strategic use of state patronage, and the use of local party cadres in administration. As a young officer, I witnessed representations from the public spearheaded by local party functionaries. This was a change. Earlier, I used to meet Panchayat Union Chairmen, accompanied by their officers, on matters pertaining to development. Now, there were district and local party functionaries, bringing representations on the availability of irrigation water, food grains, or the functioning of schools. Suddenly, we had to deal with representations from the party, rather than from the hierarchy. Upwardly mobile interest groups emerged, seeking the support of the party now in power. Initially, they pointed out public grievances for redressal, short-circuiting the established channels of administration, and, over the years, these have grown into assertive demands from the district administration. Representations from party cadres in administration are now the norm rather than an exception. While this serves to articulate public demands and grievances, it constrains the administration into looking at things only from a particular point of view.

There was focus on increased representation of other classes in jobs and in the party cadre as well. Data from the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission indicates that, between 1960 and 1980, the caste composition of those entering into government service changed considerably, with substantially a greater proportion coming from the backward classes. Action for government recruitment from the backward, most backward, and Dalit castes ensured that the structure of the bureaucracy underwent a change. Several of the new personnel were from non-urban areas and could understand village-level conditions. The new dispensation was more in tune with the expectations and aspirations of the party in power.

At the cutting edge in administration, at the level of the lower rung of police and revenue authorities, the representation of Dalits and other backward classes was more marked. The mere introduction of recruitment based on numerical strengths of the communities in society ensured that forward caste representation in new appointments went down drastically, while opportunities for backward castes and for scheduled castes and tribes increased significantly. The proportion of Brahmins recruited into government jobs became smaller in tune with their proportion in the population. As a result, the number of entrants into government jobs became much more representative of the diversity of classes and castes in the population. This was a very significant change. On the one hand, it brought to fruition the proportional representation that EVR had aspired to right from the days of the Kanchipuram Congress in 1925. At the same time, it brought into government people from different backgrounds and aspirations as well as from small towns and rural areas, who were more in tune with the sentiments of the Dravidian parties, as were the students of Madras in my time. This was, and continues to be, a very important step forward in ensuring social balance in state administration and is instrumental in delivering the social welfare and social benefit services in succeeding administrations. The class composition of government service today is totally different from what it was when I joined service in 1965, and is definitely more representative of the diversity of groups in Tamil Nadu.

Given the assumption of the DMK that existing institutions were steeped in Congress ideology and culture, there was some suspicion about existing institutions at the local level. They were considered Congress-oriented institutions, working on an agenda prescribed by the central government. The Rural Development and Panchayat institutions formed one such group. They were subject to Central fund grants and review, and could not be dismantled—they were kept at arm’s length, and allowed to function. Between 1967 and 1969, I suddenly found focus on the prescribed Rural Development and Panchayat Union and Block level programmes waning, and a greater focus on dealing with public representations.

There was greater reliance on the district administration and on District Collectors. Collectors were the implementing arms of government policies at the district level, and the continuity from colonial days ensured that the administration remained committed to this. As indicated earlier, senior members of the service at the Secretariat level were people who had worked under colonial rule, and the systems and processes that continued were a reflection of those standards. I remember that during my probation at the training academy in Mussoorie, multiple sessions were devoted to the importance of the role of the District Collector in ensuring coherent administration and planned development based on policies laid down hierarchically.

In Tamil Nadu, the situation changed after 1967. The DMK was a party that had emerged from a mass movement. It was important for them to, while in power, listen to and satisfy the expectations of the people. The DMK was also a disciplined organisation in which district secretaries had direct access to the top leaders. The district secretaries started interacting with District Collectors directly on matters pertaining to day-to-day administration. The post of District Collector became a powerful and coveted one. There were seasoned Collectors like S.P. Ambrose, who had been at the helm of several districts, and was in Coimbatore in 1967. Ambrose initially found the change—of having to deal with the new MLAs—difficult, and mentioned several cases of attempts by newly elected politicians to take the law and administration in their own hands. He said that he had the support of the Ministers from the district and the Chief Minister, who respected the way he functioned.

Gradually, this changed, especially after 1971, when the DMK came back to power with an overwhelming majority, and the party cadres had more influence. The Collectors and the party district secretary became the most powerful arms of the State administration in the districts. There was naturally a trend towards state patronage in postings and the politicisation of administrative cadres. Senior members of the civil services retired in these years or were deputed to the Central government in very senior positions, and the changes in State bureaucracy at the field level were quite palpable. This was true for the subsequent AIADMK regime as well. What is significant is that the transformation was enabled seamlessly even as two parties explicitly inimical to each other reigned in Tamil Nadu. The state is often cited as a habitat of politically committed bureaucracy. While this may be true in parts, what is also true is that the system is committed to developing the state. The politicisation of administration as well as the change in the class structure of the administration enabled the DMK to push forward the social justice agenda that had been the basic feature of the Periyar movement.

The Industry Ministry in the State was under S. Madhavan, a lawyer from Ramanathapuram district who tried to outshine Venkataraman’s achievements. The creation of new industrial parks, attracting major industry and industrialists to invest in Tamil Nadu, and fiscal and infrastructure initiatives led to a spurt of industrial development in the State. Corporations for the development and financing of small industries, large industries, and financing and provision of infrastructure were formed and proved very successful. The Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) invested in several large industries, including the Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC) Limited and South India Shipping. The State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamilnadu Ltd (SIPCOT) provided land and developed infrastructure as well as project finance. New sugar mills were planned and developed. Between 1973 and 1975, I was part of a team responsible for developing the sugar industry, and six sugar mills in the public and cooperative sector were set up in the State, some of which have a record of quick project execution. There was gradual consciousness that an all-India market for the sale of products as well as raw materials was essential if Tamil Nadu were to progress. The anti-Delhi rhetoric became muted over the years.

In fact, Narendra Subramanian goes on to say that the creation of the DMK aided democracy and tolerance in various ways. The party gave activists and supporters some autonomy in how they responded to leaders’ appeals. In the process, they could mobilise widely felt aspirations and reduce caste inequality. The core of Subramanian’s argument is that in the politics of Dravidianism, though ethnic appeal has supplied cohesion, the dominant motif and mechanisms have been populist. Therefore, the populist feature of the Dravidian ideology dominates the era.

There was investment in helping the poor. Housing programmes after clearing slums, housing projects for fishermen, police personnel, and for Adi-Dravidars were initiated. New institutions like the Slum Clearance Board and the Harijan Housing Development Corporation were assigned the responsibility to carry out these mandates.

Apart from rice at one rupee a kilogram, there was an effort to extend the public distribution system (PDS). By 1976, the entire State was covered by PDS, which provided rice, sugar, kerosene, and wheat to the card holder, as well as special rations and gifts, including saris and dhotis on Pongal. Other welfare schemes included assistance for marriage in the form of a cash grant for thaalis and also schemes for indigent widows and pensioners. It was not a holistic approach, but rather a grant-based approach towards particular sections of people that the government considered to be disadvantaged or in need of support.

The development indicators for Tamil Nadu increased significantly during this decade. The State domestic product grew by 17 per cent at constant prices between 1970 and 1976, per capita incomes rose by around 30 per cent, literacy rates went up from 39.5 per cent in the 1971 census to 54.4 per cent in the 1981 census. The infant mortality rate dropped from 125 in 1971 to around 103 by 1977. Though significant growth occurred in the years when MGR was in power, the foundation for growth were laid during the initial DMK years. There was also focus on industrialisation and infrastructure, as already pointed out, and Tamil Nadu stood next only to Gujarat and Maharashtra in industrial growth during this period.

There were important changes in administration and delivery of services. It has been pointed out that Tamil Nadu was among the top States in process-based administration even prior to Independence. The changes brought about in the Karunanidhi era, which included a changeover at the highest levels of administration from the earlier British-era administrators through retirement or deputation, the use of state patronage in the recruitment, identification, and appointment of district-level officers sympathetic to the regime, and the close association of the district-level party leaders with the administrative set-up all resulted in a significant change in the implementation of programmes. Coupled with the fact that traditional administrative hierarchies were strong and implementation capabilities time-tested and resilient, this resulted in a slew of development initiatives getting implemented at the ground level. Unlike the past, these initiatives were people- and welfare-oriented, and at every level, had been formulated with the political benefits that might accrue in mind.

Periyar had been attracted to communist ideology and even the DMK election manifesto was a pro-public sector, anti-capitalist statement. However, several actions had already been taken. Land reforms in the form of abolishing the zamindari system and distributing land to the tenants had already been initiated in Tamil Nadu by the late 1950s. The DMK did enact some legislation with regard to minor inams, temple lands, and plantations and orchards, but these were more in the nature of completing the reforms picture. Land was very much in the hands of the peasant and the landowner.

The communist movement, especially in Thanjavur district in Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, had been put down by stern police action during the period in which Rajaji was Chief Minister. In 1967, the organisation occupied only pockets in the districts where rights of tenants were affected.

Therefore, policies on agrarian matters, on land reforms, peasant rights and land tenure were somewhat muted. In 1969, after he had just become Chief Minister, Karunanidhi toured Pudukkottai area, then a part of Tiruchirapalli district. Tiruchirapalli was a traditional stronghold of the DMK, and the Tiruchirapalli as well as the Thanjavur party secretaries were among the most powerful in the party—even Ministers used to defer to them. Pudukkottai at that time was a hotbed of communist activities under Umanath. The peasantry was being organised to fight for their landholding rights against the landlords and inamdars—the Minor Inams Abolition Act had just been enacted. I was Sub-Collector in Pudukkottai, and there were law and order problems every day between landlords and tenants. Karunanidhi spent a whole day in that area, and addressed 19 meetings. His speeches were a treat to listen to, and I listened to all of them that day. He attacked the communists. His argument was that the DMK knew all about agrarian distress, the problems of the poor, and did not need advice on how to deal with agrarian issues. He recalled the agitation that he had led for distressed handloom and beedi workers at Nangavaram in Kulithalai, which was his first constituency. The appalling condition of men, women and children in this village was the theme of Karunanidhi’s maiden speech in the Assembly. The speech assailed the class bias of the judiciary and the failure of the state machinery to provide safeguards for the poor and marginalised sections of the society. That day, he asked the communists, “What do you know about deprivation that I do not know?” All through the DMK regime, there was a duality between association with the Left parties for electoral alliances, and a distancing from their land and labour based organisational issues.

The DMK exempted farmers owning five to 12 acres of land from agricultural income taxes. All dry land was exempted from land taxes, benefiting over 4.5 million farmers. In 1971 and 1972, the Tamil Nadu Land Reforms Act was amended, reducing the ceiling of land ownership per individual from 30 standard acres to 15. There were other changes which, rather than attempting a wide-ranging policy change in land tenure and concentration of landholding, appeared to be focussed on large landlords in Thanjavur district. Lands belonging to Thiagaraja Mudaliar in Vadapathimangalam near Thanjavur were taken over by the State for sugar cane plantation. The usage of some of the lands belonging to G.K. Moopanar and other large landowning families was restricted to plantations and orchards.

In his seminal thesis, Vivek Srinivasan argues that widespread and decentralised collective action for public services play a critical role in the delivery and working of public services. At the time, the DMK came to power, and in the years of the Karunanidhi government (1969-76), evidence of collective action determining government policy or even service delivery is not easy to find. It is possible to argue that the Social Reform Movement and Dravidian movement constituted collective action against established class and caste interests, and therefore the party’s democratic victory and rule enshrined all public aspirations in the government. It is only later, in the MGR years and subsequently, that we see demand for public services increasing, and collective action becoming noticeable. It was a function as much of the services being provided, such as midday meals and the public distribution system, as of increasing literacy and consciousness among the people.

An important change occurred in village administration. The British system of revenue collection from agriculture was based on the ryotwari settlement, with each parcel of land being ‘settled’ to determine the rent to be paid to the crown. The Madras Hereditary Village Officers Act of 1895 governed posts in the village, and regulated the succession to certain hereditary posts. The management of village accounts was in the hands of the karnam (the village accountant) and the collection of revenues the responsibility of the village headman. They were paid a token sum for their services. This team was also responsible for allocating irrigation water from the channels and ponds by a system determined by the district administration. The headman was appointed from the landed class, and it was considered a post of privilege. There were a large number of Brahmins in these posts, especially in the fertile districts of Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli and Tirunelveli. Village accountants, though not necessarily landed, were educated people from the other castes. Dalits were employed as village watchmen or water management menials who managed the village irrigation systems. These posts were considered hereditary posts, and as sub-collectors, one of our important responsibilities was the appointment of these personnel to vacant posts. The stratification of eligibility reflected the caste structures of the village. These were posts of prestige, sharply competed for by eligible aspirants, or, appeals against the sub-collector’s orders would be to the Board of Revenue, a hallowed institution of very senior, experienced civil servants, or, in some cases, to the High Court. As a sub-collector, one of the great thrills was to have one’s orders of selection of village officers upheld by the Board of Revenue and the High Court.

It was important for the DMK government to change this system, bring about social justice in villages, and end the domination of the higher castes. In 1973, an Administrative Reforms Commission set up by the State recommended, among other things, that the existing part-time village officers be replaced by regular, full-time transferable public servants who should form part of the Revenue hierarchy. K. Diraviyam, the Revenue Secretary at this time, was an outstanding civil servant with a deep-rooted belief in the need to provide equal opportunities for all sections of Tamil society. He believed that it was the role of the government to change existing colonial structures to provide for such reforms. He was a man of detail and excellent at implementation, and his role in the conceptualisation and implementation of the midday meals programme is discussed in detail in Chapter 4. The State government accepted this recommendation and promulgated the Tamil Nadu Village Officers Service Rules, 1974 on 17 May 1975. This abolished the system of hereditary village karnam and headman. Village officers were appointed, recruited eventually through the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission. A village office was opened in each village, where the village accounts would be kept and revenue collected. Eventually, in 1981, when MGR was Chief Minister, this was enshrined in the Tamil Nadu Abolition of Part-time Village Officers Act, 1981. The social hierarchy of villages underwent a significant change as a result of these measures. V.V. Swaminathan was Minister in the MGR Cabinet in 1980 and 1984, elected from Bhuvanagiri, and a staunch supporter of the need for changes in the social fabric of the State. The 1981 Act was one he strongly supported. Interestingly, the change in the structure of the village officers started during the DMK regime, and was completed during the AIADMK regime, indicating that there was uniformity of ideology on the need for this reform.

The consequences were threefold. First, the villagers, especially tenant farmers, no longer had to depend on the karnam for recording tenancies and collecting revenues from them. To a great extent, the stranglehold of larger farmers over tenants was loosened. Second, the newly appointed village officers came from all classes, and there was an opportunity for even members of the most backward classes to hold these positions of power and prestige in the village. Birth and death certificates, pattas (certificates of landholding), community certificates (for school admissions and concessions), address proof for accessing the PDS, and several other essential certificates were now being issued by the village officers, and the change in the system of appointment had a significant impact on the social dynamics of the village and the eligibility of public services to all classes. Third, the newly appointed personnel were more objective and unbiased, thus providing access to services for all communities. In some measure, this led to changes in landholding patterns in villages. Several larger landlords sought to move away from agriculture, as they could no longer command the services of their tenants or agricultural labourers at will. Many Brahmin landlords sold their lands and moved to cities, as their children moved to urban employment.

Villagers were also dependent on an intricate system of cooperative societies for their credit needs as well as for inputs like seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides. These societies also provided the facility of storing harvested grain in village-level warehouses and advancing credit to farmers against produce. The DMK regime changed this system. The cooperatives were systematically dismantled, and the Minister for Cooperation, Si Pa Adithanar, exercised considerable ingenuity in achieving this. The existing village level cooperative societies were the base for district- and State-level cooperative societies. Access to credit was from the Tamil Nadu Cooperative Central Bank, which was recognised and regulated jointly by the Reserve Bank of India and the Registrar of Cooperative Societies, the latter being an officer of the State government. The pyramidal structure had elected functionaries at every level, and in 1967 was occupied predominantly by Congressmen and, in some instances, those owing allegiance to the Communist Party. Adithanar realised that administrative control was vested with the state. Skilfully, he created a large number of new cooperative societies, called lift irrigation societies, multipurpose societies, and the like and held elections for these, with DMK candidates emerging victorious. The Tamil Nadu Cooperatives Act was amended in 1970 so that these new societies could become members of district and State cooperative federations and banks. Within a couple of years, DMK politicians had secured a majority in all cooperative institutions, agricultural cooperative sugar mills, cooperative spinning mills, and cooperative banks. The administrative structure was overhauled, with new recruits appointed to posts of clerks, accountants, sub-registrars, and deputy registrars of cooperative societies. There was an emphasis on the recruitment of members of the backward classes in these societies. By 1971, the structure of the cooperatives had changed significantly. As a next step, there was an attempt to avoid fresh elections to the cooperatives. Elected positions, from the smallest members to the highest State-level president, would have meant elections to nearly fifty thousand positions in the State. Later, the Tamil Nadu Cooperatives Act was again amended to provide for the suspension of elected bodies and the appointment of special officers or government functionaries to these positions.

The result of these changes was that the farmer now depended on the new structures, which were administratively managed rather than through local representatives, for all his credit and input needs. Changes in village administration as well as the cooperative structure thus changed the dependence pattern of the villagers from local, village-level functionaries to government-appointed ones.

These changes in recruitment at the village level and State level to government offices, educational institutions, welfare and concession programmes for the underprivileged, and political interventions at the district and village level all resulted in significant changes in the content and delivery of public services in the period 1969 to 1976. At the village level, however, Dalits and members of the most backward classes still had to struggle for basic public services.

The ideology and the thrust for social reform and justice brought about another major institutional change. Prior to 1967, transport (bus) services in the State were substantially in the hands of private operators. In Madurai, the TVS group ran city and suburban services—a distinguished upper caste family with a hand in different areas of business and manufacturing. In Salem and the surrounding areas, it was in the hands of the traditionally wealthy, and the landlords. Between 1967 and 1971, all bus services in private hands were nationalised, and several regional State-owned transport corporations were set up to run them. There was little compensation to the erstwhile owners, as the operating permits were just allowed to expire and not renewed. Interestingly, the people put in charge of the transition and the running of the new corporations were among the best in the Tamil Nadu civil service at that time. Thus, the civil service readily acquiesced and participated in a measure that was essentially taking away assets from one identified class, and nationalising those assets, again an indication that the administration saw itself in tune with the political ideologies of that time.

The Karunanidhi era was successful in creating a symbiotic relationship between politics, development, and administration, which laid the foundation for many more such programmes in later years. The later MGR movies, Adimai Penn (Slave Girl, 1969), Engal Thangam (Our Thangam, 1970), Rickshawkaran (Rickshaw puller, 1971), and Mattukara Velan (Cowherd Velan, 1970) reflected the times. The DMK was already in power, and these films promised that the poor would be taken care of by the state. They presented a leadership that would wipe the tears from the eyes of the poor, grant relief against injustice, ensure employment and livelihoods, and, in short, improve the lot of the people. It is not surprising that MGR, and the DMK which he was a part of at that time, was identified with the ability to craft and deliver social welfare measures aimed at the common man.

It is possible to argue that the policies in the initial years (1967 to 1976) were more in tune with the earlier demands of the Justice Party and the SRM—to provide for greater employment and access opportunities to backward classes and castes in government employment, activities, and development initiatives. There was an effort to change the education curriculum, to emphasise the importance of Tamil, and an attempt to offer grants, doles, and scholarships to open up opportunities for the backward classes.

However, these paternalistic policies were abandoned after 1971. Reduction in rice subsidies and repeal of dry laws (1971) were some measures that were not popular. The identification of the DMK with the emergent backward classes became stronger, further alienating the upper as well as the lower strata. The DMK in power between 1971 and 1976 was a more assured, stronger party. Karunanidhi himself belongs to a backward class, but there were others in the Cabinet who were from the landowning, trader, and educated classes. This was true for some of the district secretaries as well. Tiruchirapalli, Thanjavur, and Madurai were headed by such people. During these years, it became evident that the extension of the backward classes’ quotas to more affluent castes prevented poorer individuals from accessing these facilities, even though there had been an overall increase in the quota. These translated into village-level jobs as teachers, police personnel, junior assistants in block offices, and the like, which immediately enhanced the prestige of the family and the community in the village, enabling them to organise and access public services. The DMK, in power, consisted of several people belonging to the upper classes among the non-Brahmins. This could possibly be a reason for the feeling that the regime was neglecting the poorer and most backward classes in its policies in later years. As benefits accrued to the higher categories among the backward classes, they exacerbated the difference between the different strata in the villages, leading eventually for the demands, in the MGR era, for greater segmentation in reservation, for the most backward classes (MBCs) and for Dalits. In particular, the Dalits felt that they had not been integrated into the social changes that occurred. The outpouring of Dalit literature in Tamil, especially in the last two decades, is testimony to the distance yet to be travelled in achieving social balance in the village. This was true of other backward communities as well.

Vivek Srinivasan highlights the role of Vanniyars of South Arcot and Chengalpattu districts for their ability to organise movements for social mobility, by following the practices of higher caste people. The Vanniyars acquired further prominence in the 1980s through the formation of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). They were able to play a role in State and national politics even though their strength was limited to a few districts. Their influence appears to have waned now. Of late, caste associations, including the Kongu Vellalar groups and the Mukkulathor groups, have gained prominence, and are more visible in politics and in administration. Caste associations have therefore played an important role in mobilising communities and representing their causes with the State, a finding that Vivek Srinivasan underlines.

The arguments against caste, gender and social discrimination were taken up by contemporary literary figures as well. The poet Subramania Bharathiar and the saint-poet Ramalinga Adigalar are two examples. Both of them wrote extensively on these issues and on the restrictions faced by sections of the people of this region.

At the same time, village-level studies of Vivek Srinivasan’s thesis indicate that there was a dominant landholder in that village, who was a Reddiar, that the villagers had to press their claims for decades before the Dalits got access to roads, education, water, or some semblance of equal treatment. His chronology of action indicates that the development of education and job opportunities had much to do with Dalits successfully accessing public services.

The work of John Harriss, Jean Dreze, and other scholars who have followed the “Slater villages” seem to indicate that it took until the 1970s and the 1980s before the effects of development opportunities started reaching the Vanniyars and the Dalits in Tamil Nadu. There is even an argument that the Vanniyars’ plea for Most Backward Class status was based on their exclusion from opportunities in the government in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The DMK’s stance towards the Central government, especially towards the Indira Gandhi government, hardened after 1973. There could have been two reasons for this. First, the presence of several erstwhile Tamil Nadu Congress leaders like C. Subramaniam and R. Venkataraman in Delhi in important and powerful positions would have contributed to the DMK’s negative image in Delhi political circles. Second, the politics of the State continued to be strongly opposed to the earlier Congress ideology. Congress leaders in the State, like G.K. Moopanar, were still powerful and commanded a following, and were the ears of Indira Gandhi in the State. The Legislative Assembly also contained a strong Congress opposition, and several stalwarts like P.G. Karuthiruman, S. Bhuvarahan, and K. Ramamoorthy. At the political level, especially after the massive national mandate for the Indira Gandhi government at the Centre, maintaining political space in Tamil Nadu required opposition to Congress ideology and actions. An added issue was that the Indira Gandhi government had incorporated several Leftist leaders as advisers, and one of them, Mohan Kumaramangalam from Madras, was to bring in far-reaching changes. This ascendancy of communist ideology did not suit the DMK in Madras. Tamil Nadu was an industrialised State, and it was important for the DMK to find space in the labour union movement in the State that was dominated by the communists and the Congress. It was natural that the DMK found itself at loggerheads with the Centre on several occasions.

The problem was that this coincided with a period during which Indira Gandhi was very powerful at the Centre, and adopted policies that were Leftist in nature. India entered into a bilateral Defence protection pact with the Soviet Union. In 1971, India went to war with Pakistan and helped create Bangladesh. Banks were nationalised, as were oil companies belonging to multinationals. Privileges accorded to Indian princes were abolished.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK had a massive majority in the Assembly. The DMK was perceived to be more arrogant and authoritative in governance. There were also murmurs that the benefits of the social justice initiatives were unequal and benefited the upper classes among the backward communities. Others demanded allocation of criteria for the “most backward” communities. These changes in the DMK’s attitude led to a decline in the popularity of the DMK. There were complaints about the growth and increasing openness of corruption and nepotism among party functionaries, Ministers, and members of local bodies. Party activists became more demanding at the district and local levels, including demanding the extrication of people accused of crimes from police stations. At the district level, several district secretaries, like the ones in Madurai, were very powerful and could intervene in administrative decisions like contracts and postings. There were larger issues at the State level, including the Veeranam scheme of bringing water to Chennai through pipes using untested technology.

In the political arena, there were changes in Delhi as well, with Indira Gandhi seeking to confirm her hold over the Congress. In the 1971 elections, Indira Gandhi sought Karunanidhi’s help which resulted in a massive mandate for the Congress in Parliament and a large majority for the DMK in Tamil Nadu. This had a fallout. Indira Gandhi did not need the DMK anymore, while the Karunanidhi regime in 1971-76 became more assertive. Karunanidhi strongly opposed the Emergency of 1975, and paid the price of dismissal of the government in 1976, and the institution of an enquiry commission on corruption in the regime. The Sarkaria Commission did find improprieties in the award of the contract for the Veeranam pipelines, but the issue could not be pursued for want of corroboratory evidence.

After 1972, Karunanidhi was also fighting for political space against the ascendancy of the AIADMK, MGR’s newly formed party. The later years of the DMK regime saw gradual defection of women and youth to the AIADMK from the ranks of the DMK.

In conclusion, the period 1967 to 1977 saw the articulation in policy of several of the social justice ideals that the Dravidian movement had aspired to. In integrating these policies with social welfare schemes and with structural changes in administration and governance, the entire government machinery was incorporated into actively participating in delivering this agenda. This identity of interests further developed into a system of effectively managing and delivering other social welfare programmes in the later regimes. In the initial years, this resulted in rapid development of the State, but this identity in later years became a hurdle to growth. This will be dealt with in later years.

Dr. S. Narayan was Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister (2003-04) and before that Finance and Economic Affairs Secretary. He has four decades of experience in public service with State and Central governments.

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