Dravidian movement

Print edition : March 24, 2006

K. Veermani President, Dravidar Kazhagam, Chennai.

This is written to clear certain misconceptions in Karthigesu Sivathamby's views on the Dravidian movement ("The economic interest... that is the contradiction", February 10). He makes a strange observation that Arignar Anna (C. N. Annadurai) "really broke away from Periyar when Periyar made the fatal mistake of trying to marry the Self-Respect Movement with the Justice Party by creating a new formation (Dravidar Kazhgam) in 1944". Both Periyar and Anna shared with the Justice Party the goal of uplifting the socially underprivileged and oppressed people, the Sudras and the Panchamas. At the same time, Periyar wanted to carry on his efforts to bring about cultural renaissance and intellectual awakening with a rationalist outlook. He tried to make people give up their traditional beliefs and practices based on myths that justified the varna-jaati (caste) system and sanctified harmful customs and habits. Anna held the same views.

The Justice Party did not evince much interest in propagating this kind of rationalist propaganda. But Periyar preferred that party to the Indian National Congress to fulfil his aim of bringing about social justice. So the Self-Respect Movement supported the Justice Party. When it lost the 1937 elections to the Madras Legislative Assembly, there was a vacuum in its leadership. So the leaders elected Periyar as the party's president on December 28, 1938.

When Rajagopalachari's Ministry resigned after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the Governor of Madras Province invited twice Periyar, the leader of the Party in opposition, to form the Ministry. His friend C. Rajagopalachariar offered to support the Ministry. But Periyar refused to accept power. He was always of the view that the historical task of social transformation on egalitarian lines could be fulfilled only by those who shunned direct participation in electoral politics. So it was no wonder that he merged the Justice Party and the Self-Respect Movement and announced that it would not contest the elections. It is not correct to say that Anna did not relish Periyar's action of merging the Justice Party with the Self-Respect Movement. As a matter of fact, he was in the Justice Party before he joined Periyar. He contested for the Madras Corporation as a candidate of that party. Periyar's action of merging two organisations was actually announced through a resolution moved by Annadurai at the Salem conference in 1944.

The scholar states: "He (Periyar) had no planned political agenda. The main problem was that the Justice Party and its non-Brahmin movement dictated the economic outlook of the Dravidian Movement. Under Anna also the movement was fostering this economic line." This statement is not only absolutely contrary to the consistent concern of Periyar to improve the economic condition of the deprived sections but also contradicts what is said about Anna earlier in the interview. While in the Indian National Congress between 1919 and 1925, Periyar wholeheartedly worked for the promotion of labour-intensive village and cottage industries, and indigenous crafts under Mahatma Gandhi's Constructive Programme. After he took up the propagation of Self-Respect principles, his ideas on economic policy underwent a radical change. He advocated mechanisation and expansion of government and cooperative enterprises, he announced in the second State conference of the Self-Respect Movement at Erode in May 1930 that its goal was not only eradication of caste to attain social equality, but also to end exploitation to achieve economic equality. He never gave up his support to socialist measures. The movement under his leadership held protest meetings in 1961 condemning the Supreme Court judgment against the Land Ceiling Legislation passed by the Kamaraj government.

Even now we follow the same course of protecting the economic interests of the State and supporting socialist measures. For example, in January, we held a demonstration against the proposal to privatise the Neyveli Lignite Corporation. In the same way we agitated in the case of Hindustan Photo Films, Uthagamandalam, the Salem Steel Plant, BHEL etc.

Referring to Anna's Panaththottam, Sivathamby has stated: "So there was a call for not only social equality but also economic equality. That was the plank on which Annadurai appealed." But later he contradicts this, saying: "Under Anna also the movement was fostering this economic line [of the Justice Party]."

Again, the criticism that Periyar "had no planned political agenda" does not hold water. He supported the parties and politicians who took measures to promote social justice, social transformation, the economic interests of Tamil Nadu, socialism, gender equality and scientific spirit. He created public opinion in favour of these steps by vigorous propaganda and peaceful agitations.

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