India's National Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 15 :: No. 20 :: Sep. 26 - Oct. 09, 1998
Celebrating a half century
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam launches its golden jubilee celebrations on a triumphant note and with much fanfare but with little real introspection.
ON September 17, 1998, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) turned 50. And Tamil Nadu's ruling party demonstrated what a vibrant force it still is as it marked the start of its golden jubilee celebrations in Tirunelveli, on September 17 and 18 with a 15-hour-long procession. Lakhs of cadres, including a large number of women, took part in it, and the turnout at the conference venue the next day showed that the party's strength was intact and that it would play an important role in Tamil Nadu politics for years to come.
However, the conference deliberations were less than insightful. There was no review of its genesis as a movement for social justice, its conversion into a political party, its achievements as well as failures. The conference did not set any agenda for the future even though party president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Member of Parliament and former Union Minister Murasoli Maran mentioned the political task on hand - the formation of a third front as an alternative to the fronts led by the Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Maran declared: "The DMK will not accept the Hindu, Hindutva and Hindi" politics of the BJP. He said: "There should be a third front. Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) is working on that."
Karunanidhi was cautious in his concluding speech. He said that Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet told him in Chennai recently that the third front would be formed. Karunanidhi added: "But nothing has been decided on the third front now. We will meet again. Right now, we are a separate front, Anna's (C.N. Annadurai, DMK founder and former Chief Minister) front and your front."
On the DMK's relationship with the BJP, he said: "Our stand is that we will not clash with the Centre. Our problem areas are Hindi and greater rights for the States. We can argue and fight for these, but we need not clash with the government at the Centre. The party is different from the Government."
The CPI(M), he said, had announced that it would support the Congress(I) from outside if it formed a Government. This decision was not taken after consulting the DMK. "But we are not enemies of the Communist Party of India (CPI) or the CPI(M). We have said that in the coming elections we will contest in coordination with the CPI(M)."
The conference did not discuss the defeat of the DMK and its allies in the Lok Sabha elections in February this year. State Law Minister Aladi Aruna made a passing reference to it. Maran referred to the defeat briefly. He said: "Although the bomb blasts (in Coimbatore) and hitches in the formation of an alliance were two reasons, an important reason was our indifference. Our cadre strength has gone down."
A few leaders referred to the issues that form the ideological bedrock of the DMK, such as State autonomy and federalism, removal of Article 356 from the Constitution, opposition to Hindi imposition, and eradication of the caste system. There was not much discussion on social justice, which is one of the cardinal tenets of the Dravidian movement.
A few speakers, including legislator and Karunanidhi's son M.K. Stalin, briefly recalled the formation of the DMK on September 17, 1949 and the first public meeting addressed that evening by C.N. Annadurai in pouring rain at Robinson Park at Royapuram in North Chennai. Karunanidhi and Education Minister K. Anbazhagan threw their weight behind Annadurai.
There was no mention of the South Indian People's Association (SIPA) and its political wing, the South Indian Liberal Federation (popularly known as the Justice Party), and their struggle to secure social justice for non-Brahmins. In 1940, 'Periyar' E.V. Ramaswami was elected leader of the Justice Party. A resolution changing the name of the party to "Dravidar Kazhagam" was passed at a conference in Salem in 1944.
In 1949, the Dravidar Kazhagam split and the DMK was born. P. Spratt, in his book DMK in Power (Nachiketan Publications, Mumbai, 1970), says on page 38: "...in 1949, the organisation split and the dissidents led by Mr. Annadurai formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Dravidian Progre-ssive Association, which did not share Mr. Naicker's (E.V. Ramaswami) aversion to orthodox politics. The immediate causes of the dispute were personal - Mr. Naicker's marriage to a woman forty-odd years his junior, despite his condemnation of the ancient evil of 'unequal marriages'... But policy differences had already appeared, and the two bodies have now diverged considerably." The DMK's capture of power in Tamil Nadu in the 1967 Assembly elections and Annadurai's election as Chief Minister marked the high points of the early history of the party.
Despite two splits, which led to the formation of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam by M.G. Ramachandran in 1972 and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam by Vaiko in 1993, the DMK has remained strong.
THE conference that signalled the start of the golden jubilee was arranged in just 20 days. In a resolution, the conference demanded that Article 356, which empowers the Centre to dismiss State governments, be removed from the Constitution. The Article hung like the sword of Damocles over State governments and it violated the concept of true federalism, the resolution said. Maran made a forceful plea for its removal. He said: "As long as Article 356 is in the statute book, nobody can say that we have a federal system of government. The Constitution should be amended to grant State autonomy and real federalism." He said that not only the DMK but leaders of other parties in the BJP-led alliance, such as Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, were against the use of Article 356. He ridiculed AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha's persistent demand for the dismissal of the DMK Government.
Maran recalled that when he was Union Industry Minister, he had fought single-handedly against the dismissal of the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh. Revenue Minister Nanjil K. Manoharan demanded the setting up of a second Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution because the existing Constitution had been amended scores of times.
Party general secretary and Education Minister K. Anbazhagan took up the issue of regional parties. He argued that in India nationalism had been imposed on the regional parties. People approved of the concept of nationalism today, he said, but added that linguistic States formed the basis of nationalism. Regional parties should fight for the languages and the rights of the States, he said. In 1965, the DMK, which fought against the imposition of Hindi, had made other States aware of their rights, he claimed.
Stalin made a forceful plea to fight the caste system. He said that the DMK had combated casteism for 50 years. He commended Karunanidhi for founding Samathuvapurams (egalitarian villages where dwelling units would be provided to people of various castes and religions). Stalin, also the Mayor of Chennai, exhorted youth to struggle for a casteless society.
Speaker after speaker attacked Jayalalitha for her claim that she would imprison Karunanidhi in the same cell where she was lodged in December 1996 when she was arrested in connection with the cases against her. They said that while Karunanidhi had gone to jail "27 times" to protect the Tamil language, against the imposition of Hindi and for the welfare of Tamils, Jayalalitha was sent to jail for "looting" the government.
Other resolutions demanded that the Centre declare Tamil an official language; that it review the Constitution to ensure that a truly federal system with autonomy for the States prevailed; and that the Centre amend the Constitution in order to allow State governments to fix the reservation quotas for the Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. A resolution faulted the Centre for failing to introduce the bill for 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and the State legislatures. It wanted the Centre to introduce the bill with a provision for reservation for women belonging to the Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. The DMK expressed its shock over plans to build a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood. A Ram temple could be built elsewhere in Ayodhya, the resolution said.
Other resolutions appreciated Karunanidhi for arriving at an agreement with Karnataka on the Cauvery issue and for undertaking the desilting of rivers and streams. One resolution demanded that the Centre undertake a feasibility study on the Sethusamudram project and implement it in the next Five-Year Plan.
Karunanidhi repudiated allegations that Tamil Nadu had deteriorated under the Dravidian parties' rule. He presented statistics to prove that during DMK rule electricity connections were given to more villages than under British or Congress rule and that more land was distributed among landless peasants.