‘The DMK was born out of a blazing fire and not out of a breeze’ Annadurai would remark a couple of decades later. But historians point out there were more sentiment and survival instinct that forged the party.
But events were rushed and there was one crucial month in which it was born and thus changed contemporary Tamil history. It was 1949 and all was not well with the Dravidar Kazhagam. The administrative committee of the DK met in Tiruchy in July 1949. For a decade it had concentrated on anti-Brahminism, anti-Hindi, women’s emancipation and a host of issues. However that day, the focal resolution passed was conspicuous. The members requested their aged leader EVR not to marry a girl — a third his age. But in that age of slow communication, little did they know the marriage had gone through the day before. News of the wedding reached those in the meeting by a telegram and rage flared up.
For some time, the top two had been bickering. It was true EV Ramasamy Naicker was a father figure to Anna. EVR had discovered Anna in 1935 at a conference in Tirupur. So enamoured of Periyar was Anna, that his grandmother in Kancheepuram used to lament: “the Erode child snatcher had taken my ward”.
They both took over the scrawny Justice Party. In 1944 it was Anna who moved the proposal to rename it as Dravidar Kazhagam (the Annadurai resolution.) But Anna and Periyar ran two separate magazines, the Kudiyarasu and the Dravida Nadu which often expressed diverging views showing the polarisation within the leadership.
In retrospect, they differed on even small things. Periyar wanted all his party men to wear a uniform black shirt. Anna felt they would be more accepted in public if they wore a white shirt and dhoti. Atheist EVR was ever suspicious of Anna’s mellowing of his anti-Hinduism stance. “I don’t break coconuts but neither do I break Ganesh statues,” Anna had remarked famously once. Periyar wanted Aug 15, 1947, observed as a day of mourning as he felt the rule was shifting from the British to the Brahmins. Anna would not do so — a sign his leader inferred as the softening of his separate Dravida Nadu ideals.
Somehow the grand old man of Tamil Nadu politics detested the biggest element of the political sphere — elections, which he thought would only lead to compromises. Periyar always felt Anna would prefer the path of electoral politics and that would water down Dravidian principles.
When Anna boycotted the DK conference in Tuticorin, his foes in the party gloated at the distancing between the leader and his lieutenant. Leader after leader took to stage to curse him. When someone from the audience sent a note to EVR on stage regarding Anna’s absence, he retorted: “Next you will ask me why MS Subbulakshmi isn’t here?”
But surprisingly, in a turn of events at the Erode conference of 1948, EVR proclaimed Anna as his successor at the helm of Dravidar Kazhagam. But then suddenly he seemed to have doubts about his own choice. It was then that Periyar decided Maniyammai would inherit his mantle as well.
Annadurai felt that Periyar’s decision to marry Maniyammai would bring disgrace to the organisation and though he cautioned patience many left the organisation and Anna would list them in his newspaper calling them “teardrops”.
Anna would rush to the arms of his hometown Kancheepuram for a self-imposed silent exile. Without Anna, there was almost silence at the higher levels of the party. It was EVK Sampath, Periyar’s nephew, who rushed to Kancheepuram and persuaded a reluctant Anna to act.
Some radicals were afraid of starting from scratch again.
Instead, they wanted to capture the DK which was not impossible at that stage. It took a month of deliberation by which time most thought that Anna had lost steam. They need not have worried. Anna walked away with over three of four DK cadres.
Senior leaders met in Coral Merchant Street in George Town. But the big event was in the evening — the meeting at Robinson Park in Royapuram.
The party was launched on Periyar’s birthday and Anna assured those gathered that the new party would follow the ideals of Periyar and mentioned that the president’s post would be ever vacant waiting for Periyar to come.
But it was not to be. Periyar would consistently oppose them in all elections with statements favouring their opponents. But when DMK captured power, Anna would visit EVR for his blessings first. It would also be the DMK that kept Periyar’s memory alive by installing statues for him ahead of most major Hindu temples. Periyar’s picture adorns most of the party’s posters even now.
— The author is a historian
REFERENCES: Anna by R Kannan, Penguin Books