Opinion: ‘Aayirathil Oruvan, MGR was truly a Man of the Millennium’

In 2017 to mark the birth centenary of People’s Chief Minister MG Ramachandran, Government announced yearlong celebrations throughout the State. Functions were held in all the districts, which were attended by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy, the cabinet members, local people’s representatives and dignitaries.
Opinion: ‘Aayirathil Oruvan, MGR was truly a Man of the Millennium’
The historic meet between actor-turned-politician MGR and LTTE founder Velupillai Prabhakaran


Since it was a Government function various welfare schemes were announced for the benefit of the respective 31 districts where celebrations were concluded already.
Fitting finale for the year-long celebration will be in Chennai on September 30. This month is also appropriate as the birth anniversary of leader of Dravidian politics Arignar Anna which was just concluded on September 15, with public meetings held all over the state recalling the ideals and principles of Anna.
When Anna became the Chief Minister in 1967 tremendous enthusiasm was generated as every Tamilian identified himself with the leadership and truly felt the meaning of the oft repeated statement that every citizen is a king in a democracy. 
Anna all along knew the art of mesmerising the public with clever play of words and use of cinematic glamour to further the reach to the common man. MGR had by then reached pinnacle of his glory and as Anna himself said, “MGR is a precious jewel and priceless gift to the Dravidian movement”.
The rising popularity of DMK leading to victory at the polls was due in no small measure to the signal contribution of MGR through his movies, songs and the image he so assiduously built over several years. 
It was not as if MGR became overnight hero. His road to stardom was a struggle. He had to pass through severe trials and tribulations. May be that was the reason why he had poor people’s welfare as the uppermost concern in his heart. His monetary help to the poor and needy is legendary. It is inhuman to be indifferent to the suffering of fellow humans and MGR was an epitome of philanthropy. 
Tamil Nadu faced severe cyclone in mid-sixties and annual monsoon rains thereafter played havoc on homeless poor particularly in cities. MGR was always there on such crisis liberally helping the poor, giving them shelter and distributing food, clothes and raincoats to rickshaw pullers. Seeing the plight of rickshaw pullers in the city he offered help to purchase cycle rickshaw and also took the role as a rickshaw puller in his movie Rickshaw Karan which became a super hit.
Cycle rickshaw became a symbol of emancipation for the poor, a reform brought solely by MGR even as a film star.  A state like West Bengal ruled by Communists for several years could not improve the lot of rickshaw pullers and the inhuman practice of men physically pulling passengers in a rickshaw continues even to this day.
Unfortunately, due to failing health Anna’s tenure in office came to abrupt end in 1969 and the leadership that followed deviated from the path laid by Arignar Anna. The temperance policy and prohibition of liquor so meticulously implemented since 1937 was buried in spite of fervent plea by nonagenarian leader Rajaji to give up the move.
Liquor sales opened up. taking the society to a vicious cycle of intemperance. There was free sale of arrack and toddy and cities were dotted with arrack shops with dance by ‘nach girls’ in the evening. Rowdyism was rampant and corruption reached abysmal depth.
It was at this time MGR openly revolted against the leadership demanding transparency in financial dealings. He was expelled from DMK and he formed the Anna DMK strictly adhering to the principles of his mentor Anna and rest is history. As soon as MGR assumed charge as Chief Minister in 1977, the first file he signed was imposition of prohibition and abolition of liquor.
After Kamaraj it was MGR who gave fillip to school education through his innovative scheme of noon meals in all the Government Schools. Having suffered a troubled childhood when only hunger and poverty were his companions, MGR knew very well the pang of hunger and this single scheme endeared him to the masses particularly poor women.
MGR initiated three other reforms which had huge impact. He liberalised higher technical and medical education allowing private players to invest in building infrastructure for pursuing courses in engineering and medicine. No one would have imagined at that time how this historic step would act as a great boon to Tamil Nadu when in 1990s India opened up to welcome LPG phenomenon of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation. Tamil Nadu became centre of higher learning and thanks to this one reform, our Gross Enrolment Ratio now in higher education is 47% ahead of China, Europe and way ahead of national average of 24%.
He appointed men of sterling qualities like Vijayaraghavan, Murari, Diraviam, Lakshminarayan, Paramguru, Chentamarai, Mohandas in key positions to strengthen the steel frame of administration. 
MGR’s early role in the movie Sati Leelavati was that of a policeman. He later essayed many roles as honest police officer and the memorable movie was ‘Secret agent 115’ (Rahasiya Police 115). As CM he totally insulated police from political interference which was the bane of policing during DMK rule. He gave free hand to police to maintain law and order and laid the foundation for modernising the police force.
MGR played significant role during the events which occurred in Tamil Nadu in the post-1983 period, when the Eelam rebel groups (LTTE, TELO, EPRLF and PLOTE) were fighting for Tamil rights following ethnic riots in Srilanka, thereby effectively influencing the outcome of the Eelam liberation movement. The mercurial police officer Mohandas the then Intelligence Chief in his book ‘MGR the Man and Myth’ has said about the way MGR handled the Tamil militant groups and his special liking for LTTE. 
“Since I (Mohandas) had been keeping MGR informed about the activities of these militant groups and the training given to them, he expressed at one stage, that he would like to get in touch with all the leaders of various groups – particularly those of LTTE. It was not much of a problem to get them to meet MGR, the meeting took place in MGR’s chambers at his residence. The discussion was general in nature. The militants (each group was represented by three or four individuals) talked about the atrocities perpetrated by the Sri Lankan army and police on innocent Tamils in North and North-East Sri Lanka. MGR listened patiently, but it was apparent that an instant rapport was established between MGR and Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo. MGR, with his uncanny insight could easily make out the difference between the LTTE and the rest of the groups. It was a widely known fact that as a consequence, MGR used to extend financial assistance at various stages in later years, both from his personal funds and sometimes from government funds.”
MGR considered LTTE as, “highly idealistic and well-organised under its charismatic leader Velupillai Prabhakaran”.  On the other militant group TELO which had tacit support of DMK, Mohandas observes, “The first mistake made by the Central Agencies was the choice of TELO as their hand-maiden, because it mostly consisted of ex-convicts and murderers. It had no serious ideological basis.” 
 When high level talks between Tamil groups and Srilankan Government was scheduled to be held at Bangalore on the initiative of Indian Government, there were heightened security concern. MGR in a pre-dawn swoop ensured surrender of weapons by the militant groups in an operation ‘Farewell to Arms’ so effectively achieved by Intelligence Chief Mohandas and his deputy Alexander. May be if MGR had lived little longer he would have turned the course of history in Srilanka.
MGR was influenced by left ideology. When Communist leaders wanted statue for Jeeva, he immediately agreed and thanked Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram as his left politics based songs gave fame to MGR. In fact he famously said, “ I do not know about the three of the legs of my Chief Minister’s chair but the fourth definitely belongs to Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, the poet.”
He was a patron of arts and had deep knowledge of music particularly Carnatic music. When Kuchipudi Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam approached MGR for land to start dance school, he gave land and also paid what was due to the Government from his personal funds when Vembatti said he cannot afford to pay the due amount to Govenment. Instances like these are many.  He liberally rewarded the policemen on security duty and last grade government servants. 
When elections were held in 1984, DMK had calculated that it would win as MGR became ill taking treatment in US. But people gave him overwhelming support with Selvi Jayalalitha the then propaganda secretary of the party making a whirlwind election campaign. Mohandas said about the victory, “It was indeed a stupendous victory. With MGR away in a US hospital, his winning the elections hands down ‘in absentia’ was perhaps unparalleled in Indian electoral history”.
Shakespeare’s moving tribute in his play Julius Caesar would aptly fit MGR.
“ His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world, THIS WAS A MAN!”
MGR was truly a Man of the Millennium, the Aayiratil Oruvan.
—The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP

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