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Tamil Nadu : 50 Years of Dravidian Rule

March 2017 marked the completion of 50 years of the Dravidian rule in Tamil Nadu. This vibrant youth power began with promise. It focussed on welfare and social equity. The poor and neglected sections rose in the social order. But the government neglected overall development and accentuated caste differences. On the way it also institutionalised corruption and vote bank politics.

Tamil Nadu : 50 Years of Dravidian Rule


Charismatic leaders who commanded an unquestioned loyalty dominated the Dravidian rule. Over time, this resulted in arrogant, dictatorial attitudes and unconcern for moral values.

C N Annadurai (Anna)

The icon of the Dravidian movement was a powerful orator. His original plank was an anti-Brahmin and anti-religion stance. As a Member of the Rajya Sabha, he commanded respect for his suave nature and this enhanced after his party gave up the demand for separate nationhood. As a chief minister, he was respectful of the civil service.  

M Karunanidhi (Mu Ka)

Mu Ka built his reputation through his magnetic oration and influential writings. His excellent organizational skills endeared him to the masses.  His humorous repartees in the legislature were legendary.  For decades, he was the lone star campaigner for his party, and for six decades he won all the elections he contested.  

Unfortunately, concentrating wealth in his family and contributing to institutionalizing corruption weighed down this outstanding leader.  His lack of English and Hindi speaking skills denied him a national role. 

M G Ramachandran (MGR)

The colorful matinee idol cultivated the image of a do-gooder and became immensely popular.  In 1972, Karunanidhi expelled him from the party.  In less than five years MGR captured power. His lasting legacy,  the mid-day meals scheme, marked the beginning of the ‘freebie’ culture. The rapport he built with the Gandhis endeared him to the Centre, and they reciprocated his cordial relationship with a Bharat Ratna.

MGR took the initiative to bring Krishna water to Chennai through the Telugu Ganga project.  He opened higher education to private players.  The political class and liquor barons seized the opportunity with alacrity.

J Jayalalithaa (Amma)

Yet another product of the film world, Jayalalithaa nourished autocratic instincts. Articulate in both English and Tamil, she was quick to grasp the nuances of administration. Her indefatigable election campaign spirit made her win, single-handed, several elections. It also bred in her megalomaniac traits. Her party copied her unrestrained efforts to amass wealth.  Doling out of freebies reached its peak during her regime. The freebies distributed range from free rice, household appliances, gold, and cattle even basic commodities such as salt, tea, and water.

Unbridled personality cults impeded the emergence of the second line of leadership. The parties revolved around a single leader who straddled the party like a colossus, dwarfing in that process other potential leadership candidates. Such a short-sighted, self-serving leadership bequeathed a colorless polity.

In distant 1967, the state was overawed by the mesmeric power of Kollywood as the fledgling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (aka DMK) upstaged the Indian National Congress to capture Fort Saint George. And there has been no turning back.


Regionalism to the fore

The DMK built its strengths on a high plank of regionalism. Its prominent leaders C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, V R Nedunchezhiyan, and K Anbazhagan were outstanding orators who could hold the audience enthralled with their literary flourish. They effectively made use of the film medium to reach the masses and combined it with organisational skills to set up party outfits across the state of Tamil Nadu. 

The acute shortage of rice and the provocative attempt of the Shastri government to impose Hindi, helped nurse an anti-Centre and hence anti-Congress sentiment. And then the genius of the former governor general of India, Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari (aka Rajaji), came to the fore.  Rajaji and Annadurai brought together all parties opposed to the Congress – DMK, Swatantra Party, Communists, Muslim League, etc. – and ensured that the anti-Congress votes were not split.  That was the beginning of the ‘Mahaghatbandhan.’

Thus long before psephologist Prannoy Roy worked out the index of opposition unity in winning elections, Rajaji had masterminded it.  Despite the excellent record of the Congress government through the previous two decades, the party lost the state elections.  Stalwarts like K Kamaraj and  M Bhaktavatsalam fell by the wayside.


Anti-Congress stance

The DMK was pressing for a separate country and had a strong anti-Centre stance. Anna dropped this demand during his tenure as a Member of Parliament, but the strong anti-Centre sentiment continued with the party. It strengthened under film script writer Muthuvel Karunanidhi who took the audience by storm with his poignant stories in movies. 

In 1971, in an ingenious plan, Mu Ka denied the Congress under Indira Gandhi any seat for contesting the assembly elections and allotted just ten to contest the Lok Sabha elections. Desperate to get Mohan Kumaramangalam and 

C Subramaniam elected, Indira Gandhi ate the humble pie.  Soon, she hit back and dismissed the DMK government during the emergency in 1976.

Karunanidhi had to make peace with her to wriggle out of the Sarkaria Commission’s indictment and conceded a significant number of seats for the Congress to contest the 1980 Lok Sabha elections. M G Ramachandran won back the alliance with the Congress conceding even more to contest the assembly elections that followed!  

After MGR, the AIADMK did not exert to build a strong relationship with the Centre. Jayalalithaa was especially angry with the DMK forming part of the Central government for 15 years (1999-2014). She developed an instinctive anti-Centre phobia. Remember, her endless tirade against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh? She even boycotted Dr Singh on his visits to Tamil Nadu so much so that the genial Sardar chose to frequent other southern states and was not keen to visit Tamil Nadu. 

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