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Where is Rajaji?

In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made evocative references to some unsung heroes of the freedom struggle. He directed his cabinet colleagues to undertake a Tiranga Yatra to different parts of India, to visit the places of birth and martyrdom of hundreds of lesser known freedom fighters. He also advised them to publicise the performance highlights of his government that completed two years in May.

There is a strong reason behind this direction: the Nehru dynasty and its coterie were over-zealous in perpetuating the memory of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi by naming prominent places like towns, roads, airports et al after them. For Tamil Nadu, this is nothing new. Over the last 50 years, Dravidian parties have been following a similar practice of naming streets and buildings after leaders of the Dravidian movement.

Smarting under the side-lining of leaders other than the Nehru clan, the BJP has been keen to utilise its hold of power by projecting stalwarts of the RSS,  Jan Sangh and other Hindutva outfits like Veer Savarkar, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Madan Mohan Malviya...

 One witnesses a similar pride in Bengalis over their sons, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose...

 Sadly, Tamil Nadu provides a stark contrast: caste divisions and politics have riven the politically hyper-sensitive state for nearly a century. Thus, Tamil Nadu has failed to respect its heroes. Maha Kavi Subramanya Bharathi dreamt of a free India six decades ahead of its independence. He took to writing strong editorials against the British. He roused the public conscience through his fiery, patriotic poems on independence and also dreamt of a free India focusing on education and  industry to produce weaponry, paper... And how spiritedly Bharathi talked about the liberation of the schedule castes and women from centuries of oppression and dreamt of a caste-free India!

 Dravidian leaders wouldn’t recognise the genius of Bharathi and Tamils as a group failed to win for him his rightful place at the nation’s reckoning.

 M P Sivagnanam (Ma Po Si), an ardent freedom fighter, once narrated the following:

 “In the 1950s the Central government, under the lead of Dr S Radhakrishnan, requested different states to provide details on the contribution of leaders of their respective states to the freedom movement. The Centre offered to publish this. Other states complied with the request. In Tamil Nadu also a draft was prepared and submitted. Sadly, the leaders found that too many of the freedom fighters were Brahmins. Familiar with the virulent anti-Brahmin tirade, the leader chose not to send the draft to Delhi. Regrettably, Tamil Nadu failed to project its contribution to the freedom struggle.”

 Time and again, one has witnessed the result of such neglect. The I&B Ministry produced a documentary on the Tiranga Yatra. It shows the NDA ministers visiting the birthplaces of Bharathi, V O Chidambaram, Kattabomman and Muthuramalinga Thevar. There were liberal references to Sardar Patel, Morarji Desai and dozens other lesser known leaders. These are welcome, but why this glaring omission of the great sacrifices and productive contributions of Rajaji, Sathiamurthy, Kamaraj, R Venkataraman and C Subramaniam?

The side-lining of Rajaji, whom Gandhiji described as his conscience keeper, his sacrifice of a lucrative practice, his contribution to the smooth transfer of power by being the first Indian Governor General and later accepting the Chief Ministership of the state, and his intellectual prowess were so facilely forgotten!


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