Conjeevaram Natarajan Annadurai, a chief minister of Tamil Nadu and founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), was born on 15 September 1909 in Kanchipuram to Natarajan and Bangaru Ammal. Anna or “elder brother”, as he was affectionately called, died on 3 February 1969.
C.N. Annadurai was brought up by his sister. After completing his school education he secured a Bachelor’s degree in Arts and Master’s degree in Economics and Politics from Chennai’s Pachaiyappa College. For some time he taught English to school children before getting involved with politics and journalism. He got married at the age of 21.
In 1935 he joined the Justice Party, which was a non-Brahmin front formed by the likes of C.N. Mudaliar and P.T. Chetty. After the British introduced self-governance the party was in power from 1920 to 1937.
Annadurai worked in several dailies and weeklies including Justice magazine, Viduthalai, Kudi Arusu and Dravida Nadu. The legendary Periyar E. V. Ramasami, who was the president of the Justice Party when Annadurai joined it, changed the name of the outfit to Dravidar Kazhagam a few years before Independence. Periyar, who feared that South India would come under the virtual control of Brahmins and North Indians after independence, wanted 15 August 1947 to be declared a day of mourning, something which Annadurai was opposed to.
Periyar also stopped contesting elections, believing that real change could come through mass social movements outside of politics. Eventually together with Periyar’s nephew E.V.K. Sampath, Annadurai started his own party, the DMK. Annadurai quickly built a support base that included Dalits, the working classes and students, and the DMK became a popular political outfit.
“What perhaps contributed to Anna’s ultimate success was his ability to harness and tame the ideas and energies let lose by Periyar…In Anna, the emergent backward castes saw a leader who could take them to political power. He skilfully repackaged Periyar’s iconoclastic ideas to make them palatable in the public domain. Periyar’s rustic atheism became ‘Onre Kulam, Oruvane Devan’ (One God, One Community) in a skilful appropriation of the venerated medieval Tamil saint Tirumular. When Periyar went about breaking the idols of Pillaiyar (Ganapati) Anna famously observed that he would neither break the idol nor the coconut (in worship),” the historian and writer A.R. Venkatachalapathy wrote in April 2008 in India Today magazine.
Differences with the Congress government in New Delhi came to a boil in 1953, with the DMK protesting prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s dismissive attitude towards anti-Hindi protests; Madras chief minister C. Rajagopalachari’s educational policies in the state; and renaming of a place. Subsequently, Annadurai got a three-month prison term.
In his public statements in the 1950s and early 1960s, Annadurai came out in support of an independent state of “Dravida Nadu”. As late as 1962 he told the Rajya Sabha, “Dravidians want the right of self-determination.” However, after states were reorganised on a linguistic basis, Madras State effectively became a Tamil-speaking state. Further, with the passing of the Sixteenth Amendment, parties with sectarian principles were barred from participating in polls. After that Annadurai put the independent state agenda on the backburner.
Annadurai was also at the forefront of anti-Hindi campaigns.
Nehru had told Parliament that as long as non-Hindi speaking people desired it, English would continue to be India’s official language. But with no constitutional amendment forthcoming on this issue, Annadurai led protests against Hindi in 1965. With students and others joining the agitation, it turned violent. Annadurai later appealed for calm.
In 1967 Annadurai led the DMK to victory in the polls and became the chief minister of Madras State.
The major policy decisions taken by him as chief minister included legalising ‘self-respect marriages’ (which did not require a Brahmin to carry out the ceremony); renaming Madras State to Tamil Nadu; and introducing a two-language policy.
Annadurai was a great orator and also penned several books, stories and screenplays.
Suffering from cancer in the gullet, he died on 3 February 1969. His funeral was attended by millions.
On the occasion of Annadurai’s 96th birth anniversary, R. Kannan, the then head of Civil Affairs with the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, wrote in The Hindu: “In his four decades of public life, Anna espoused social justice, regional autonomy, and the interests of Tamils and Tamil Nadu. As party leader, he felt secure unlike many others in similar positions. While nurturing talent and leadership within the party, he remained faithful to democratic precepts — staying clear of nominating an heir even when he was afflicted with a serious illness. In the end, the party witnessed an organic choice in the election of ‘Kalaignar’ M. Karunanidhi.”
Also on this day:
1957 — Deepti Naval, Hindi film actress, was born
1963 — Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank ofIndia, was born
2000 — Alla Rakha Khan, tabla maestro, passed away