When schools and colleges reopened after the January 25 agitation against attempts to make Hindi the official language in 1965, the State government did not expect the protests to continue. But the agitation snowballed mainly due to the efforts of L Ganesan, the prime motivator of the movement, who evaded the police net and coordinated the protests throughout the State till the end.
Narrating his experiences, Ganesan, now 82, recalls a cold night in mid-January when a group of students, including Vai Gopalaswamy, who later chose to call himself Vaiko, met at the Marina sands to discuss their plans for January 25. After hours of deliberations, Vaiko, then an MA (Economics) student at Presidency College, asked: “What are your plans?”
When he said that all schools and colleges should be closed indefinitely from January 26, Vaiko asked: “Is it possible?” Ganesan replied: “Why not?”
Ganesan’s optimism stemmed from the fact that he had been working for the previous three years to mobilise support for the cause. Since 1962, he had been going from one college hostel to another - from Annamalai and Madurai universities to Presidency and Pachaiyappa’s colleges in Chennai and Thiagarajar College in Madurai.
Ganesan, who joined the Madras Law College when he was 26 after resigning his job as a senior inspector of cooperative societies in 1962, was a powerful orator. After he was elected president of Madras Law College Tamil Ilakkiya Peravai during 1963-1964, he participated in all inter-college and university elocution competitions.
“After the competition, I would spent the night in the college hostel debating the political situation with students. Those interactions helped me realise that 95 per cent of the students were against Hindi,” he says.
Yet, the students were strongly divided on political lines. So Ganesan decided to the make the anti-Hindi movement apolitical by avoiding giving leadership roles in the agitation to active DMK students wing functionaries like P Srinivasan, Vaiko, Durai Murugan, Pon Muthuramlingam, Radhagovindan, and Duraipandi. An official language conference organised by the Tamil Ilakkiya Peravai at the Madras Law College in 1963, set the momentum for the struggle. “I had invited Swatantra Party leader C Rajagopalachari and DMK leader C N Annadurai. Before they spoke, I posed questions to them. I asked Rajagoplachari how he was supporting us now when he, as chief minister, introduced Hindi as a compulsory language in schools. Then I told Annadurai that his followers were waiting for him to launch a revolution to chase Hindi away from Tamil Nadu.
The uproarious acknowledgement to Ganesan’s posers by the crowd forced Annadurai to assure that he would find a solution through democratic means, and Rajagopalachari to say: “Do not doubt a person who is here as a friend. Even if you stop the struggle, I will continue.”
After graduating in law, Ganesan devoted his time to prepare the students for the protest, writing the statements that were released in the name of students’ leaders. Since he projected students as leaders, he avoided ego clashes and ensured that all students listened to him.
On January 25, it was his oratory that helped convince the students to disperse from the Marina. Then as he was meeting students outside campuses when the colleges and schools were closed, one evening N V N Somu informed him during a meeting at a park in Harrington Road that Annadurai wanted to meet him.
Though the students advised him not to meet Annadurai as he could pressure him to give up the struggle, Ganesan went to Anna’s house in Nungambakkam.
As predicted, after appreciating him for organising the protest successfully on January 25, Anna asked him to call off the protests. “If only bravery can bring victory to Tamils, Tamilians should have ruled the country. Only valour coupled with wisdom can win a war,” Anna said. He told him that he wanted the students to do well academically and become doctors, engineers, teachers and so on.
Ganesan was confused as he came out of the house. So he met a few other stalwarts in the DMK like Muthu, M Karunanidhi and S D Somasundaram, who were echoed his wish to continue the strike when schools and colleges reopened.
Finally with some money given by leaders like Muthu and Somasundaram (by pledging their family jewellery), Ganesan toured the State, along with Muthu, S G Duraimurugan and Navalan. “With the help of local DMK leaders in every district, we met students who headed the agitation on January 25 and invited them to visit Chennai to plan the next level of struggle,” informs Ganesan.
Among those they met during this trip were: Aravanan at Annamalai University in Chidambaram; M Natarajan at Thanjavur and K Rajamanikandan; Ragupathi and Natesan at Tiruchy; Jeeva and Kalaimani at Karaikudi; Kalimuthu, Kamaraj and Jeyaprakasam at Madurai; and Thathampatty Krishnan at Salem.
“All the leaders came to Chennai and we met at Hotel Everest at Parry’s corner. After an hour-long discussion we formed the All India Students Anti-Hindi Agitation Council and made Chennai law college student Ravindran as president and Presidency College student M M Raman as secretary,” he recalls.
When the government announced reopening of educational institutions on February 8, assuming that the situation was under control, the council announced that students will observe non-violent fast in all schools and colleges on February 8, organise protests before post offices on February 9 and at railway stations on February 10.
“The protests were organised as planned and police lathi-charged the students. When the situation went out of control, the Malabar police was brought in, but they too failed. With members of the general public too joining in, for the first time in the history of Tamil Nadu, the Indian army was called in,” says Ganesan.
With the army shooting at protestors and the situation threatening to go out of hand, as Annadurai had predicted to Ganesan earlier, a meeting of leaders was called at Thanjavur to stop the protest temporarily.
Then Ganesan decided to hold anti-Hindi conferences to bring in a new government that would fight against Hindi imposition.
The rest is history - the DMK coming to power and the government going in for a two-language policy in school education.
Read Part I: