It was during an anti-Hindi symposium in 1964 that V Gopalasamy, then 20, and a postgraduate student in economics at Presidency College, caught the attention of DMK founder C N Annadurai with the sheer power of his oratory. It as an inter-collegiate symposium and Anna had been invited to deliver a special address. For Vaiko, as he his known now, it was a memorable event as it set the stage for his blossoming as a top notch political leader. And the historic anti-Hindi agitation that kicked off on January 25, 1965, was a milestone in the State’s linguistic and political identity, he reckons.
“Our Tamil language, culture and history were preserved only because of the anti-Hindi agitation. Had it not happened, we would have lost our identity by now,” the MDMK founder emphasises.
During his formative days, Vaiko had worked with fellow student leaders like L Ganesan and Srinivasan, besides acting as a messenger between the leaders and media houses. While mobilising students during the months prior to the January 25 protest, Vaiko and other leaders had just a simple message: “Hindi as a language doesn’t have literature and proper grammar. If it is imposed on us, Hindi speaking students will naturally have an advantage in every sphere of life because it is their mother tongue. This is cultural aggression.”
Support poured in from all colleges, including Guindy Engineering College, Veterinary college and Madurai Medical College. “We had chosen January 25 for the agitation because it was a working day. Lakhs of students, including a large number of girls, marched toward Fort St George raising various slogans. The police lathicharge injured many students and further fueled the anger,” recalls Vaiko, who escaped being hit by a lathi.
“Then the students gathered in the beach and decided to boycott classes indefinitely. As Anna had urged everyone to hoist black flag in their houses condemning the imposition of Hindi on January 26, the students in Victoria hostel put up a black flag around 5 am. Then I along with Raja Mohammed went to Rathna Cafe at Pycrofts Road. By the time we returned to the hostel, Congress activists were attacking the students gathered near the flagstaff. We rushed in and mobilised the students. The campus turned a battleground. Congress cadre pelted stones and we retaliated,” he recalls.
“Though many students were injured, it didn’t deter us. We wiped their wounds with the flag and hoisted it again. The flag turned red and black. Similar black flag hoisting happened at Pachaiyappa’s College hostel, but Congress couldn’t attack them since the students there were better organised. When Congress cadre surrounded veteran actor S S Rajendran’s house on seeing the black flag fluttering there, he took out his gun and fired in the air. The police arrested him for that,” recalls Vaiko.
Condemning the hooliganism of the Congress cadre and police lathicharge in Madurai on January 25, students protested in many places on January 27. Nearly 10,000 students from Annamalai University took out a procession at Chidambaram and the police opened fire, killing Rajendran. “Rajendran’s death intensified the agitation. On the same night, students of Pachaiyappa’s College met at Victoria hostel. I made an emotional speech that night, which I consider historic. I remember that speech even now,” says Vaiko.
With the struggle committee deciding to continue the struggle, students besieged railway stations and post offices. The public had also spontaneously started protests. “By then the army had been deployed and they killed people mercilessly, which increased the death toll in places like Tirupur and Pollachi. We don’t know how many people were killed because armymen also set fire to the bodies,” claims Vaiko. “After the violence, most students left their college hostels. But I acted as messenger for L Ganesan and Srinivasan who went underground and led the protests. I once met Sinivasan in a zoo; on another occasion in Vadapalani; and even at a Mylapore temple to collect information and share it with media and other leaders,” says Vaiko. Only after Anna gave a call, students handed over the leadership responsibility to the elders and returned to their classes.