From the archives: Why is 1980 Tamil Nadu Assembly election worthy of note?

Getting out of Emergency, TN politics, under the govt of MGR, also came to be influenced by Lankan Tamil issue

Published: 27th April 2021 03:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th April 2021 03:57 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The 1980 Tamil Nadu Assembly election is one of the extraordinary polls that the State has faced till date. Indira Gandhi had returned to power at the Centre early that year. Soon after assuming power, she dissolved around nine State governments headed by parties that were not aligned to Congress. MGR’s regime also did not survive it. DMK chief M Karunanidhi, despite his vowed support for State rights, continued the alliance with Congress.

The DMK-Congress alliance had just swept the Lok Sabha polls winning 38 of the 40 seats in TN and Pondicherry. The alliance leaders were hopeful of winning the Assembly polls too. Congress appeared to be the senior partner in the coalition contesting 114 seats and DMK contested 112 seats. Karunanidhi’s government was also dismissed by the Centre during the Emergency. But that did not help him in the 1977 polls. However, playing the victim card worked for MGR. Also, his then recent move to increase the quota for backward classes from 31 to 50 per cent came in handy. Much to the surprise, AIADMK won a comfortable majority by winning 129 seats. DMK won in 37 and Congress 31.

Another reason was lack of coherence in the DMK-Congress alliance. A section of Congress’ second-rung leaders openly stated that the party must contest alone as it could win due to the charisma of Indira Gandhi. This forced Indira to state that Karunanidhi will be the Chief Minister of the State if the alliance wins the polls. But the damage was already done. On the other hand, MGR played the victim card to the fullest and had reasons for it since his government was dismissed for no valid reason.

Soon after MGR assumed office for the second term, he had to deal with the issue of Naxalites, which crippled Dharmapuri and North Arcot districts. MGR gave the State police a free hand and they went on “Operation Ajanta”. The Naxalites were eradicated from the area by stringent police action.Another major political change in the subcontinent was the tensions between the Tamils and the Singhalese in Sri Lanka since the early 1980s. Following the infamous 1983 carnage of Tamils in Colombo by Singhalese mobs, thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils sought asylum in Tamil Nadu. The popular sentiment in Tamil Nadu was in support of the Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. MGR took up the matter with Indira Gandhi.

In the Parliament, it was declared that the killing of Tamils was a genocide and she urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the atrocities against Tamils. It is common knowledge that both MGR and Indira’s governments supported the Tamil militants who started the fight for a separate nation for Lankan Tamils.

Karunanidhi and K Anbazhagan resigned as MLAs in 1983 condemning the Union government for not taking adequate steps to protect the Sri Lankan Tamils.In its second term, the AIADMK government made a big change in the administration at the village level. In November 1980, the traditional village karnams (village accountant) and village munsifs (tax collector) system was abolished. The MGR government replaced them with Village Administrative Officers (VAOs) who were recruited by the government and paved way for all to enter the basic revenue administrative service. MGR government conducted the third World Tamil Conference in January 1981. 


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