CHENNAI: Beleaguered as he is after successive electoral debacles, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi was desperately looking for a miracle to salvage the party and revive its fortunes. And the Narendra Modi government appears to have given him what he wanted with their push for use of Hindi by government officials. The wily old fox was quick to seize the opportunity and zoom into the opposition political space. Only to realise that he is fighting for a cause, which is long wiped out from the people’s minds.
Life has come a full circle for the nonagenarian. Pushed into political isolation by internal family strife, factional feuds and scams, Karunanidhi couldn’t found a better weapon than the language issue to resurrect the party fortunes; the same cause that propelled DMK to power in 1967.
Cashing in on the passion for the mother tongue is nothing new for the Dravidian party since upholding the primacy of Tamil remains a doctrine of faith, equivalent to the Ten Commandments. Extolling the antiquity and literary greatness of Tamil as opposed to Sanskrit, dubbed as Brahminical, has been part and parcel of the campaign right from the initial days of the Dravidian movement. It is the professed stance of the Dravidian movement which rode DMK to power, over-throwing the Congress government in 1967 by inflaming linguistic passions.
Cut to 2014, criticising the Centre’s move, the DMK patriarch called for necessary legislative measures to bring Tamil and other languages on a par with Hindi. Interestingly, the circular issued by the Central government is an annual affair done for promotion of the national language.
But, not to be undone Jayalalithaa shot off a missive to the Prime Minister on how the ‘prioritisation’ of Hindi went against the Official Languages Act, 1963. It has also not gone well with the NDA’s Tamil allies. MDMK chief Vaiko said, “The government should not indulge in activities that will provoke a sleeping tiger.” PMK leader S Ramadoss in his statement expressed his opposition: “The only solution is that the government should declare all the 22 languages in the country the official languages.”
The patriarch himself is never tired of invoking his role in the anti-Hindi agitation spearheaded by the DMK in 1960s. Ironically, Hindi was only optional then. Leading lights of the DMK stoked the fire and the state was witness to self-immolations for the first time in modern history. The new Constitution came into effect on January 26, 1950. Efforts by the Central government to make Hindi the sole official language after 1965 were not acceptable to many. Non-Hindi speaking states wanted the continued use of English. As the day (January 26, 1965) of switching over to Hindi approached, the anti-Hindi movement gained momentum in Madras State with college students joining the cause in large numbers. On January 25, a full-scale riot broke out in Madurai, sparked off by a minor altercation between Congress members and agitating students. Bloodshed and violence spread all over Madras, and continued unabated for next two months, marked by arson, looting, police firing and lathi charges. To calm down raising temperatures, then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave assurances that non-Hindi speaking states could continue to use English as the official language as long they want. The riots subsided after Shastri’s assurance. The agitation led to change of power, so much so that the Congress till date could never return to power in the state. The Official Languages Act was eventually amended in 1967, guaranteeing indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages.
Though protection of Tamil against Northern subjugation continued to be the justification for the DMK’s existence, the patriarch had to face the criticism of sacrificing the party’s ideals like rationalism and anti-Brahminism at the altar of political expediency and using those planks conveniently only when confronted with corruption charges like the 2G spectrum scam. For her part, Jayalalithaa had earlier robbed her bête noire of his claim to heroism in the anti-Hindi agitation. According to her, Karunanidhi’s ‘heroic deed’ was to place his head on the railway track on which no train would pass through! Now, in the present instance too, she had ensured that the old man of Gopalapuram could not get the required political mileage. And the wheelchair-bound DMK president ought to remember that 2014 is not 1965.
Call for tamil Pride
1937–1940: At a time when the Justice Party, precursor of the Dravidian movement, was licking its wounds after the electoral debacle, the Congress Government in Madras Presidency under C Rajagopalachari provided them a renewed lease of life by making teaching of Hindi compulsory in schools. The Justice Party launched state-wide protests.
1946-50: This time too, the agitation followed the Congress government of Omandur Ramasamy Reddiyar complying with a Central directive and making Hindi compulsory in schools. However, with the govt agreeing to make it optional in 1950, the agitation was given up.
1965: It was an agitation which took mass character following the spontaneous participation of university and college students. It also helped the DMK expand and consolidate as a party of the OBCs, who deserted the Congress. This phase threw up a new crop of leaders from the intermediary castes. No wonder, it catapulted the DMK, which cobbled up a rainbow coalition, into power in the 1967 Assembly polls. Since then the Congress has remained out of power.