The 2G controversy highlights many things, including DMK amazing journey. In its early years, the party lived with the stigma of its pre-Independence secession demands and virulent anti-Hindi agitation. In the 1970s and 1980s, it came to power, but constantly feared dismissal by the Centre. Karunanidhi’s government was dismissed twice.
The party was established in 1949, after splitting from the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), founded by EV Ramaswamy Naicker as an atheist, anti-caste movement that feared that Brahmin domination would replace the English rule.
Under CN Annadurai, three-quarters of DK members joined the new party. The catalyst in the split was Periyar’s decision, at 71 years to marry a 29-year-old activist and designate her his successor. Annadurai also wanted to contest elections, while Periyar wanted to work outside Parliament.
Over time, the DMK softened its approach, except with respect to language. It abandoned its radical atheism while its goal of social reform changed from destroying the caste system to uplifting the backward castes. When India declared secessionist parties illegal in 1963, the DMK publicly gave up its demand for a separate Dravida Nadu.
The DMK contested its first general election in 1956, and three years later won the mayoral post in Madras. In the 1967 assembly election, it defeated the Congress, which has never again regained power in the state.
The DMK’s ideological appeal, efficient use of the print media and cinema, and its deploying of skillful orators all contributed to its success. People joined its anti-Hindi agitation in such numbers that the Centre decided not to impose the language on the state.
Karunanidhi is still a great orator. He succeeded Annadurai after his death, and has been chief minister four times. He still speaks of the Dravidian ideology, the greatness of Tamil and his commitment to Periyar’s ideals.
But today his words sound hollow and fail to rouse the passion of old. In 1972, he expelled MG Ramachandran, a matinee idol and senior party member, when he accused Karunanidhi of corruption. For the next 13 years, MGR dominated the political scene. Only after MGR died, did Karunanidhi return, determined to stay on.
With his nephew Murasoli Maran to advise him, he quickly realised that coalition governments at the Centre were becoming inevitable and that the DMK stood to gain by becoming a dependable ally, even the Bharatiya Janata Party, with which an alliance would have once been unthinkable.
As commerce minister, Maran discovered the immense opportunities that a cabinet post offered the party, which could extend its influence inside and outside the country. The DMK’s entry into national politics roughly coincided with India’s entry into the global economy, a process that opened new opportunities to the sons and grandsons of the grand patriarch. It only required business acumen and skill to make the most of them.
(Vaasanthi is a Tamil novelist and author of ‘Cut-outs, Castes and Cine Stars: The World of Tamil Politics.’ She is currently based in Bangalore.)