In a surprise development, the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu on Monday directed organising special prayers and free meals to people in all major temples across the state at noon on Tuesday in view of the 40th death anniversary of the late veteran Dravidian leader and one of DMK's founders, C N Annadurai.
Paying homage to the memory of the dead by offering 'anna dhaan' (free food) in Hindu temples is nothing new in Indian society at large, but what has stunned political observers and social analysts here is that such a directive should come from the state government itself that is being ruled by a party rooted in "rationalism".
An official release in Chennai on Monday afternoon said that on the occasion of Annadurai's death anniversary, "Sirappu Vazhipaadu Mattrum Podhu Virundhu Nigazchi" (special prayers and public feasts) are being organised in all major temples, including 31 "important Temples" in greater Chennai alone.
The Govt has even listed the front-ranking DMK Ministers and functionaries who will be presiding over these 'anna dhaan' functions, under the auspices of the 'Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE). It incidentally oversees the administration of Hindu and Jain Temples, and some Mutts in the State.
Interestingly, the list includes the Assembly Speaker, R Avudiayappan who will preside over the 'Samapandhi virundhu' (public dining for all irrespective of caste or other divisions) at the ancient Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore in the city, party veteran and Electricity Minister and Arcot N Veeraswamy at the Gangadeeshwarar Temple in the city, while the DMK's Treasurer and Youth Wing leader, MK Stalin will attend it in three city temples including the ancient Agastheeshwarar Temple in Nungambakkam in the heart of the city tomorrow. The HR and CE Minister, KR Periyakaruppan will be at the famous Vadapalani Murugan Temple, again in the city.
Sources told HT that Annadurai had given up his political mentor and Dravidar Kazhagam leader, Periyar E V Ramaswamy's atheism as part of the DMK's core ideology in the 1960s', for a more inclusive and secular "One-God-One-Humanity" view, Yet, it is for the first time in the DMK's history that Annadurai's death anniversary is being observed in Temples in this fashion. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Government is celebrating the leader's birth centenary this year (2008-09) in a big way.
"This is a logical extension of the politics of compromise by the DMK," said Prof. A R Venkatachalapathi, who specialises in social and cultural history at the Madras Institute of Development Studies here, on being taken aback by this announcement. Political circles see this as DMK's bid to reach out to a much larger constituency with the Lok Sabha polls round the corner.