Tamil Nadu minister and DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin’s recent invocation of Periyar and his principles has ignited a fervent debate, shedding light on the perennial significance of this iconic figure in Tamil Nadu politics.
Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Sanatana Dharma speech, which stirred controversy, underscores the inextricable link between Periyar’s legacy and Tamil Nadu’s political discourse. Periyar’s name remains a constant refrain for Tamil Nadu politicians, and it is essential to understand why his influence endures as a political imperative in the state.
Periyar: The Father of the Dravidian Movement
Periyar EV Ramasamy, born on September 17, 1879, in Erode, emerged as the vanguard of the Dravidian movement. His legacy is commemorated annually as ‘Social Justice Day’ in Tamil Nadu since 2021. Periyar’s radical advocacy against Brahminical dominance and caste and gender inequality defined his mission.
The Defection from Congress over ‘Brahminism’
Periyar initially joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 but resigned in 1925, disillusioned by what he perceived as the party’s Brahmin-centric agenda. In 1926, he laid the cornerstone of the Self-Respect Movement, aimed at forging a rational society devoid of caste, religion, and deity worship. The movement sought to abolish Brahminical hegemony, promote gender equity, and revive Dravidian languages.
Championing the Tamil Identity
In a departure from the broader Indian identity championed by the Congress, Periyar redefined Tamil identity as an egalitarian ideal untainted by the caste system. He contended that Aryan Brahmins, originating from Northern India, introduced the caste system to Tamil Nadu. Periyar vehemently opposed the imposition of Hindi as a compulsory subject, considering it a manifestation of “North Indian imperialism.”
The Evolution of Dravidian Politics
In 1939, Periyar assumed leadership of the Justice Party, subsequently rechristened as Dravidar Kazhagam in 1944. This paved the way for the formation of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949, led by CN Annadurai. Udhayanidhi Stalin, the current torchbearer of Periyar’s legacy, belongs to the third generation of DMK leadership, with his father MK Stalin currently serving as Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister.
Periyar’s Enduring Relevance
The AIADMK, another dominant force in Tamil Nadu politics, also draws its political principles from Periyar’s ideology. Periyar’s legacy reverberates through the principles of rationalism, self-respect, women’s rights, and the eradication of caste, as well as his staunch anti-Hindi stance.
The Anti-Hindi Standoff
Every year, Tamil Nadu observes Language Martyrs Day, commemorating those who sacrificed their lives during the anti-Hindi agitation. In 2021, Chief Minister MK Stalin accused the BJP of attempting to impose Hindi on Tamil Nadu, sparking renewed opposition against linguistic imposition.
Challenges to Periyar’s Messages
While Periyar’s anti-caste message remains central to his legacy, it faces challenges in modern Tamil Nadu politics. Parties stemming from his movement, the DMK and the AIADMK, have increasingly resorted to caste-based politics, and new caste-centric parties have emerged.
In conclusion, the endurance of Periyar’s influence in Tamil Nadu politics, even half a century after his passing, underscores the indomitable power of his ideas. His ideology continues to shape the political landscape of Tamil Nadu, making Periyar an indispensable and timeless figure in the state’s political narrative.