Thursday (February 3, 2022) marks the 53rd death anniversary of CN Annadurai – former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and one of the state’s most beloved leaders.
Born into a family of weavers in Conjeevaram (now known as Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu) in the Madras Presidency on September 15, 1909, Conjeevaram’s parents Natarajan Annadurai, Natarajan Mudaliar and Bangaru Ammal, gave their son so that he is brought up by their eldest daughter Rajamani Ammal because of abject poverty. Annadurai – or Anna, as she was popularly known – was often ridiculed by her petty political rivals for her indiscriminate parentage. However, a man is what he chooses to be, and Anna went on to complete her BA (Honours) and MA in Economics and Politics from Pachaiyappa’s College in Madras. He briefly worked as an English teacher at Pachaiyappa High School before moving into journalism and eventually politics.
Anna – short for “Annadurai” also means “respected elder brother” in Tamil, and that was what he was to become for the people – an elder brother they could always approach. He was India’s first post-independence leader to play no role in the freedom struggle, again something for which he was often ridiculed by his pretentious political rivals. Anna, instead chose education – he proudly stamped the “MA” in his name and it was his first request for respect.
His language skills were legendary and first emerged when he translated the high-profile public speeches of Justice Party leaders into Tamil. Subsequently, as a lieutenant of Periyar EV Ramasamy, Anna’s literary skills were displayed during the anti-Hindi agitation of 1937-1939, on stage in the form of speeches, in the press such as the articles he wrote about the hustle, and eventually writing film scripts. These are films deeply rooted in Dravidian ideology.
Eventually he split from his mentor Periyar’s Dravida Kazhagam social movement to start the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as a political outfit in 1949. Anna strove to raise the party in the state and in 1967 the Assembly Legislative Madras, the Rising Sun Party (The symbol of DMK ever since) was the first, other than the Indian National Congress, to win the Assembly elections with a clear majority on its own in any state from India. Even though DMK was part of the coalition called the United Front, DMK alone under Anna won 137 seats (out of 234) and the coalition won 179 seats. The main opponent was Congress, which managed to fight its way through with a meager 51 seats. From that day until now, Congress has never returned to power in Tamil Nadu.
Anna trained and mentored two Dravidian stalwarts who would go on to shine in movies and become future Chief Ministers – M Karunanidhi and MG Ramachandran. After Anna’s death, MGR would break with the DMK and launch his independent party, AIADMK – All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – named after Anna.
While her political savvy shapes stories of days gone by, Anna’s foray into politics comes from the deeply invested cause of anti-Hindi imposition. The Centre’s Hindi supremacist attitude began to grow, pushing for Hindi as the national language. Even the member of the Constituent Assembly of India who was discussing the future Constitution of India – RV Dhulekar – from the United Provinces, actually says that those in India who do not know Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu were widely referred to by the common term “Hindustani”) have no right to be in the Assembly which drafted the Constitution of India. ‘India. Those from non-Hindi speaking states were obviously furious and the Tamils could see how all opportunities would be closed to their youths. Anna led the second anti-Hindi imposition agitation from 1948-1950 to protest against the fact that Hindi was made compulsory in the state during the academic year 1948-1949 and the minimum qualification in Hindi for students be promoted to higher grades. With a keen understanding of the political dynamics in a multinational and multilingual regime, Tamilians under Anna responded with both reason and passion.
A pillar in Tamil, a proficient English scholar, a powerful writer and a magnetic speaker, Anna professed English as a connecting language between Hindi and non-Hindi speakers. “Since all the schools in India teach English, why couldn’t it be our liaison language? Why should Tamils study English to communicate with the world and Hindi to communicate in India? Do we need a big door for the big dog and a small door for the small dog? I say, let the little dog use the big door too! All it takes is the big door. Both big and small dog could use it! he said.
Eventually, the intense resistance against the plan to make Hindi the sole official language was postponed until a time when non-Hindi people would accept it – in short, never.
Anna’s fluency in English was no less. He received the Chubb Fellowship from Yale University, the first non-American to receive this honor. In fact, while on a world tour as a guest of the Chubb program and as a guest of the US State Department in April-May 1968, Anna was asked a bizarre question: can you build an English sentence using ‘because’ three times in it? Without blinking, Anna reportedly said, “Not only three times, but I will use it three times in a row. Here: No sentence ends with because, because, because is a conjunction.
During another interaction with Yale students, a classmate asked Anna, “Can you say a hundred words in English that don’t contain the alphabets A, B, C, or D?” Pat came Anna’s response: “one, two, three, four, five, six…” all the way to ninety-nine. The students waited impatiently because if Anna had said “one hundred”, he would have been wrong. But then he smiled after “ninety-nine” and ended it with “zero”.