THE politics of nomenclature may finally end in Tamil Nadu with the DMK government going in for largescale renaming in a bid to stop the ongoing caste violence in its southern districts. Districts and transport corporations named after political leaders of various communities were renamed last fortnight. Hearteningly, with geography rather than personality being given emphasis. Thus, Anna and Periyar districts, named after prominent leaders of the Dravidian movement, are now rechristened Dindugal and Erode respectively.
The formation of a transport corporation named Veeran Sundaralingam, after a prominent Dalit leader, had triggered off the latest round of violence. The Thevars were up in arms and communal clashes took place in Virudunagar and Theni districts. The Thevargrouse: they could not travel in buses that bore the name of a Dalit. Besides, the Dalits already had a transport corporation named after Ambedkar in Chennai.
Even as tension built up, the Dalits demanded that another transport corporation be named in the memory of their leader, Emmanuel. The Thevars, on their part, weren't far behind in pitching for a transport corporation to be named after their late leader, Pulithevan.
Hounded by demands from the various communities, the government is seeking to put an end to the whole game. It also resolved to open a fixed deposit account of Rs 25 lakh each to create trusts titled after 28 leaders whose names were removed from the districts and transport corporations. The interest accruing from that is to be used to provide scholarships to deserving students. While the 19 districts named after leaders would henceforth be called by the names of their respective district headquarters, the 21 government transport corporations were grouped into three—Greater City Transport Corporation, Government Express Transport Corporation and Tamil Nadu Government Transport Corporation.
In a rare show of unanimity, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and TMC chief G.K. Moopanar sat down for a community lunch at a temple in Mylapore, Chennai on July 3 to celebrate the end of the naming. Interestingly, the politically-motivated naming of places was initiated by the DMK.
When the party first came to power in 1967, its very first act was to rename Madras state Tamil Nadu. Between 1967-1976, the party also created three transport corporations after the three great Tamil empires—Cheran, Cholan and Pandian.
However, with the advent of the AIADMK rule in 1977, universities, districts and transport corporations were named after prominent leaders. Dindugal became Anna district; Erode became Periyar; and Virudu-nagar, Kamaraj. The universities at Trichy and Coimbatore were renamed after the poets Bharathidasan and Bharathiyar. And the first exclusive university for women in the country was named Mother Teresa. The first to receive flak was the naming of a transport corporation after former chief minister M.G. Ramachandran's mother Sathya.
The advent of Jayalalitha as chief minister witnessed a dangerous trend—each district was renamed after a prominent caste leader from the dominant community, obviously done with the votebank in mind. For instance, when the AIADMK government bifurcated Trichy district, the Mutharayar-dominated area was named Mutharayar district. The Vanniar-dominated Villupuram was carved out as Ramaswamy Padayachiar, where Padayachiar is a caste prefix for Van-niyars. And in the Aazhagu Muthu Kone Transport Corporation, the word 'Kone' is the caste prefix to denote Yadavas.
Sundaralingam Transport Corporation, which triggered the present bout of caste violence, was also Jayalalitha's creation. But her government order naming it could not be implemented at that time as the election commission had ordered the government to withhold the renaming till the forthcoming polls were over. When Karunanidhi came to power, he could not afford to antagonise the Dalits and had no option but to go ahead with the renaming. However, in the government-convened all-party meeting held in the first week of June, most of the political parties, barring the AIADMK faction led by Jayalalitha, favoured the removal of all names. MDMK leader Gopalsamy accused the government of removing the names of "the great leaders who fought for the Tamil identity, the Tamil language and its people". Said Jayalalitha: "Removing these names amounts to labelling them as caste leaders. If our party comes back to power, we would rename them as it stood earlier". Which would bring things back to the very beginning.