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When Voter Participation Surged And Party Competition Sharpened

The Dravidian movement is a century old—envisioned as an anti-Brahmin formation, though its political outfits did have elite leaders. Even today, the AIADMK and DMK face no threat to electoral dominance.

When Voter Participation Surged And Party Competition Sharpened
Unrest |
When Voter Participation Surged And Party Competition Sharpened
outlookindia.com
2017-10-28T11:16:44+05:30

The Dravidian movement has been a major political force in the former Madras Presidency and Tamil Nadu for a century, and parties derived from it have ruled the state for much of the past half century. This year marks the centenary of the South Indian Liberal Federation (also called the Justice Party), the first party that claimed to represent a Dravidian community composed of non-Brahmin south Indians. Moreover, it is the 50th anniversary of the initial ascent to power of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the second ethnic party (after the National Conference) that won a post­-colonial state election in India. The other major Dravidian party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), was formed 45 years ago. The Dravidian movement has shaped many aspects of politics and society in Tamil Nadu, and contributed to political discourse elsewhere in India. It is among Asia’s oldest and most durable ethnic movements.

The Dravidian movement claimed to represent a Dravid­ian community consisting of south Indians, primarily Tamil speakers, other than Brahmins. Visions of a non-Brahmin community developed earlier, in the late 19th century, in Maharashtra, where those who promoted them joined Ind­ian nationalist parties by the 1930s. In Tamil Nadu, most of them joined the Dravidian parties. While the Justice Party was led by elites from upper non-Brahmin castes, certain later Dravidian parties—the Self Respect Association/Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and DMK—were led by middle- and lower-­middle-caste individuals. The DK’s founding leader, E.V. Ramaswami Naicker (Periyar), was from a wealthy mercantile family and caste (Kavarai Naidu), but the DMK’s leaders, C.N. Annadurai, a Kaikkola Mudaliar (a weaver caste), and M. Karunanidhi, an Isai Vellalar (a musician-­dancer caste), were from underprivileged families. The DK and the DMK associated Dravidian identity mainly with the middle castes and the DMK with those who primarily communicated in the Tamil language, to whose history and virtues it devoted much attention. The AIADMK associated itself closely with the lower strata and women through the films of M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) and party rhetoric and periodically asserted the specificity of Tamil Nadu’s political culture, while paying less attention to ethnic identity and being led by individuals beyond the movement’s early ethnic visions: MGR, an ancestral Malayalam-speaker, and J. Jayalalitha, a Brahmin.

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