The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader A Raja recently implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah to provide 'state autonomy' to Tamil Nadu and to not push them to seek an independent country.
Raja said though Thanthai Periyar, the icon of the Dravidian movement, stood for an independent Tamil Nadu, the DMK moved away from it. But he asked Modi and Shah to not push them "on the path of Periyar" [independent Tamil Nadu].
EV Ramasamy Periyar (1879-1973) in 1937 declared at Tamils Conference that "to defeat the dominance of Hindi over Tamil and Dravidian race, the only solution would be 'a separate Sovereign State ie. Tamil Nadu for Tamils'," according to Dr K Veeramani, who cited Collected Works of Periyar EVR as his source.
It is in this Dravidian context that Raja's comments should be seen. Here we explain what Raja said, what it means, and how the demand of separate Tamil Nadu has evolved.
What did A Raja say?
In the presence of DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, A Raja said the Union government should provide greater autonomy to Tamil Nadu, so that they are not forced to call for a separate Tamil Nadu.
Raja said, "I am telling Amit Shah and the Prime Minister with utmost humility, I implore you in the presence of [DMK] leaders on the dais, our Chief Minister is journeying on the path of Anna [former Chief Minister and DMK founder], do not push us on the path of Periyar. Do not make us seek a separate country, give state autonomy and we will not rest till then."
Raja not only made these comments verbally, but he also shared the video of the comments on Twitter and wrote the same in Tamil.
'அண்ணா வழியில் பயணம் செய்கிறார் முதலமைச்சர், எங்களை பெரியார் வழிக்கு தள்ளிவிடாதீர்கள்'— A RAJA (@dmk_raja) July 3, 2022
'தனிநாடு கேட்க எங்களை விட்டு விடாதீர்கள்,
மாநில சுயாட்சி தாருங்கள்'
'அதுவரை நாங்கள் ஓயமாட்டோம்' https://t.co/gFDZoOSrn7 pic.twitter.com/BEapnK60Rq
The history of call for separate Tamil Nadu
Periyar founded the Self Respect Movement and envisaged an independent Dravida homeland of Dravida Nadu, comprising Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada speakers, and launched a political party, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) for this goal, according to a report in The Indian Express. It adds that Periyar's movement was anti-caste, anti-religion, and anti-North Indian.
In this movement, he was joined by CN Annadurai for years. However, the two fell out and Annadurai founded his own political party DMK. While DMK participated in electoral politics, Periyar refused it.
"The DMK initially followed ideologies the same as the mother party — Dravidar Kazhagam. But with the evolution of national politics and the constitution of India after the Sino-Indian war in 1962, Annadurai dropped the claim for an independent Dravida Nadu," notes History of Tamil Nadu (1800-1967), published online by Kamaraj College.
Raja's comment that DMK moved away from Periyar's belief should be seen in this context.
The New Indian Express quoted Marxist leader Thozhar Thiyagu as saying that Annudurai only left the demand for Dravida Nadu after the 1962 War and Periyar left the demand after states were reorganised on linguistic basis in 1956.
"When states were reorganised on the basis of language spoken by the people there in 1956, Periyar had given up 'Dravida Naadu' demand as it became meaningless after the reorganisation of the states and reverted to his earlier demand — Tamil Nadu Thamizharukke [Tamil Nadu is only for Tamils]," noted The New Indian Express citing Thiyagu.
Re-emergence of calls for separate Tamil Nadu
While mainstream leaders have given up overt calls for an independent country in the south, comments in this regard have been in recent years.
A 2018 article in Hindustan Times noted that Opposition parties have united against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led powerful Union government with such comments.
It noted, "Some kind of secessionist statement is seen as part of an opposition identity."
The article cited two example from 2018.
It reported, "Two events in recent times were extremely significant. The first was Chandrababu Naidu’s call for a federation of southern states to fight the BJP’s onslaught. Naidu visualised it within the electoral framework but also as a way of giving the South both financial and political breathing space from the BJP. The second call, raised by the DMK leader Stalin that raised memories of linguistic secession, was the project of Dravida Nadu."
In 2018, The Express reported Stalin, who was then the Leader of Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, as saying that if a demand was made for a Dravida Nadu comprising the southern states, he would support it.
The Express further reported him as saying, "Anna gave up the idea for Dravida Nadu and clarified that there were reasons for its creation. Anna has been proved right, especially now that we see how the southern states are being ignored by the BJP government."
Raja's comments are therefore the latest in the line of comments on the subject of independent Tamil Nadu.