Has DMK lost its Dravidian edge?

Questions abound about the fate of DMK after a string of electoral reverses


The DMK was formed on 17 September, 1949,  on the birthday of the founder of the Dravidian movement, E. V. Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar. Photo: Reuters
The DMK was formed on 17 September, 1949, on the birthday of the founder of the Dravidian movement, E. V. Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar. Photo: Reuters

Chennai: September is an important month in the history of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)—the 17th marks the formation of the party in 1949 and is the birth anniversary of the founder of the Dravidian movement, E. V. Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar. Last Saturday was his 138th birth anniversary.

If Periyar spearheaded social and cultural reformation in Tamil Nadu through his self-respect movement— breaking caste rigidity and mobility through reservation and inter-caste marriages—the Dravidian parties made his ideas workable by capturing and retaining political power for five decades.

Periyar disavowed electoral politics, but changed the course of Tamil politics, which C.N.Annadurai (or Anna), the founder of the DMK utilized.

Last Thursday, 15 September, was the 108th birth anniversary of Anna.

“Importantly, he used public speaking; journalism; theatre; cinema and agit-prop to broaden the base of the party; which drew renowned film actors into its fold; a bond that endures to this day,” writes R. Kannan in his book Anna: The Life and Times of C.N.Annadurai .

M. G. Ramachandran (MGR), the Tamil cinema actor who propagated Dravidian ideologies in his films, played a vital role in drawing support for the DMK. But a political feud between MGR and the party’s president M. Karunanidhi led to the formation of Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) in 1972, which later became AIADMK, the current ruling party.

J. Jayalalithaa created history in May, returning to office for a second consecutive term as chief minister in Tamil Nadu, where the feat had not been achieved in nearly three decades.

“As a party, we would have made some compromises over the years to accommodate ourselves to the external changes,” said a senior DMK member. “But it doesn’t mean we have drifted away from what our founder and leaders aspired for.”

He added, “The recent election result doesn’t mean the DMK is out of the picture. It means we have emerged as the largest opposition, a significant thing in a democracy.”

But the academic Ambrose Pinto wrote in the Economic and Political Weekly, back in June 1999, after the DMK allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the Lok Sabha polls: “The Dravidian ideology has become obsolete. It has lost its revolutionary character.”

With an ideological vacuum in the state and spreading saffron power across India (although a saffron party is yet to open account in Tamil Nadu), political observers wonder if Dravidian ideology is in a critical situation, or ready for a revamp.

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