By S. Sivathasan –
“Youth is the embodiment of revolt and revolt is the very quintessence of youth.” Nehru
What is seen in Tamil Nadu now are the words of Nehru in full flush. The students and the youth have given expression to their depth of feeling in ample measure. An emotional upsurge sparked by the continuing tragedy of Tamils in Sri Lanka has rolled over to spurning the traditional political leadership in Tamil Nadu. Herein lies the significance of the struggle which defines an altogether new political direction in the state. The change in its incipient stage as of now portends great challenges to Delhi. More importantly it has strong implications on Sri Lanka and the future of the Tamils.
The decimation of the Tamils and their plight in Sri Lanka have had an enormous emotive impact in TN. A sea change in their awareness had its beginning with the immolation of Muthukumar in January 2009. The sincerity underlying the sacrifice left its imprint and triggered a movement which has gathered its current dimension. What is heartening to see now is that students have subserved their emotions to sound reason. With redemption of the SL Tamils providing the backdrop, the student movement has signaled the rejection of all political formations that have dominated TN since independence. They have expressed in no uncertain terms trust in their own leadership capability. No longer will they look towards established formations or kow tow to them.
To properly assess the strength of the undercurrents which express themselves in uncontainable forms, the post-independence period of TN needs to be understood. The year 1947 was not a picturesque end of the independence movement. What Nehru saw was that the soul of a nation long suppressed would find utterance. But this did not happen fully in TN. The Rajaji-Kamaraj rule was a golden era in governance and economic advancement. In the years that followed, the Congress was seen as living for itself, the prestige of Nehru notwithstanding. The Congress ceased to be alive to the social needs of the multitude and above all to the linguistic and cultural aspirations of the Tamils.
The Congress in the state has now become a political anachronism. Inertia, corruption and the youth revolt deriving from the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 resulted in its decline and fall in 1967. The current student movement has now put the seal on its irrecoverable fate. The coming Lok Sabha election is sure to place the imprimatur on its clinical death. A state of comatose for 46 years, complicity in the crime against Tamils, pervasive corruption and thorough disregard of political sensitivity account for this demise. The thinking, values, aspirations and attitudes of the Tamils for a century and more were profoundly influenced by the great poet and nationalist Subramania Bharathy. His nationalist invocations and social stirrings had permeated the Tamils. The Congress however was insensitive to them. They were overwhelmed by the thought that as harbingers of independence the goodwill they earned was inexhaustible.
Coterminous with the decline of the Congress was the growth of the Dravidian movement. It originated in the thirties with Periyar and became a mass movement from early fifties under the leadership of Annadurai. DMK was the name of the organization purporting to embrace all Dravidians but spoke only for the Tamils and was Tamil Nadu based. For political appeal it made Brahmins the hate symbol and scored measureable mileage. It spearheaded social issues, stood for equitable distribution and affirmative action for the under-class. Rightful place for Tamil forcefully articulated by the DMK had enormous resonance with the people. The Congress stood inert in this equation
It was at this juncture that the central government’s policy of thrusting Hindi in Tamil Nadu came about in 1965. The students and the youth took the anti-Hindi agitation to unprecedented heights. TN was shaken to its foundations. The Congress government lost its grip on TN. The Dravidian movement had secured its complete sway. Who effected the change? The students. What were the effects? At the height of the agitation the entire population was involved. The people’s sentiment moved the leaders.
A respected leader and Union Minister C. Subramaniam resigned from the cabinet in 1965 expressing solidarity with the movement. A former Chief Minister, an all India Congress leader and King Maker Kamaraj was defeated in the 1967 election. The foundation was laid for the defeat of the Congress in the state. What is surprising is that though a sea change was taking place in people’s political affiliations, even DMK was not fully aware of it and Annadurai contested the Lok Sabha and not the Legislative Assembly seat.
It is at a similar constellation of circumstances that the current student movement has gathered momentum in TN. Not everything that it portends may be easily visible at this point of time. There is a vital difference however. What ignited the students were not issues closer home but the plight of their compatriots in Sri Lanka. What was exasperating and most unpardonable to them was the complicity of the Congress government and the indifference if not positive collusion of the DMK. Added to all these are the counterfeit somersaults of the ADMK. The significance of the movement has to be seen in their total rejection of all three major parties and their disregard of other parties. Also to be noted is their sincerity and passion which can be discerned only from their statements, facial expression and intonation reflecting determination.
With the Congress vacating political space, the Dravidian formations face the onslaught from the students, the youth and the politically conscious. What started as a movement for social reform in the fifties, morphed into a political party, got bifurcated in the seventies for reasons of corruption is now mired deep in corruption and is without direction. A state that was doped with the Dravidian opium for far too long has awakened. This remarkable upsurge will take more than half a century to run its course while dominating political life. In its wake it will take TN towards new vistas. The path is protracted and over a decade will be needed for full political fallout. Only then is a regime change conceivable ie to move away from the Dravidian Maayai (illusion). As of now the DMK and the ADMK are the obverse and the reverse of the same coin.
A coherent political philosophy is yet to evolve, but a new vibrant political formation with a decisive mandate will make its impact in the counsels of Delhi. In India’s relations to Sri Lanka, Delhi will cease to be hijacked by the Foreign Service but will be driven by the weight and force of TN. The strength of 80 million strong by 2020, the militancy of the youth and the vibrancy of the economy will provide momentum to the State and its power.
What accounts for this change? All three parties had taken a stand inimical to the political future of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Their consistent and continuing antipathy to SL Tamils alienated them from mainstream Tamilian thinking. At the 2011 state election the people showed their wrath against the Congress and the DMK. Having no other alternative the people were constrained to vote for the ADMK. The students draw their strength as much from the pro SL Tamil sentiment as from the explosive anger at their corruption. Antipathy boiling for three decades or more has breached the bounds. India’s vote in the UN Resolution became the occasion.
Antagonism towards all political formations has coalesced around the SL Tamil cause. What has crystallized cannot melt away. The movement is a revolt. It is a watershed in TN’s political progress. The groundswell is the most widespread and potent in 48 years after 1965. It may not translate into votes and seats in 2014 or 2016 but the groundwork is laid for a new forceful political formation to emerge. It will not raise plaintive cries to Delhi, nor will it be indifferent towards SL Tamils. A new equilibrium is in the making and fresh bearings have to be taken therefrom.