Why did CN Annadurai, the founder of DMK, part ways with Periyar?

The alleged ‘demand’ to demolish Periyar statues in Tamil Nadu by BJP politician H Raja’s facebook account has been condemned by media. A BJP office in Coimbatore was attacked by unknown assailants as a result of this. Meanwhile, H Raja has clarified that the controversial remark was posted by his Facebook page admin without his knowledge

An incident of Periyar statue being vandalised has been reported from Vellore in Tamil Nadu. After this incident, Periyar statues have been given police protection in the state.

Who is Periyar?

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Periyar is considered as the leader of the Dravidian/self-respect/anti – Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu. His name was originally EV Ramaswamy Naicker and he was a Congress member from 1919 to 1925. He later quit Congress party and started the self-respect movement among non-Brahmins which fought for the downtrodden. Periyar served as the President of Justice Party (1938 – 1944) in erstwhile Madras state. The party formed provincial governments in Madras state between 1920 and 1937 and it was one of the first to come up with caste-based reservations. Due to the success of Congress and internal rifts, the party declined after 1937. Periyar formed the Dravida Kazhagam in 1944.

While every revolutionary and political leader has opponents and detractors, the story of Periyar is somewhat unique. Why did Periyar’s brightest protege dissociated himself from the leader and form his own party? There are a couple of theories on this path-breaking event in Dravidian politics.

Why did CN Annadurai part ways with Periyar?

Periyar and Annadurai differed on many issues. However, the tipping point that led to their breakup was Periyar’s second marriage to a much younger woman and her anointment as his heir in politics.

Periyar’s first wife Nagammai died in 1933. He had a personal assistant named Maniammai after 1942. Her original name was Gandhimati. Maniammai was the daughter of a Justice party leader named Kanagasabai Mudaliar. She joined the Justice party after her father’s death in 1942. After having served as Periyar’s personal assistant, she married him in 1949. Periyar also announced that Maniammai would be his political heir. This event sparked off a rift between Periyar and his protege CN Annadurai.

In the book ‘Political History of the Rise and Fall of Dravidian Parties in Tamil Nadu (South India)‘ by Thanjai Nalankilli, the writer says  (emphasis added) :

Many party cadres and leaders thought that marriage between Periyar in his seventies and Maniammai in her twenties went against the very rationalist principles DK and Periyar preached. Periyar explained that the marriage was to make Maniammai his legal heir and nothing more. Party leaders were also angry that Periyar was, in effect, anointing Maniammai as his successor to lead the party, superseding senior party leaders. Not everyone was opposed to the marriage. Many party leaders and cadres stood with Periyar.

However, another writer says that the anointment of Maniammai was the reason for the split between Periyar and Annadurai. The age of Periyar’s second wife was not a key reason as per the writer PC Ganesan. He writes in the book titled ‘CN Annadurai’ :

Periyar was then seventy-one and Maniammai twenty-six. The incompatibility in age was glaring. The workers of Dravida Kazhagam resented the marriage proposal. Although Periyar’s marriage became a bone of contention among a considerable section of Dravida Kazhagam, that was not the cause of the split that followed later. Periyar opposed forced marriages of young girls to old men in considerations of finance, property, social status, etc, but in this case, though there was a considerable age difference between the two,  Maniammai was a willing partner to the arrangement. What irked Anna [Annadurai] was that Periyar named Maniammai as heir both to his personal property and the political organisation. 

While the left celebrates the achievements of Periyar in the domain of social justice, it is indeed curious for a bystander as to why he needed to transfer his property to a person and not donate his wealth for charitable purposes? His disrespect to the sentiments of his own followers and undemocratic behaviour is never criticised in the media narrative. Periyar’s anti-Hindu ideas have also escaped the scrutiny of leftist thinkers and commentators.

Respect for icons of different ideologies is needed

We cannot go on demolishing statues of those we don’t like. Periyar’s supporters should also admit that his blatant anti-Hindu rhetoric is not suitable for a harmonious society. While celebrating his good deeds it is necessary to drop ideas that are incompatible with modern India.

All political ideologies and its icons need to be given minimum respected in a democracy. But it is amusing to see how this debate is framed in a one-way side. In addition to this, the major character flaws of left-wing ‘icons’ are washed off and those of right-wing ‘icons’ are amplified and demonised routinely. This bias needs to end for an environment where all icons are treated with respect in spite of their flaws and mistakes. Hopefully, this lesson will be drawn by all through this episode.

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