The Grand Old Party of Tamil Nadu through the prism of political evolution: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

The political history of South India intertwines at odd ends with the one of the North. In 1944, North India transited from the Quit India movement to the Gandhi-Jinnah talks on Pakistan.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham leader Kalaignar Karunanidhi (Courtesy: The Hindu)
Dravida Munnetra Kazhgham leader Kalaignar Karunanidhi (Courtesy: The Hindu)

South India on the other hand raged with a ‘quit India’ movement of its own. The emergence of anti-Hindi, anti-North sentiments ruled the roster and virtually paralleled the anti-British notions. Leading the front was the Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Federation), a metamorphosis of the Justice Party under E V Naiker. [1]
While the ‘grand old party’ of India is undoubtedly the Indian National Congress (INC) owing to its legacy, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Association) deserves this title in Tamil Nadu. This notion is proposed while keeping in mind the fact that DK, the DMK’s parent organisation, is still active within Tamil Nadu. While the DK abstained from electoral pursuits, the DMK adopted the Indian electoral system and capitalised on the need for a political Tamil voice within the country.
Right from its’ inception, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was perceived as a party which had eliminating the Hindi language from Tamil Nadu as a prime agenda. The birth of the DMK on September 17, 1949 was accompanied with future General Secretary CN Annadurai stating that ‘linguistic imperialism’ has been established by the Central Government. This reference primarily targeted Hindi for being made the official language of India. [2]
Another of the DMK’s pet agendas was the demand for an independent Dravida Nadu (Dravidian country)/Dravidasthan. This was reiterated when CN Annadurai was handed over the responsibilities of the Dravida Kazhagam by Periyar EV Ramasamy at Dravidar Kazhaga Thani Maanila Maanaadu (Dravidar Kazhagam Independent State Conference) on October 23 and 24, 1948 in Erode. [3]
During March 1963, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Indian constitution led to Annadurai disclaiming a former goal of the Dravidian movement in the official organ of the DMK, Nam Nadu (Our Country). This Anti-secessionist Amendment was aimed at containing “the fissiparous, secessionist tendency in the country engendered by regional and linguistic loyalties.” [1]
Writing in response to the Amendment in the official organ of the DMK, Nam Nadu (Our Country), the party’s leader, Annadurai, disclaimed the former goal of the Dravidian movement. Annadurai asked his party members to “accommodate the theory of self-government within the framework of the anti-secession Constitutional amendment.” By purging its Constitution and Rules of references regarding Dravidasthan, the DMK was merely giving public form to what had long been reality. [1]
The DMK’s rapidly increasing popularity resulted in them completely routing the INC in the Assembly Elections of 1967. Ushering themselves into a new era for Tamil politics, the DMK formed the first non-Congress government in the state legislative winning 174 of the 234 seats. [4] The Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament) elections of 1967 further consolidated their position when their coalition bagged 36 out of the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu, reducing the INC to a mere 3 seats. [5]
Kumarasami Kamaraj’s split from the INC to form the Indian National Congress (Organised) further magnified DMK’s relevance for the centre. Then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kalaignar Karunanidhi understood that the Indira Gandhi government was incapable in Tamil Nadu without the DMK’s support. Taking advantage of this situation, he forayed into national politics by dissolving the state assembly and timing it’s elections with the 1971 Lok Sabha. [6]
Embossed with the glamorous Marudhur Gopalamenon Ramachandran, the DMK reinforced its grip on the state by winning 184 assembly seats. [7] Perceiving Kamraj led Indian National Congress (Organised) (NCO) as a threat, DMK supported Indira’s INC. Thus propelling INC to 9 Lok Sabha seats and gaining 23 seats for itself. [8] Proximity with the INC resulted in greater support from the Central Government and the rise of the DMK in national politics. [9]
Seeds for the next phase of Tamil Nadu politics sprouted with the dismissal of MG Ramachandran from the DMK on October 11, 1972. After the demise of Annadurai in 1969, the DMK was battling with acute power struggle within itself. The charismatic Tamil movie star turned politician MG Ramachandran was touted as the vote garner for the DMK. Upon being dismissed on grounds of being involved in ‘anti-party activities’, MG Ramachandran formed the Anna-DMK (ADMK) on October 16, 1972 and explained that his party would steadfastly implement Annadurai’s policies and programmes. [10]
After the NCO failed to contain the DMK’s clout in 1971, Tamil Nadu was in the need for a major political player as the main opposition party. MG Ramachandran filled the void and came to power in 1975. His populist measures overshadowed the Dravida agenda of the party. [11] The next 10 years (1977-1987) helped the INC consolidate itself as a party capable of influencing elections. [12] Tamil Nadu fell into the abyss of mismanagement during the 10 years of ADMK rule. Industrial output in Tamil Nadu fell from being on the 3rd spot in the country to the 13th spot, the state reached a point of economic and administrative breakdown. [13]
The 10 year lull for the DMK translated to the return of communalism in Tamil Nadu politics. MG Ramachandran’s successor, Jayalalithaa Jayaram furthered Brahmanic interests through temples, priesthood and appointment of Archakas from the Brahmin community. Due to developments in Ayodhya, lower castes had taken to Ambedkarism. The Coimbatore bomb blast sharply divided Tamil society on religious lines. [14] By aligning with the BJP, the DMK and ADMK shed their anti-Brahmin colours.
The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the late 1970s and early 1980s was accentuated by the support of Dravidian parties for the cause of an independent Tamil Eelam (Tamil Nation) in Sri Lanka. While the parties varied in their approach towards the separatist elements, the general notion was of sympathising the cause of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. By the new millennium, smaller groups such as the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) expressed open support for the Eelam. [15]
Through the prism of political evolution, the DMK has been varying on a broad spectrum. Politics of Tamil Nadu has been shaped by the variations within the DMK. Splinter organisations of the DMK such as the MDMK and the AIADMK which have gained electoral support are instrumental in guiding the state’s political atmosphere. Essentially it boils down to the DMK, its past, present or future for shaping Tamil Nadu.
The DMK’s relevance magnifies with the involvement of Dravidian parties in national politics. The 39 Lok Sabha seats which have been elemental in forming the Central Government as todays coalition era took over Indian politics, is consistently reaffirming the need for studying this party with this perspective.
The following references would be used through the study along with interviews of relevant personalities.

[1] R. L. Hardgrave Jr, The Dravidian Movement, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1965, p. Page 28.
[2] T. Nalankilli, “Birth of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK),” 01 February 2006. [Online]. Available:
[3] T. Nalankilli, “Dravida Nadu Separation Conference and Periyar’s Successor,” 01 November 2005. [Online]. Available:
[4] Election Commission of India, “Statistical Report on General Election, 1967 to the Legislative Assembly of Madras,” Election Commission of India, New Delhi, 1967.
[5] Election Commission of India, “Statistical Report on General Election, 1967 to the Fourth Lok Sabha,” Election Commission of India, New Delhi, 1967.
[6] D. Forrester, “Factions and Filmstars: Tamil Nadu Politics since 1971,” Asian Survey, vol. 16, no. 13, pp. 283-296, March 1976.
[7] Election Commission of India, “Statistical Report on General Election, 1971 to the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu,” Election Commission of India, 1971, 1971.
[8] Election Commission of India, “Statistical Report on General Election, 1971 to the Fifth Lok Sabha,” Election Commission of India, New Delhi, 1971.
[9] M. Sen, “New Trends in Tamil Nadu,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 7, no. 22, p. 1053, 27 May 1972.
[10] K. R. Sastry, “A Chronicle of the DMK Split,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 527-530, 30 March 1974.
[11] “Moment of Truth for MGR,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 15, no. 4, 26 January 1980.
[12] V. K. Ananth, “Changing Dynamics in Tamil Nadu,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 41, no. 13, pp. 1232-1233, 2006.
[13] A. Kohli, Democracy and Discontent: India’s Growing Crisis of Governability, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 162.
[14] A. Pinto, “End of Dravidian Era in Tamil Nadu,” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 34, no. 24, pp. 1483-1485+1487-1488, June 1999.
[15] A. Krishnakumar, “Some questions in Tamil Nadu,” Frontline, 9 June 2000.
[16] A. Balasingham, Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle, Political Committee, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 1983.


One thought on “The Grand Old Party of Tamil Nadu through the prism of political evolution: Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

We appreciate your feedback. Please mention an identity in case you wish to discuss or differ from the aforementioned opinions.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s