No healing of Dravidian divide

Call it the ‘impregnable fortress’ syndrome or the fallout of individual charisma, the political divide in Tamil Nadu between the two main Dravidian parties - DMK and AIADMK - continues to be observed with almost  sanctimonious precision even when historic occasions call for going beyond them.

This political wall again showed up when the state legislative assembly, housed in the famous Fort St George in Chennai – the seat of government since the British colonial times – celebrated its diamond jubilee on November 30, picking up the threads from the erstwhile Madras Assembly after the first general elections were held in 1952 under free India’s constitution.

The spectacular lighting and spruce-up of the assembly complex befitted the occasion, as the erstwhile Madras legislative assembly formed in 1937 under the Government of India Act, 1935 that first granted ‘provincial autonomy’, and the earlier constituted Madras legislative council, also represented large parts of present-day Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and even a bit of Odisha.

Thus, constitutional niceties required political divides to be forgotten for a while to mark the occasion, more so as the chief guest of honour was the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. But what people witnessed instead was the re-manifestation of the political polarity peculiar to Tamil Nadu. Two-party or multiple party systems do indeed reinforce themselves by fiercely defending individual turfs, but in Tamil Nadu, it lingers as some sort of enmity.

Boycotting celebrations

Even a day before Mukherjee was scheduled to arrive – the other key guests at the special session of the assembly that day included the governor K Rosaiah and the Chief Justice of the Madras high court, Justice M Y Eqbal, the 89-year-old DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi said that his party was boycotting the celebrations.

While Karunanidhi made no bones of his unhappiness over the manner in which the arrangements were made by the AIADMK regime headed by Ms J Jayalalitha, his main reason, among others, for DMK keeping away from the celebrations was that “we have not been accorded due respect.” He cited the invitation delivered at his house describing him merely as an ‘MLA’. This piqued him as Karunanidhi has served as chief minister of the state five times so far.

Notwithstanding heartburns that several former MLAs had not got the invite due to postal delay or whatever, almost everyone invited including MPs, special invitees and three oldest nonagenarian surviving former MLAs of the 1952 Assembly who were later specially honoured on the occasion- Krishnaswamy Gopalan, Pollachi N Mahalingam and R N Palaniyappan- came to the bedecked House well in time.

Even actor and DMDK leader Vijayakant, who recently broke ties with ‘Amma’, turned up promptly in time as everyone waited for the President.

However, surprisingly the President, after touching down at Chennai airport, first chose to drive down to the DMK leader’s residence, greeted Karunanidhi and spent some time with him before reaching the assembly. Mukherjee was slated to meet Karunanidhi only after the assembly function.

Despite this protocol-shift that put chief minister Jayalalitha at unease, analysts say that Mukherjee’s gesture was ‘statesman-like’, though the DMK had backed him in the presidential poll. He unwittingly and gently showed to the DMK, which had decided to boycott his function, the classical Tamil-poet Thiruvalluvar’s maxim that a possible discourtesy is gracefully returned with courtesy.

Terming state assemblies as “cradles where great leaders are born”, Mukherjee in his special address to the assembly, emphasised that the Tamil Nadu assembly had been “a classic example from where several leaders rose to national stature”.

This fact combined with the ‘landmark legislations’ the assembly had passed and welfare measures introduced over decades, like the one to protect the 69 per cent reservation after the Supreme Court Judgment in the ‘Mandal Case’ in early 1990s, and the free mid-day meal scheme for school children earlier, were ample hints from him that there was a need now to rethink the fastidiousness about this political divide.

After Jayalalitha had succinctly summarised the legal and historical evolution of representative institutions from British India to the independence, President Mukherjee hit the nail on the head when he, in his parting shot remarked, “all legislators and political parties must recognise that democracy is about welfare, good governance and all round development of society and not competitive populism.” It is now for the ‘Dravidian rivals’ to write a new chapter. 

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