Chennai: The Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, promptly announcing 'Amma's government's decision' in the State Legislative Assembly to celebrate the stepping into the golden jubilee year of the historic renaming of erstwhile 'Madras State' as 'Tamil Nadu' on Pongal day (Sunday) this year, comes as an hour struck well and a stress-buster for the ruling AIADMK's co-coordinator.
For all the low-profile image that he wishes to convey with his modest sartorial signature, this move could be a salvaging masterstroke by EPS. It could help the ruling party re-establish its credentials on re-affirming the autonomy of States, more so in the Tamil Nadu context, wherein the AIADMK regime has been seen as having given up one right after another to the BJP-ruled Central government.
However, the rechristening of the erstwhile 'Madras State' as 'Tamil Nadu' was no mere tokenism that the then Congress government at the Centre agreed to, as a sort of pandering to rising Tamil sentiments amid the DMK under CN Annadurai's leadership storming into Fort St George, the seat of government here, in 1967.
The legally substantial name changeover was the result of a long, tortuous process of agitations and tussle with ideas- that even invoked shades of a civilisational conflict-, eventually paving way for setting January 14, 1969, as the 'appointed date' for the coming into effect of the Constitutional amendment brought through the 'Madras State (Alteration of Name Act), 1968', passed by Parliament, after the DMK Ministry led by Annadurai here piloted a government resolution on July 18, 1967, which was adopted in both Houses unanimously.
The Congress opposition in the state still wanted 'Madras' to be part of the new name 'Tamil Nadu', as the former was an internationally well known place name and hailed as the gateway to South India. But, sensing the mood of a new populous government, the Congress leader Mr. Karuthiruman finally relented to back the resolution as brought by Annadurai, realising that their prolonged prevarication over this issue was not doing the Congress any good in the state, for the Pradesh Congress Committee since decades earlier was known as 'Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC)', a name and style that has stuck till this day in state politics.
“That this House declares its firm opinion that the name of this State as mentioned in the Constitution of India should be changed as 'Tamil Nadu' and recommends that steps be taken by the State Government for securing necessary amendments to the Constitution,” Annadurai declared moving the tersely worded resolution in the Assembly that day, as seen in the records of the Legislature.
Though the DMK as a fledgling opposition group in the then Assembly was the first to bring in a resolution as early as May 1957 to rename 'Madras State' as 'Tamil Nadu', the issue began to grab the interest of a wider political spectrum soon, excepting the Congress Ministry then led by K Kamaraj who saw no merit in the proposition.
As Annadurai himself had mentioned in one of his historic speeches on the issue in the Rajya Sabha later, it was 'Tamizh Arasu Kazhagam', led by late Mo. Po. Sivagnanam, that started an agitation to press this demand and “all other political parties were immensely interested in it.” In the initial stages, the issue may have been DMK's brainchild in the mid-1950s', but it later became everyone's baby.
The larger context that triggered off this dialectic of an 'ancient' Tamil identity getting reflected in the name of a modern state voicing their interests within the Union of India, was first the carving out of a separate Andhra State from the erstwhile Madras Presidency (Andhra State formally came into being on October 1, 1953), with the then Chief Minister Rajaji deftly handling a sensitive issue and ensured 'Madras city (now Chennai)' remained capital of 'Madras State'.
Rajaji's decision did not go down well with the Telugu-speaking people of Madras then, but, as his biographer Rajmohan Gandhi notes, “happily the mistrust was forgotten” and the parting on both sides ended in a friendly note, thanks to a wider cultural ethos. This episode was followed by the reorganization of states on linguistic lines in 1956, even as the first sparks of the fears over the Centre's implementation of Official Languages Act, that later fueled the anti-Hindi agitation here, were visible.
Thus, the efforts by a wide range of Tamil intellectuals and scholars, besides political leaders here, to ground a new 'Tamil identity' in the geography of a 'Tamizhagam', acquired sharper focus. This is notwithstanding the DMK's own 'separate Dravida naadu' demand which it formally gave up only in 1962 in the wake of the Chinese aggression and fear that regional parties might be banned.
As ironies in history and politics have it, it was a Congressman, Mr. Sankaralinga Nadar who fired the first salvo for renaming then 'Madras State' as 'Tamizhagam'.
A Gandhian, he went on a fast for 76 days from July 27, 1956, to press his cause, until he was removed to a Madurai hospital in October that year where he died.
However, even the Congress establishment of the day did not take his demand seriously, recalled the DMK leader M Karunanidhi years later, resulting in Sankaralinganar becoming a 'martyr' for the cause. Many years later, during 2015, the previous AIADMK government led by Ms J Jayalalithaa honoured the memory of Sankarlinganar by raising a memorial for him at Virudhunagar.
Meanwhile, as other parties notably the then Praja Socialist Party (PSP) and the CPI continued to press for the name change. In February 1961, a PSP MLA moved a resolution on the issue in the State Assembly, but it really hit national headlines when the inimitable CPI MP from Bengal, Mr. Bhupesh Gupta, moved a Private Member's Bill in the Rajya Sabha in March 1961, pressing for a Constitutional amendment to change the name of 'Madras State' to 'Tamil Nadu'.
In May 1963, the debate on that Bill in the Upper House was electrifying, bringing out the best of the scholar-orator-diplomat in Annadurai in defending Bupeshji's Bill without sounding secessionist. The Bill was negatived in the Rajya Sabha then.
Yet, Annadurai pointed out that senior Congress leader C Subramaniam, who was Finance Minister in Kamaraj's Cabinet, had himself in part agreed with the spirit of the PSP's resolution in the State Assembly, while Congress in Delhi was looking the other way. He also quoted from Tamil classics to drive home that the words 'Tamil Nadu' had been under use for centuries, in a keenly-heard debate that eventually paved way for his goal to be achieved after DMK wrested power in the State....