Sunday (September 15) marks the 110th birth anniversary of C.N. Annadurai (September 15,1909 - February 3, 1969) popularly known as Perarignar Anna - a name that has been the driving force behind the Tamil Nadu politics ever since 1967 when the DMK was voted to rule the state defeating the Congress party that had held sway since Independence in 1947. Anna founded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949 after he broke away from the Dravida Kazagam (DK) floated by Periyar E.V.Ramsamy Naicker as a social reformist outfit. Anna's decision to part ways with his mentor Thanthai Periyar was prompted by the latter's demand for a separate state of Tamil Nadu outside the Indian Union coupled with Periyar, who was nearing 70 years of age, deciding to marry Maniammai who was just 31 years old.
What made Anna stand above the rest of his followers as a truly great man, hero-worshipped by the people of Tamil Nadu to this day, irrespective of caste or creed.
When the late Tamil poet Thira Karunandan approached Periyar to conduct his self-respect marriage at Mannargudi, Periyar, who had committed himself to another party functionary elsewhere, asked Anna to conduct the wedding ceremony on his behalf. When Anna reached Mannargudi on the eve of the wedding, Karunandan briefed him about the arrangements.
Anna told him he would arrive at the wedding venue at 9 the following morning. After he left, Anna made certain discreet enquiries and learnt that the bride's father was an orthodox gentleman who was left with little choice as the groom was keen on a self-respect style wedding. Since Anna did not want to hurt the sentiments of the bride's father who was spending lavishly for the wedding, he sent word that he had some other engagements in a nearby town and would come only at 12 noon and asked them to go ahead with the wedding at the appointed Muhurtham time. Anna turned up at the wedding venue only at noon.
This incident bears eloquent testimony to Anna's deep respect for sentiments and feelings of fellow human beings and his anxiety not to hurt the feelings of others.
Within less than two years that he held charge as the Chief Minister, Anna changed the name of the state from Madras to Tamil Nadu, legalised self-respect marriages and introduced a two language formula, as opposed to the three-language formula followed in other southern states. Though his DMK party won a landslide victory in the 1967 assembly elections, Anna did not relish a great leader like Kamaraj losing to a college student from his party. He took the earliest opportunity to get Kamaraj elected to the Lok Sabah in 1968 from Nagercoil by not putting up a candidate from the DMK.
Further, when R. Venkataraman was appointed as a member of the Union Planning Commission, Anna organised a grand farewell to him, extolling his contribution to the industrial development of the state during his tenure as it's industries minister Anna had said although the Congress party had been voted out of power in the state, the DMK government would like to carry on the unfinished agenda of Venkataraman and would look forward to his guidance. By such gestures Anna rose to the status of a true statesman.
Anna died on February 3, 1969. Tamil Nadu had never witnessed such a massive downpour of people coming to Chennai to get a last glimpse of their great leader. While deaths of MGR, Jayalalitha and Kalaignar also witnessed massive crowds, they were nowhere near what Chennai saw in February 1969.
In fact several persons who travelled on the roof of a train near Tiruchirapalli were crushed to death as they did not listen to the station master's warnings not to travel on the roof of the train.
Today there are several Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu ---- DMK, AIADMK, MDMK, DMDK, LDMK to name a few but all these political parties recognise only one person as their real leader - Perarignar Anna. That is the legacy left by Anna. His name will continue to inspire the people of Tamil Nadu for several generations to come.
(The writer, a retired IAS of the Tamil Nadu cadre, served as member, State Planning Commission and additional chief secretary to the government of Tamil Nadu)