Doyen of social justice
Karunanidhi paid special attention to translating the ideology of Periyar into reality, and his own contribution to the cause of uplift of the backward classes in Tamil Nadu is historic and indelible.
MY ASSOCIATION WITH KALAIGNAR began at Periyar gurukulam, Erode. We have moved together for 73 years, wedded to the same ideology, our brotherhood growing every day in spite of occasional differences in approach when the exchange of ideas got precedence over the exchange of pleasantries, as we were both involved in the war against oppression.
In the 1967 general election, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which formed an alliance of parties that opposed the Congress, won and came to power in Tamil Nadu. Anna (as C.N. Annadurai was endearingly called) the Chief Minister designate, along with Navalar R. Nedunchezhiyan and Kalaignar, proceeded to Trichy even before taking the oath of office to pay respects to their ideological mentor, Thanthai [E.V. Ramasamy] Periyar. It was an emotional meeting after 17 years of parting of ways with the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) for having chosen the political path and formed the DMK. During the historic meeting at Trichy, Anna sought Periyar’s “blessing” and support for the DMK to rule the State. Periyar explicitly stated that the DK’S support to the DMK depended on its functioning along the Dravidian ideological line. Anna promised him that he would act as per Periyar’s ideological wishes. After assuming power, on one occasion, a question was raised on the floor of the Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly as to whether the government would honour Periyar for his role in the freedom struggle. Anna aptly replied, “My Ministry itself is dedicated to Periyar as a mark of respect and honour.”
Anna began to implement the principles of Periyar during his short span of almost one-and-a-half years as Chief Minister. Anna legalised the concept of self-respect marriages advocated by Periyar, devoid of priests and rituals, through an exclusive enactment. This Act recognised not only prospective self-respect marriages but also marriages held in the past with retrospective effect.
Two other prominent achievements of Anna as Chief Minister were naming the Madras State as Tamil Nadu and establishing the two-language educational policy in the State. On the social justice front, a principled decision was taken during Anna’s rule to form a commission to uplift the Backward Classes in the State. In the BY
meantime, Anna passed away owing to chronic illness.
The goal of dispensation of social justice is possible only through reservation in education and public employment, giving adequate representation to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. Dispensation of social justice continues to be the core principle of the Dravidian movement, founded by South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF), popularly known as the Justice Party. In 1928, the Communal G.O. (government order) came to be implemented by the independent ministry which had the support of the Justice Party. From then onwards, the proportion of representation of the underprivileged has been rising towards adequacy. Periyar quit the Congress in 1925 on the issue of social justice and founded the Self-respect Movement and later, the DK.
Periyar’s wishes were translated into action continuously by Kalaignar. When he became the Chief Minister after Anna’s demise in 1969, reservation both in education and employment in Tamil Nadu stood at 25 per cent for the Backward Classes (B.CS), 16 per cent for the Scheduled Castes (S.CS) and the Scheduled Tribes (S.TS), which was implemented during the regime of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister. The first Backward Class Commission was appointed by the DMK’S Chief Minister under the Chairmanship of A.N. Sattanathan in 1969. The Commission submitted its report recommending adequate representation for the oppressed sections in the society. Taking cognisance of an obiter dictum (passing reference) of the Supreme Court judgment in the Balaji case, which said the total reservation was not to exceed 50 per cent, Kalaignar raised the level of reservation for BCS from 25 per cent to 31 per cent and for S.CS and S.TS from 16 per cent to 18 per cent in 1971. During the DMK rule (1971–1976), Kalaignar formed a separate Ministry for the Welfare of the Backward Classes, the first of its kind in India.
During the regime of M.G. Ramachandran as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Chief Minister in 1979, the State government issued a G.O. superimposing the economic criterion of a ceiling of an annual income of Rs.9,000, making B.C. families above this limit ineligible to avail themselves of reservation benefits.