English provided a lifeline for upwardly mobile non-Hindi peoples when New Delhi wanted to close all avenues of progress for them. That struggle, which ought to have been fought by all non-Hindi people, was fought by Tamils, for the rest, writes Garga Chattejree
MUTHUVEL Karunanidhi, the eldest statesman of the Tamil nation and multiple times chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu, will complete 60 years in public political life this year. In 1957, he was elected as a DMK MLA to the Tamil Nadu assembly. In Delhi media and in Anglo-Hindi imagination, he is an old man, a corrupt and nepotistic dinosaur who is not in touch with the fast moving times when people are expected to give up their own language and identity for progress and assimilation. In the Indian Union parlance, this means giving up being Tamil, giving up being Bengali, giving up being Kannadiga and becoming an Anglo-Hindi tricoluor creature who can move seamlessly between Delhi, Bengaluru, Gurgaon, NOIDA and Mumbai. We are living in sad times, incredibly sad times. For Kalaignar is no random old man.
He is not a domesticated animal of the Delhi zoo. He was perhaps a bent but an untamed Tamil. If the Tamils had their fully sovereignty, he would have been a world leader. And with it, Tamil cultural space, something he was very close to, would have found a place in world culture as an expression of a people. Many chief ministers of non-Hindi states were of such a deserving stature but the world at large will never come to know of them. Sovereignty or specifically, the lack thereof, creates this glass ceiling. But when the officially dictated ideology tells you constantly that to be Tamil and nothing but Tamil is bad and so on for all non-Hindi nations, he was part of the political ideology that empowered Tamils to dream of their own destiny, something that is a natural divinely given right of a people.
He has helped Tamils not to be the latest wholesale subject people of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan ideology forces. He is a Tamil giant among Hindustani pygmies. He was legendary Tamil mass leader CN Annadurai’s lieutenant. He is the living embodiment of a plain fact that has been obscured to the point of invisibility, that Indians are not a nation, that the Indian Union is a multi-nation union, that these constituent nationalities predate any idea of India, that the Indian Union is an arrangement and that the nationalities within the Indian Union do not need New Delhi. New Delhi needs them.
The Dravidian movement with its stress on mother tongue rights and an unwavering principled position against Indian state-sponsored Hindi imposition has affected the lives of non-Hindi people like me and our generation of Bengalis does not know. For if it had not been for the likes of CN Annadurai and M Karunanidhi and the millions of Tamil youths they politically directed during the legendary anti-Hindi protests of 1965, Hindi would have been the sole official language of the Indian Union. We, Bengalis, would have become third-class citizens of the Indian Union and not the second-class citizens as we are at present because of the English-Hindi twin official language policy.
English provided a lifeline for upwardly mobile non-Hindi peoples when New Delhi wanted to close all avenues of progress for them. That struggle, which ought to have been fought by all non-Hindi people, was fought by Tamils, for the rest of us. And they were led, among other people, by Karunanidhi. How can we ever forget this, especially at a time when New Delhi does not want us to remember 1965? It does not want us, non-Hindi people, to remember the ideals of 1965 because the ruling Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan forces of New Delhi have started another linguistic war against us by a renewed savage push for Hindi imposition. Especially at this historical juncture, how can we forget Karunanidhi who set the dream higher for Tamils by calling for Tamil being given the same official language status that Hindi enjoys? By doing that, he raised the bar of imagination and politics, something which we have not been able to reach even today. It is a dream, a dream deferred but a dream alive.
For the Tamil nation, fiscally, politically, economically and culturally, the Indian Union is hardly a profitable deal, but it is the reality. Karunanidhi along with Annadurai was at the forefront of that tactical and subsequently ideological adjustment to the superior might of the Delhi establishment and steered the DMK into the Indian republican political mainstream where talk of independence was taboo. Thus, Karunanidhi fought on as the defender of Tamil national rights and the great defender of Tamil national interests at every instance when Delhi wanted to forcibly encroach into state rights by expanding the domain of the union.
In doing so, Kalaignar may have fought for his own people, but that fight held back Delhi from decimating the federal structure. I may not be a Tamil, but today Bengal’s state government has certain rights because Karunanidhi fought for his people and, thus, fought for the rest of us, who were unfortunate enough to not have a guardian of our people as Karunanidhi has been to the Tamil nation. States that are under constant assault today from Delhi which wants to encroach on our turf and can be lured by few crumbs from Delhi might do well to remember his words — ‘Naan statilay irukkiren. Centre vendam (I am in the state. I don’t want the centre)’ He is one of our own.
In an Indian Union, where cow-belt Hindu fascism is a cancer of the body politic of the union, where systematic Hindi imposition aims to destroy the language, the culture, the autonomy, the dreams, the imagination, the future, the possibilities of the non-Hindi nationalities in the union, that geriatric man on a mechanised wheelchair is still the non-playing captain of the union-wide team that strives to defend the federal structure of the Indian Union. In the Anglo-Hindified Indian imaginary, speaking Tamil and only speaking Tamil leader of the Tamil-speaking may appear like an anachronism from a hoary past. But for hundreds of millions of non-Hindi people, with overt and covert dreams of equality and dignity, Kalaignar Karunanidhi is a warrior for future peace.
Garga Chatterjee, an Indian brain scientist at MIT, writes columns from Kolkata for newspapers in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Opinion