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Dravidianism, Nationalism and Federalism

Critical Assessment of 100 Years of Dravidian Movement.

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5 January, 2018 | 2 min read

By Ravi Sriramachandran

Ashoka University jointly with Ambedkar University organized an inter-disciplinary conference, inviting leading scholars from various fields to discuss the phenomenon of Dravidianism, its various facets and its implication for the nature of State and democratic federalism in India, on January 3 and 4 at the India International Centre in Delhi.

The conference was a stellar success with more than 100 people, students from Ashoka University, Ambedkar University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Shiv Nadar University participating. Along with general public, members of political parties and received considerable attention from the media. The conference also hosted two notable Keynotes by two eminent scholars Prof. Partha Chatterjee and Prof. Sudipta Kaviraj.

It must be noted here that, in spite of the history and longevity of the Dravidian movement, not a single academic appraisal of it has ever taken place. The conference brought scholarly focus to reckon with and reflect on regionalism as a component of the political life of the nation. Since Dravidianism and the political organizations espousing it have been the exemplars of regionalism in national life, the conference opened up considerations through various disciplinary rubrics like history, political science, ethnography of the political, media studies, political sociologyeconomics and development studies.

The term Dravida referred to the geographical south of India as inscribed in the national anthem. Dravidianism, roughly based on the geographical marker and its metaphoric extension to racial imaginary and linguistics, but historically housed in Tamil Nadu, has two important componentsthe hierarchy of significance among them varying for both political actors and analysts. Scholarly consensus is that these two are Non-Brahmanism and Tamil identity. In its first major political iteration as South Indian Liberal Federation or “Justice Party” (established in 1916) as it is popularly known, it sought to counter what is known as Brahmin/ casteist hegemony. It extended through its second major political iteration as Self Respect movement against the orthodoxy of “Vedic Hinduism”, in an alleged continuance of the so called heterodox religions and sects of India.

The Self Respect Movement lead by Periyar Ramasamy laid the popular base of the movement throughout the state. The movement later espoused the cause of Tamil language and identity in opposition to Hindi, which was later consolidated by the third major iteration as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, shortly, the DMK. The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the defining general election of 1967. And it marks, too, the 50th anniversary of the ascent of the Dravida movement to power in what was then Madras State (now Tamil Nadu). What this ended was one party rule and one political culture and political hubris. With C. N. Annadurai ascending to power ‘democratic alternation, democratic variation, came into its own in the Madras of 1967.”

But beyond commemorating, celebrating, we need to ask where the Dravidian movement stands today. We need to ask, risking a Wordsworthian cliché: Whither has fled Periyar’s visionary gleam, where is it now CNA’s glorious dream?” as Gopal Gandhi put it in a recent article on the Dravidian Movement.

The author is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Ashoka University.

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