Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai by R. Kannan

This was the book ( published in February 2010 ) which accompanied me through the train journeys from Frankfurt - Prague – Krakow-Belgrade-Thessalonika- Athens last month.
It is the biography of Anna, who has transformed the politics and society of Tamilnadu as a politician, thinker, reformer and writer. Anna developed a brand new politics of brotherhood with his Thambis ( younger brother) and inspired a whole new crop of leaders, writers and the masses. He combined astutely politics with literature, films and newspapers and awakened the tamil society, reformed it and lead the movement to power peacefully and democratically. His leagcy continues in the form of rule of his Thambis and the irreversible changes in the Tamil society. Anna was inspired by Periyar´s call for reforms of the society and fight against injustice and superstitions. Anna went beyond Periyar, mobilised the masses, took to the path of elctoral politics and captured political power. After this, Anna realised the need for building bridges with New Delhi and saw a better future for Tamils within the framework of India, shedding his earlier calls for a separate Dravida Naadu and Tamilnadu. At the same time he resolutely fought against the imposition of Hindi and thereby saved the whole country from Hindi fanatics who had the potential to break up the country. If Tamilnadu is doing well as a state and Tamils are shining in IT and in the coalition governments at the centre, the credit for this goes to Anna who laid the foundation and set the course of progress and new mindset.

Author Kannan has put the evolution of Anna as a leader in the context of the politics and other leaders at that time. Periyar was, of course, the greatest influence on Anna as well as in Tamil society in that period. While Anna started as a loyal disciple of Periyar, it was ineveitable that Anna had to move away from his mentor and start DMK. Periyar never wanted to become chief minister or aspired to any such position of power and would not let others. He was always a kind of anarchist and activist fighting for his radical beliefs outside the government system. Periyar´s eccentricities and rigid unrealistic approach to many political issues limited Dravidar Kazhagam´s growth.

Kannan describes the situation of Congress party which was feudal and did not take Anna and his Thambis seriously. Rajaji who rose to national level politics and fame played his hands wrongly and left the field for DMK to capitalise on his mistakes.

Kannan has given an objective narration and comments on all the players and parties– brahmins, non-brahmins, actors, congresswalas, Periyar, Anna, Kamaraj and Rajaji. He has quoted the comments of all the parties and let the readers judge them. He has let the writings and quotes of Anna and his adversaries speak for themselves. This is remarkable for a Tamil author. Most of the views and comments about Anna or for that matter any of the Tamil leaders are partial, emotional and subjective. I was surprised by the caustic and rabid remarks of Jayakanthan on DMK leaders calling them as Porukkis ( loafers). I am an admirer of Jayakanthan as a innovative writer and thinker and I am surprised even he has succumbed to partiality blatantly. Kannan has successfully managed to overcome this Tamil weakness of extremes …hero worship and demonisation of opponents.

I wish more such objective and neutral books are written in English on Periyar, MGR, Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha, Kamaraj and Rajaji. This will help the world to have a proper understanding of the Tamil society. Foreigners get confused by the giant cut-outs in Mount Road, the filmi politics, the contents and hollowness of kumudam and anandavikatan and the culture of Amma, Anna and Thambis. The books need to be translated in Hindi to educate those northeners who condenscendingly call all those beyond vindhyas as Madrasis.