On August 14, the Tamil Nadu government under the chief ministership of MK Stalin completed 100 days. For the DMK party, it is the first time they have a new political leader at the helm running the government. But for Stalin he is conscious that he is heading Dravidianism 2.0 and his style of governance is testimony to this fact.
“Whenever DMK comes to power, the regime is not a party-based one, but a regime of a race. The party’s victory each time is the victory of Tamil, Tamil Nadu and the democracy in the Indian Union,” claimed Stalin in a statement he released on August 14.
Interestingly, the 100th day of Stalin’s government fell on August 14, the day which is observed as ‘Communal Rights Day’ every year by the Dravidians. Following the Supreme Court ban in 1950, the day is now observed to mark reservation and social justice.
Also by celebrating 100 years of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, taking 1921 as base year, the year when the Justice Party, introduced reservation for the first time in the country, Stalin has sent out a message that the party has modernised but it has not moved away from its core ideology: social justice.
Government at doorstep
One of the key initiatives taken by Stalin in his first 100 days, which has brought the government to a common man’s doorstep, has been the formation of a separate department, ‘Ungal Thoguthiyil Mudhalamaichar’ (Chief Minister in your constituency), to address people’s grievances. Out of 4.57 grievance forms about 2.29 lakh forms have already been addressed so far and necessary actions have been taken.
“Though some demands were unacceptable, we haven’t neglected them. We have given people an opportunity, to be able to keep their appeal with the government,” observed Stalin in the statement.
This department has originated from a programme ‘Ungal Thoguthiyil Stalin’, which was initiated by the DMK during its election campaign. Stalin had collected grievance forms from the citizens and assured them that their issues would be addressed in hundred days if his party was to form the government.
One of DMK’s principles laid down by the party founder CN Annadurai was ‘Makkalidam Sel’ (go to the people). The ‘Ungal Thoguthiyil Mudhalamaichar’ scheme has echoed the same philosophy, said senior journalist Govi Lenin.
“You cannot do wonders unless you are in touch with the people,” he added.
According to Lenin, when Karunanidhi contested in the elections for the first time in 1957 from Kulithalai constituency, the party did not have any base at the ground level as it has today.
“So, Karunanidhi built up support for the party in the area by campaigning and meeting people. When Stalin entered politics during MISA in 1976, the party had a lot of middle-aged and old leaders. It was at that time, Stalin met people and got the idea to form the youth wing of the party,” pointed out Lenin.
This act of reaching out to the masses and learn about their problems continued during his years as Mayor and in the years when DMK was not in power.
“During the COVID pandemic, he involved the party cadres too in this process of meeting people through campaigns such as ‘Ondrinaivom Vaa’. Now, through ‘Ungal Thoguthiyil Mudhalamaichar’, the job of reaching out to the people has become a function of not only the party but also the government,” added Lenin.
Evolving with times
One of the major contributions of the DMK in Tamil Nadu’s development has been paving the way for creating a modern state with a scientific temper. Be it providing a legal status to inter-caste marriage, bringing in language policies, establishing industrial units or in maintaining a robust federalist structure, the DMK has constantly evolved with changing times and has accordingly launched schemes and programmes.
Stalin is also marching ahead on the same road. After he came to power, to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, he embraced new and innovative ways like opening a war room, setting up oxygen facilities, inviting a global tender for vaccination (albeit, receiving no response), making vaccination as a mass movement which benefited the people in one way or other.
On the economic front, he created an Economic Advisory Council and State Development Policy Council, to give an ear to scholarly suggestions on the matters of state’s economic conditions.
Stalin is being praised for his separate agriculture budget and for championing Gandhian economics. “In his Independence day speech, Stalin has touched upon Gandhian philosophies and economics. No other Dravidian leaders hailed Gandhism till now and that makes the difference. The separate agriculture budget alone is sufficient to be proud about Tamil Nadu,” said political analyst Tharasu Shyam.
Shyam added that the conversion of barren lands to expand cultivable lands and implementing the MNREGA for asset creation such as percolation ponds (ponds in low-lying areas to store rainwater run-offs) have been demanded by agricultural experts all these years. “But the government is paying heed only now,” he said.
“The focus and thrust areas of the budget are pointed. Giving importance to dryland agriculture has been unexpected and not seen earlier. Such inclusiveness is the need of the hour,” said Shyam.
A win over ideological differences
Like father, like son. In 1970, Periyar EV Ramasamy, had planned to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a temple defying the practice at that time of not allowing socially backward people inside this area. At that time, the DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi was the chief minister.
“It is Periyar’s regime. The government will do whatever he demands,” said Karunanidhi and passed an order that people from all castes can become temple priests. However, in 1972, the Supreme Court struck down that order. It had become a thorn sewn into his heart, said Periyar about the issue.
In 2006, Karunanidhi again passed a similar order. In 2007, six priest training centres were opened and during the inauguration of these centres, Karunanidhi pointedly observed that they were now able to remove the thorn from Periyar’s heart. However, the bleeding continued.
After many legal battles, a Dalit priest was appointed in 2018 and the matter was buried. It was in this backdrop, on the 100th day of his regime, by distributing appointment orders to 58 trained non-Brahmin priests, Stalin has hopefully stopped the bleeding from Periyar’s heart.
Besides appointing non-Brahmin priests, the state focused on other issues related to temples. In the last two months, the state has recovered many encroached lands belonging to temples and launched ‘Annai Thamilil Archanai’, an initiative to perform ‘archanai’ (special puja) in temples.
Thus, by winning the hearts of Hindus, at a time when the BJP and other right wing forces are targeting the DMK as anti-Hindu, arguably is one of the major achievements of Stalin’s government. The BJP state unit chief K Annamalai too appreciated Stalin’s efforts.
But how do you explain DMK’s radical shift from being the proponents of atheism to becoming a Hindu-friendly party?
“About 98 per cent of cadres in the DMK are not atheists. But the party has been identified as a party of non-believers. This duality was created by Periyar and Annadurai, and Karunanidhi established the duality in the political space. Stalin has further leveraged the duality,” said Dravidian idealogue VMS Subagunarajan.
During Annadurai and Karunanidhi’s period, about 40 per cent of the cadres would be Periyarists. But Stalin with a diluted cadre base is effectively fighting communal forces, he added.
“Karunanidhi had asked ‘In which engineering college Rama has studied?’ He had guts to ask that and the same time he did many good things for Hinduism such as making an effort to revive the age-old Tiruvarur temple car festival. He was an organic intellectual. But though Stalin is not as expressive as Karunanidhi, he silently fights the divisive politics played by right wingers,” concluded Subagunarajan.