With the passing away of DMK stalwart K Anbazhagan, the last pillar of the Dravidian movement has fallen. Anbazhagan was the lone surviving member of the Dravidian movement which recently lost M Karunanidhi. After the death of Anna and Periyar, the movement largely revolved around these two, though MGR claimed that he too represented the Dravidian legacy.
MGR was not a rationalist, and Jayalalithaa took several steps away from the Dravidian movement by flaunting her Hindutva credentials. It was left to Karunanidhi and Anbazhagan to keep the Dravidian movement aflame despite health concerns. There is no senior leader of the Dravidian movement today, who can claim to have rubbed shoulders with Periyar and Anna, barring the leader of the non-political organisation, the Dravidar Kazhagam.
Anbazhagan was fondly called ‘Inamaana Paeraasiriyar’ (compatriot-professor), particularly by Karunanidhi. Although Anbazhagan was not a firebrand orator like Karunanidhi, he too was a gifted speaker. However, his speech was more on traditional lines. The speeches were fairly predictable. He would stress that the Tamils constituted a race, that they were the oldest civilisation, that Tamil Nadu was the cradle of civilisation, and would then go on to urge the crowd to continue on the Dravidian movement and hold aloft the Tamil flag and culture.
He, therefore, surprised everyone by offering to resign his MLA post (he then represented Park Town in Chennai) in 1984 to express solidarity with the Sri Lankan Tamils. Karunanidhi said he would join the protest too and the two announced they were giving up membership of the Tamil Nadu Assembly.
On another occasion, Anbazhagan lost his membership of the House when Speaker PH Pandian announced the disqualification of Anbazhagan and nine other DMK MLAs for participating in agitation to burn copies of the Constitution to protest against the imposition of Hindi language in Tamil Nadu. The disqualification took place in December 1986, and this prevented Anbazhagan and some of his DMK colleagues from participating in the vote of confidence sought by Janaki MGR in January 1988 after the death of MGR.
At party meetings and public meetings of the DMK, Anbazhagan would speak a few minutes before Karunanidhi. He knew the crowd was waiting to hear Karunanidhi. Yet, he would take a few minutes to explain to the crowd the need to strengthen the Dravidian and Tamil movement, and to protect the Tamil race and identity.
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In the last few elections, he has turned up at polling booths in a wheelchair. The cadres knew the end was near.
His most significant contribution to the party came when he moved the court to transfer the corruption cases against Jayalalithaa from Chennai to Bengaluru, on the ground that her presence in Chennai as chief minister could prevent a fair trial. In accordance with his plea, the case was transferred to Bengaluru where the pace of hearings picked up, and Jayalalithaa was convicted by the trial court.
He always remained the number two in the party when Karunanidhi took over the chief ministership and party presidentship but was happy to play second fiddle.