The recent arrest of several pro-Tamil activists for hoisting a separate ‘state flag’ on Tamil Nadu Day may have painted the AIADMK government as a strict disciplinarian regime with no tolerance towards secessionism. The past, however, tells a different story. In 1970, it was the DMK, the parent organisation of AIADMK, which had pitched for separate flags for all states.
The pitch stemmed from the demand of Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), the parent party of DMK to have a separate sovereign secular republic called ‘Dravida Nadu’, between 1940 and 1960. Despite breaking away from the DK over ideological differences, CN Annadurai, who founded the DMK in 1949 supported the demand for a sovereign state. While the demand had no takers, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963 declared secessionism illegal, forcing both the Dravidian parties to give up on their demands.
However, M Karunanidhi took forward the struggle of state autonomy when he succeeded Annadurai as the chief minister following the latter’s death in 1969. One of the major initiatives he took was to form the PV Rajamannar Committee to study about state autonomy.
“Karunanidhi then demanded a separate flag for each state as like US and Switzerland,” writes KS Radhakrishnan, an advocate and one of the spokespersons of DMK, in one of his articles on the Tamil Nadu flag issue.
Acknowledging Karunanidhi’s demand in August 20, 1970, then prime minister Indira Gandhi replied saying that she would discuss the matter with the chief ministers.
“But it was opposed by the Indian National Congress (Organisation) and Jana Sangh. However, on August 27, while addressing the media in Delhi, Karunanidhi showed the Tamil Nadu flag designed by him. The flag was designed in such a way that it had the Indian flag on the top left hand corner and the emblem (carrying a temple gopuram) of Tamil Nadu on the right side,” writes Radhakrishnan.
Since no consensus was reached by the states on the matter, Karunanidhi demanded that chief ministers be given the right to hoist the national flag on Independence Day, which in turn was accepted.
The matter of the state flag was buried and the state has undergone a sea a change ever since. But the topic resurfaced when a few Tamil nationalist parties tried to hoist a separate flag on Tamil Nadu Day on November 1 this year.
On October 20, an organisation called Coalition of Periyarists introduced an unofficial flag for Tamil Nadu, which had the state’s map in red against a white backdrop. While launching the flag, the organisation said it is neither a final version nor an official flag.
“We have designed the flag after seeking the opinion of nearly 150 organisations which are under the coalition. The flag can be revised and the coalition is ready to accept a flag which has a better theme and is acceptable to all sections of Tamil society,” the organisation said in a statement.
Organisations including the Thamizhar Viduthalai Kazhagam, May-17 Movement, Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam and Thamil Desiya Makkal Munnani, too had planned to hoist a separate ‘state flag’ on the day, but were cautioned by the police against any such action.
On November 1, police booked and detained several activists from pro-Tamil organisations who hoisted flags flouting orders.
The Naam Tamilar Katchi had hoisted a flag carrying images of bow-arrow, tiger and fish – insignias used by the Chera, Pandya and Chola chieftains.
Following the arrest of the activists, social media churned out many more versions of ‘Tamil Nadu flags’ – having images of Thiruvalluvar, Bharathiyar, Jallikkattu Bulls etc – with requests and demands to the state government to consider the models if it plans to introduce an official state flag.
But what triggered a sudden demand for a separate state flag?
“Earlier the Tamil nationalist organisations didn’t show any interest in commemorating Tamil Nadu Day. But in recent times, the state’s rights are being suppressed and its identities are being distorted. It is realised that having a separate flag is imperative to remind the people of the state about Tamil pride,” said a statement by the Coalition of Periyarists.