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History of Indian Tamil separatism


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By Harsha Gunasena There were debates in respect of the election manifesto of the Tamil National Alliance in relation to northern provincial council elections. The majority Sinhalese in this country is having a deep fear of devolving power to the minority Tamils. The Tamils of this country have to launch a struggle in order to enjoy the provisions of the Constitution of the country after the end of the three-decade-old bloody war. The TNA won 30 seats out of 38 seats in the Northern Provincial Council. This is well above the expected 2/3 majority. Also against the indirect forecasts of well-known political commentator, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, C.V. Wigneswaran obtained the highest preferential votes in Jaffna District. At this juncture it is appropriate to discuss in brief about the rise and fall of the separatist movement in Tamil Nadu. We can learn valuable lessons out of this historical Indian experience. Separate Dravidian State concept The concept of a separate Dravidian State received political patronage after the Justice Party came into power in Madras the presidency in 1921. Not only the Tamils but also the users of other Dravidian languages such as Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada were part and parcel of this Dravidian State. The origin of this concept was in the movement against the Brahmins and their authority in Madras presidency in the latter part of 19th century. Prominent Tamil leader Periyar was of the view that after the invasion of the Aryans, there were social inequalities in the Dravidian areas which were non-existent in the early stages. Periyar worked against these social inequalities and supported inter cast marriages and love marriages against the traditional Hindu marriages. The origin of magnificent economic development experienced by the state of Tamil Nadu today may be the equality concept of Periyar and the other Tamil leaders. Periyar was against the Brahmin authority of the Indian National Congress and the usage of Hindi language in Dravidian areas. Periyar expounded Ramayanaya as a disguised historical account of how the Aryans subjugated the Tamils ruled by Ravana. Together with Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan, Periyar stated that India should be divided to four, Hindustan, Pakistan, Dravidastan and Bangalistan. The independence of India in 1947 was defined by him as transition of power from British to Aryans. At the time of independence Indian states predominantly divided based on the demarcations of British rulers and the areas acquired from the former Maharajas. South India was divided as Madras presidency which was under British and the states acquired from Maharajas namely Mysore, Hyderabad and Travancore-Cochin. These divisions were not done based on ethnicity. Demarcation based on language Subsequent to the political pressure to demarcate the states based on the languages used, in 1953, 16 provinces using Telugu language in Madras presidency were clustered and a new state called Andra state was created. The States Reorganisation Act was enacted on 31 August 1956 and based on that all the states in India were re-demarcated in line of the languages used. Following were the changes experienced by South India: Hyderabad state and Andra state were combined and Telugu speaking Andra Pradesh was created. Travancore-Cochin state and Malabar provinces of Madras presidency were combined and Malayalam-speaking Kerala state was created. Tamil-speaking Southern provinces were amalgamated with Madras presidency which was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1968. Kannada-speaking provinces of Hyderabad state and western Bombay state were combined with Mysore state, which was renamed as Karnataka in 1973. These changes were carried out with the blessing of leaders of the Dravida Nadu movement as well. After these re-demarcations the demand for a separate Dravida Nadu was diminished in the states of Andra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. At that time, Annadurai who was in power after Periyar brought the slogan Dravida Nadu is for Dravidians and Tamil Nadu is for Tamils. Subsequently Tamil leaders abandoned the idea of Dravida Nadu as a result of war with China in 1962 and 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution in 1963 which prohibited demands for separate states. This is an interesting point. In 1962 while Indian National Congress won majority seats in Madras presidency, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party won only 50 seats. In 1967 after the abundance of separatism the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party won 138 seats while Congress won only 50 seats. Hence Congress lost the power first time in Madras presidency and Annadurai became the Chief Minister. Language policy It was Annadurai’s achievement to establish bilingual policy, English and Tamil, in Tamil Nadu whereas trilingual policy, English, Hindi and native language, was implemented at that time in other Dravidian states. Indian leaders were very careful and accommodative in their language policy. When Annadurai and the Tamil leaders were protesting against the use of Hindi language in 1960s, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made an announcement in Parliament that English will continue to be the coordinating language. Later Indira Gandhi made both English and Hindi official languages. After Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister, in 1966 policy of demarcation of states based on the languages used was continued. At the request of the Akali Dal party of Punjab, new state Haryana was created with the Hindi speaking provinces of Punjab and non-Sikh north eastern areas of Punjab were amalgamated with Himachal Pradesh. Indira Gandhi adapted a policy which strengthened the centre and weakened the states. Jawaharlal Nehru was willing to deal with strong chief ministers of the states where Congress had power, in contrast to Indira Gandhi who preferred to appoint persons loyal to her as chief ministers. In one instance she dissolved the states of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat where Congress did not have power. Prime ministers who came to power after her did not continue this policy. This also resulted in weakening of separatist trends of Indian states. Therefore it is evident that demarcation of states based on ethnicity and the language used reduces the desire for separatism. Sri Lanka This experience questions the stand taken by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna against the creation of provincial councils based on ethnicity and devolving power to those. The reality faced by India was exactly the opposite of the ideology of the Sinhala extremists that devolution of power to the Northern Provincial Council would result in the creation of separate state in the northern part of Sri Lanka. These ideologies of Sinhala extremists influence the thinking pattern of the so-called Sinhala Buddhists who can be easily provoked. Subsequent to the re-demarcation of states based on the language used, the separatist movement in Tamil Nadu was reduced to a mere demand by the politicians without the blessing of the masses. This is evident in elections results of Tamil Nadu in 1962 with the slogan of separatism and in 1967 without the slogan of separatism. There is a debate going on currently in Iran whether the Iranian President Rouhani accepted the Holocaust by condemning the crime against the Jews as reprehensible according to CNN’s translation. Former Iranian President Ahmadinejad called the murder of estimated six million Jews by the Nazis a myth. Iranian hardliners interpret that Rouhani did not accept the Holocaust. This shows the blindness of the extremists to the reality. They wish to interpret history and the current affairs according to their whims and fancies. The same thing happens in Sri Lanka. Sinhala extremists are of the view that the 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution alone crushed the separatist movement in Tamil Nadu and in relation to the Northern Provincial Council, the Sri Lankan Government has given separatists what they wanted on a platter after a separatist war. This dictum was disproved totally by the detailed discussion we had. At this critical juncture, if the Government of Sri Lanka behaves as usual, giving into the pressure of the Sinhala extremists well positioned within it, there is a possibility of taking the country towards the direction of Kosovo, East Timor or South Sudan, where separate states were created with the blessing of the UN, or if the Government of Sri Lanka acts with wisdom considering the Indian experience as well, there is a strong possibility of creating an independent, if it is precisely expressed not governed by the international community as at present, and strong nationalist state in Sri Lanka.

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