A feature of Dravidian politics is the title that gets attached to leaders, so much so that the titles often substitute their names. While Periyar itself is a title, Periyar is known by two other names, Thanthai and Ayya, one standing for father and the latter a term of respect. Anna’s title was Arignar, the wise one. Kalaignar, or artist, is the title that became Karunanidhi’s alternate name. The DMK’s general secretary was called Perasiriyar, great teacher, or professor, more literally. Perasiriyar refers to his original profession as a member of the Tamil faculty at Pachaiyappa’s college. Soon, however, Perasiriyar, the title, became the alternate name of K Anbazhagan whose birth centenary is being observed this year.
Eight-term MLA, one time MP, 43 years of service as DMK general secretary, and minister who held various portfolios such as health, finance and education were some of his achievements. Throughout his career, his steadfast adherence to Dravidian ideology was never in doubt. At the same time he was fiercely loyal to Karunanidhi.
Born in Kattur, near Tiruvarur, Anbazhagan met Karunanidhi for the first time in 1942. The two immediately struck a friendship which stood the test of time for some 75 years. Though older to Karunanidhi by two years, he wholeheartedly accepted Karunanidhi’s leadership. He has publicly acknowledged this on several occasions.
He said that his appearance or personality never changed. But he had the quality of accepting people. For that reason, he never changed his ideology. “Nobody could change my views. I am with Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) of my own volition, not because Kalaignar desires my support. I don’t doubt that he wants me to be with him. Who else would he want to be with him?” wondered Anbazhagan.
Though older to Karunanidhi by two years, Anbazhagan wholeheartedly accepted Karunanidhi’s leadership. He publicly acknowledged this on several occasions.
“I am a human being first, secondly Anbazhagan. Third, I am a rationalist. Fourth, I am Anna’s younger brother. Fifth, I am Karunanidhi’s friend (comrade). This feeling will continue with me till the end of my life,” assured Anbazhagan.
Anbazhagan’s father, Kalyanasundaram, had the title of Khadi Shirt, a reference to his nationalist leanings. Over time, attracted by the self-respect movement, Kalyanasundaram not only sold Khadi products in his shop but also the DK newspaper, Kudiyarasu.
Kalyanasundaram’s shop had a photo of Periyar. Curious customers of Khadi would ask him about the contradiction. Kalyanasundaram would reply that the Khadi products and the photo of Gandhi in his shop were for the nation while Periyar photo and Kudiyarasu were for the Tamil people’s honour.
Like many others, Anbazhagan came to the Dravidian movement in his student days. Just as Narayanaswamy, a student of Annamalai University, became Nedunchezhiyan drawing inspiration from Dravidianism, Ramaiah became Anbazhagan. .
Anbazhagan’s free flowing speeches would captivate audiences. His speeches were never purely political. They would have elements relating to ethnicity, language and culture, too.
Many of the common criticisms of Tamil Nadu politics could never apply to him. Anbazhagan was frank, even blunt. And would strongly put forth his views in a manner that others could understand. A man who spoke what he thought yet refrained from personal attacks, Anbazhagan would insist that the events he would participate in and the arrangements made for his stay should be simple.
He did not mince words while criticizing MG Ramachandran in the presence of Annadurai. When Anna returned from a visit to Singapore, he publicly chided MGR for saying that Kamaraj was his leader and Anna was his guide. He added that for all DMK party members only Anna was leader and guide.
Anbazhagan’s speeches were never purely political. They would have elements relating to ethnicity, language and culture, too
Anbazhagan criticized MGR for asking details of party accounts, which triggered MGR’s exit from the DMK. He said MGR was not a politician without blemishes and added that if MGR really had the interests of the party in his heart he wouldn’t have publicly criticized the party functioning.
While Anna did not accept Anbazhagan’s request to quit his position as assistant professor at Pachaiyappa’s College and plunge into politics full time, not long after, he gave a DMK ticket to contest the Assembly elections in 1957. Anbazhagan won the Egmore seat and served in the Assembly.
Anbazhagan threw his weight behind MK Stalin’s growth in the party. He expressed his joy to Karunanidhi, seeing Stalin leading youth wing workers at a party conference. He proposed that Stalin become mayor, minister and deputy chief minister to Karunanidhi and praised Stalin profusely.
Anbazhagan was happy being general secretary of the DMK all his life. He was happy that Stalin succeeded Karunanidhi.