Intro : No doubt Karunanidhi has said that he was an atheist and did not agree with Ramanuja’s theism. But he has stated that he recognised Ramanuja’s role as a social reformer and the greatest of his reforms was in treating the oppressed and the backward communities as equals, that they should not be discriminated against and that they should be uplifted.
Raja ji (C Rajagopalachari) was fond of saying “I have grown wise with the years” whenever he was asked as to why he came to oppose the Congress party and launched the Swatantra Party, the first political party in the country which had the courage to oppose socialism.
The same can now be said about the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader Muthuvel Karunanidhi who at 91 has begun to talk differently. It sounded like the devil quoting the scripture when an English newspaper quoted the Dravidian leader as having said “The Dravidian movement accepted the ideas of Vaishnavite philosopher-saint Ramanuja because he transcended religion and caste and wanted all communities to be treated equally”. What else is unbelievable is that Karunanidhi is writing the script for a TV serial on Ramanuja, the 11th century proponent of Vishishtadvaita. He is further quoted as having dismissed the accusation that the DMK was against Hinduism. The Party was only opposed to Hindu fundamentalists who had arrogated to themselves the role of protectors of religion.
No doubt Karunanidhi has said that he was an atheist and did not agree with Ramanuja’s theism. But he has stated that he recognised Ramanuja’s role as a social reformer and the greatest of his reforms was in treating the oppressed and the backward communities as equals, that they should not be discriminated against and that they should be uplifted. He was not much worried over Ramanuja’s spiritual and Brahminical background and appreciated his social reforms. He has praised Ramanuja for his secular ways.
|Justice Kurian Joseph’s protest|
His Lordship Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court appears to have overdone his protest. One cannot agree with him that secularism in India is in peril just because a conference of chief justices was held on Good Friday. Chief Justice of India HL Dattu who had convened the conference was right when he said that institutional interest and not individual interest should be given preference. Even a former Christian judge of the Supreme Court KT Thomas had disagreed with Justice Joseph. It has now become known that Good Friday is not a public holiday even in countries with a Christian majority like the United States of America. There is no logic in the argument that there should be equality and parity among the different religions of this county even in the matter of holidays. Are we not observing lakhs of women employed in the government or in other sectors rushing to work after performing Swarna Gowri puja in their homes as that day is only a restricted holiday? Judges at all levels should stand above caste and community. There is already the criticism that our judges enjoy too many holidays.
I began by quoting Rajaji as it was the Swatantra Party’s alliance with the DMK in the 1967 Madras Assembly elections which brought the Dravidian party to power and gave it political respectability. Till then the DMK had been dismissed as a party of rabble rousers who were given to denigrating Hindu Gods, the so called Aryans and Brahmins and Hindi language, Sanskrit and North Indians. It is not surprising as the DMK was at first a splinter group of EV Ramaswami Naicker’s Dravida Kazhagam which while espousing the cause of the backward classes was practising a virulent form of anti-Brahmin casteism. The stock in trade of Ramaswami Naicker of “Periyar” (the elder) as he was being called by his followers was to speak or write with vulgarity about Hindu Gods and epics like Ramayana. He was doing so in the name of rationalism. However, there was some justification for the self respect movement he had launched considering the way sections of Hindus had been ill-treated by the diehard among the upper castes. The DK and the DMK had come to regard Hindu saint philosophers such as Shankaracharya, Madhwacharya or Ramanujacharya as no more than Brahmin religious leaders. In turn the DK itself was an offshoot of the Justice Party which utilised its long years of power in undivided Madras State to implement an uncompromising pro-backward class agenda. But unlike the DK, the Justice Party dominated by zamindars from today’s coastal Andhra Pradesh stood for the uplift of the backward classes. It was the Justice Party government which in the early 1920s, had come out with the famous Government Order (GO) on backward castes introducing caste based reservation in appointments to government jobs. It also introduced for the first time the roster system in appointments to government jobs.
Karunanidhi himself came into prominence as a screen writer for Tamil films through the blockbuster Parashakti (1952), known for its trenchant anti-Brahmin dialogues. The same theme is dominant in the several literary works he had produced. It should however be appreciated that at least some of the Dravidian political leaders of Tamil Nadu have been thinkers and writers unlike many of those in Karnataka or other States. Till recent years they were professing an ideology which many had regarded as flawed.
Karunanidhi’s estimate of Ramanujacharya has also something to do with the many changes or reforms that have overtaken the two Dravidian parties, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and DMK. Forgetting its past, the AIADMK gave Tamil Nadu its second Brahmin chief minister in J Jayalalithaa (after Rajaji). Its founder MG Ramachandran himself was a non-Tamil-Malayali. The two DMKs changed their outlook with coalition governments coming to power at the Centre. The two opportunistic parties reaped rich harvests joining coalitions led even by the north Indian and pro-Hindutva BJP not to speak of the Congress. Both contributed their quota of corrupt and mediocre ministers to the Union council of ministers. Andipatti Raja of the DMK was the best example. Though Karunanidhi calls himself an atheist, many of his followers are known to be religious and temple goers. So is the case with the AIADMK leaders. They no longer assume ancient Tamil names. For instance the original name of Karunanidhi is Dakshinamurthy ! Like the first generation Communist leaders of erstwhile Soviet Union who changed their names, the DMK leaders had followed suit. Ulyanov became Lenin. Similarly Stalin, Trotsky, Molotov, Voroshilov or Malenkov had been named differently by their parents. No wonder Karunanidhi named his pet son as Stalin. One of the DMKs had contributed a union minister by the name Napoleon.
It is another thing that Ramanujacharya’s role as a social reformer is hardly appreciated in Karnataka where a few social reformers of the distant past have come to enjoy government patronage. It should not be forgotten that Ramanuja chose Melukote in the Mandya District of Karnataka for his social reforms.
He has been credited with having converted the untouchables to the Srivaishnava faith. He also prevailed upon Jaina kings or princes of the Hoysala dynasty to become Srivaishnavas. Even today the descendants of those who embraced Srivaishnavism 900 years ago are to be met in the villages of Mandya District. They also take part in the Vairamudi festival at Melkote. In Tamil Nadu, Ramanuja used Tamil and not Sanskrit to propagate his philosophy. Ramanuja was as much a social reformer as was Basaveshwara. It might be that the latter did so on a larger scale and in a wider geographical area.
A Jayaram (The writer is a senior journalist)