5 January 2020
The Indian revolutionaries, who resisted British rule and wanted to gain independence by any means, hold a special charm. Their words used to carry fire and actions evoked an extreme form of nationalism. They were tortured and executed by the British. Try recalling revolutionaries and Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, Shivaram Rajguru, Udhav Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan, Benoy Krishna Basu, Dinesh Gupta, and Badal Gupta immediately comes to mind. If I exert slight pressure on my mind, myriad numbers of other revolutionaries’ names crop up. The revolutionaries hailed from Punjab, Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. The moot question is why no name from the South? The first war of independence originated from the North. From the South, apart from Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, were there no prominent names who deserve a mention in history? As a matter of fact, there are many. A person like me had not read about them in a school history book. Maybe, the party in power dictated what we should learn and about whom. That was the credence we believed then. Some were put on a pedestal and some others who were in the similar league were snuffed out. If you do not hail from South India and your knowledge is superficial like that of me then this is an apt book to fill up your gap in knowledge. Let’s discuss some unsung individuals and events from South India, who were lost in the pages of history. We shall also discuss three-decade events, immediately after independence in the major Indian States.
In the second half of the seventeenth century apart from Marathas, Mughal and local chiefs, European power too battled for control. Initially, the Indian prince or chiefs were the paymasters of the whites. The Indian chiefs view one another as rivals and availed European company services for destroying their native foe. The European powers were strong with their ships and advanced weapons. The British desired to possess all of India. They were one of the contending forces. Later, much of the South Indian was vanquished and had fallen under the British rule.
Two persons are better represented by anybody else in the history of eighteen century South India history. They took the resistance to British to altogether a new level. They were the father-son duo of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan; the latter joined the league of famous rulers. Among the dozen, so rulers during the time, Tipu Sultan is the one who really scared the British. Among the historical heroes, Tipu Sultan holds a special place. His ruthless image had not dented his due place. Their resistance to British ought to have provided them with French support but their treaty with British and French Revolution prevented any such development. I’m not dwelling much about them. They are already renowned.
Mathuranayagam Pillai was born to a Hindu farming family. Later he converted to Islam and was known as Mohammed Yusuf Khan. He initially served under Chanda Sahib, the Nawab of Arcot. He later was enrolled under Major Stringer Lawrence, who was the supreme commander of British East India Company. Under him, Yusuf Khan was trained in the European method of warfare. He had excelled in military tactics and strategy when English forces fought the French in the wars of the Carnatic. His guerrilla tactics were the key reason which repeatedly cut the French line of supply. Due to his military genius, he was promoted to the rank of Commandant of East India Company’s Sepoys. Later, he proclaimed as an independent ruler of Madurai and Tirunelveli. He had a dispute with Nawab of Arcot and the British and they became his enemy. The kingdom of Sivaganga, Tanjore, Travancore, Puddakkotai and Ramnad joined hands with Nawab of Arcot and the British to attack Yusuf Khan. Two bitter battles were fought between Yusuf Khan and East India company. He was betrayed by his comrade-in-arms and was captured and hanged. He was held in very high esteem by the British even after his death. According to them, he was one of the two best military genii India had ever produced. The other one is Hyder Ali. Yusuf Khan was respected for his strategy while Hyder Ali for his speed. In fact, Yusuf Khan had defeated Hyder Ali in a battle. Renowned actor Kamal Hasan had once embarked on a film project on the warrior. However, the same was shelved because of political reasons and financial constraints.
Sivagangai is a place, which had once held footprints of mighty warriors known as Marudu brothers, who left an inedible impression in the military history. The father of Periya Marudu and Chinna Marudu was a military general in the princely state of Ramnad. They received training in martial arts. Seeing their valour and bravery, the king of Ramnad sent them to Sivagangai to serve and protect their daughter Rani Velu Nachiyar, who was married the king- Muthu Vadaganatha Devar. The king lost his life during a war fought with the British East India company. The brothers managed to escape along with Rani Velu Nachiyar. She had vowed to protect her State. The brothers trained her in the battle against the British. She strikes a fearsome chord with the British. She was the inventor of suicide attacks. The brothers were captured and killed by the British along with their family members. The brothers were noteworthy for their expertise in handling valari, which is a weapon designed to kill a target and return back like a boomerang. The British dreaded it. Periya Marudu was a ferocious person while his brother Chinna Maradu was a brilliant and adroit strategist. They were considered the most dangerous rebels by the British. The brothers issued a proclamation of independence from Trichy, even before Sepoy Mutiny.
The first major act of defiance took place in 1806. This is better known as Vellore Mutiny which marked the first-ever large-scale and violent mutiny by Indian sepoys against the East Indian Company. The Vellore Mutiny took place even before the famous rebellion of 1857. The cause of the revolt was the resentment towards change in sepoy dress code. The Hindus were refrained from putting caste marks on the forehead while on duty. The Muslims were ordered to get rid of their beards. The feeling of getting Christianized caused enough indignation and sparked a feeling of rebellion. The sepoys seized Vellore Fort and around 200 British troops were wounded or killed. Though it lasted for one day only it was very brutal. The mutiny was subdued and defiant sepoys were executed. The British actions attracted odium. The mutiny was subdued soon but it created a ripple of fear among the British overlords.
One person, who has had a profound socio-political impact was E.V.Ramasamy, commonly known as Periyar. His philosophy and actions were opposed to Brahminism, which he felt had dominated other castes through their religion's principles and practices. He propounded rationalism and criticized the Hindu religion as superstitious. He had left the Congress Party because he felt it was dominated by the Brahmins. He founded Self-respect movement with the aiming of generating pride in lower castes. He was considered a big anti-caste icon in India. He led movements highlighting Tamil pride. He started a party named Dravidar Kazhagam party, which is considered the inspiration of all political parties launched on the plank of Tamilian pride. His Dravidian movements produced subsidiaries like DMK and AIDMK. The DMK was formed by Periyar trusted lieutenant Annadurai. He announced his intention to strike Tamil mind employing Tamil literature, linguistics, poetry, plays, films, newspaper, and journals. It was during the time of Congress hegemony. The State was ruled by charismatic and respected Kamaraj. Under him, State was making steady progress. Still, DMK was able to spread its egalitarian ideology and party’s greater awareness by relying on the scriptwriters and actors, assisted by films. In 1967, DMK came into power by routing Congress. Annadurai became Chief Minister. M.Karunanidhi was another power in the party. M.Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister twice after Annadurai’s death. He was also influential in bring M.G. Ramachandran, better known as MGR into the party. MGR was a superstar, known more for generous, virtuous, teetotaller man, who fought corrupt bureaucracy and corrupt landlords while taking sides of the poor. His off-screen appeal was unmatched and unparalleled. Due to difference with Karunanidhi, MGR formed his owned party AIADMK. With his welfare schemes, he had made a considerable social impact. He was the Chief Minister from 1977 till his death in 1987.
After British had snatched control of the Mysore Empire, they ruled it for fifty years. In 1881, they handed it back to the Wodeyers, ruled by Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. The ruled continued till India’s independence. After that, Mysore was merged with the Indian Union. After States were reorganized, Kannada speaking areas came under Mysore. The Mysore State was renamed as Karnataka in 1973. Ex-Congress President S. Nijalingappa became chief minister for 4 times. It was Congress who had dominated Karnataka political scene till 1983, until dislodged by Janata Dal strongman Ramakrishna Hedge. The longest-serving chief-minister was D. Devaraj Urs, who had held the office for 7 years. Another prominent name from the State was Deve Gowda from Janata Dal, who had cut short his tenure to become Prime Minister of India. It was oscillating between Congress and Janata Dal. However, present chief-minister B. S. Yediyurappa is from BJP. Karnataka is the first Southern state, where BJP has formed a government.
The origin of Kerala lies in the princely states of Travancore and Cochin. It was known as Travancore-Cochin state. Later, the State Reorganization Act came into effect and Kerala was born which comprised of Malayalam speaking districts. The first chief minister was E.M.S Namboodiripad of the Communist Party of India. Later on, fortunes had swung between the Indian National Congress and the Communist Party of India. The present incumbent chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is from the Communist Party of India as well. The Communist Party has been wiped out in State like West Bengal, where it had ruled for 34 years till a decade back. Why Kerala still holds an appeal is a case study? The reasons are many, ranging from historical to organizational attributes. Much of the post the 1925 independence struggle in Kerala is attributed to the communist leaders. They have fought against caste oppression. A clear cut organization hierarchy exists for the party in the state. The Student Federation of India has a significant presence. The co-operative sector mostly is owned directly or indirectly owned by the party, thus ensuring public services and employment to the party cadres. The party’s progressive policies like the right to the internet and it’s stand-in women entry to Sabarimala has gone down well with the young generations. They designate manual labours from other states not as migrants but as a guest labourer. The Communists in Kerala have changed with times and have never intended to market a communist based market system. Rather they represent a more nuisance form of socialism that is suitable for Indian conditions.
Potti Sriramulu went on a strike demanding the formation of Indian State for the Telugu-speaking population carved out from Madras Presidency. He lost his life in the process. His sacrifice triggered the creation of Andhra Pradesh. This was followed by the creation of Karnataka and Kerala states. In 1956, the Indian political map was redrawn based on the linguistic line. The modern history of Andhra Pradesh is synonymous with N.T. Rama Rao. On-screen, he portrayed incarnation of the divine. He appeared in some 300 films and directed about a dozen films. He demonstrated enormous popular appeal. He rose to superstardom and attained a cult-figure status. He adopted white or saffron robes as his everyday dress, which further catapulted his lofty image. He parlayed his fame into a successful political career. He was the first Non-Congress Chief Minister. He had been the Chief Minister three times. Post Indira Gandhi's assassination, his party Telugu Dasam Party bucked national mood to win 30 out of 42 seats in Lok Sabha. During his tenure, a number of populist welfare schemes were started like clothing subsidies, food, and housing for people below the poverty line. He also initiated a midday-mean program for schoolchildren and banned alcohol in the State.
For writing this book, the author turned to libraries, archives, newspapers, journals and published works. The book is replete with an abundance of information that seems to cover every itsy-bitsy detail. The description has been through-giving. The recording of events is well chronicled. The author rigor is clearly visible. The author Rajmohan Gandhi is a biographer and a research professor. He tried his stints in politics too. He is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari. No wonder, C. Rajagopalachari has been given extensive coverage in this book. Whatever, the book makes an interesting read. Do add it to your wish list.