Both the DMK and the AIADMK trace the origin of the Dravidian Movement, launched by EVR, to the formation of the Then Inthia Nala Urimai Sangam (the South Indian Welfare Association) in 1917. The Association led the Non-Brahmin Movement, which mainly echoed the resentment of the rising non-Brahmin castes against the disproportionately large presence of Brahmins in the administration. Three non-Brahmin intellectuals, Dr. C. Natesan (1869-1937), Sir Pitti Thiagarayar (1853-1925) and Dr. T.M. Nair (1868-1919), all based in Madras (now Chennai), founded the Sangam and proclaimed as its goal the protection of "the social, economic and political interests of non-Brahmins".
Justice Party, the political front of the Then Inthia Nala Urimai Sangam, assumed power in the Madras Province by winning the Assembly elections in 1921. As mentioned in the official history of the DMK, the notable achievements of the government run by the Justice Party over the next 15 years were the implementation of a communal reservation policy, perhaps for the first time in the country, and an enactment to bring temples under state control. The fight for social justice and the massive agitations across the Province against the introduction of Hindi as a compulsory subject of study in schools by a Congress-led government later, in which scores of Tamil scholars and academics, besides Justice Party leaders, were detained, helped create the social base of what emerged as the Dravidian Movement.
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Around that time, EVR, who held important positions in the Congress, left the organisation in protest against the attitude of the leadership, consisting mainly of Brahmins, towards social issues. He left the Congress in 1925 and threw his weight behind the Justice Party. He launched the Self-respect Movement to promote his reformist and rationalist ideals. In 1944, the Then Inthia Nala Urimai Sangam, at its State conference in Salem, renamed itself the Dravidar Kazhagam, which started functioning under EVR’s leadership.
Annadurai, better known as Anna (elder brother), became its first general secretary. One of its objectives was to form `Dravida Nadu’. The geographical region of the proposed Dravida Nadu, it was explained, roughly corresponded to the then Madras Presidency, comprising of people speaking Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. Owing to "differences with Periyar on the question of the country’s independence", a significant number of members led by Annadurai left the D.K. to form the DMK in September1949. Annadurai became its first general secretary.
The DMK picked up the separation thread from the parent organisation. But faced with the reality of an independent India just setting in motion the democratic process under a new Constitution, it preferred to keep the issue on the backburner. The DMK’s main target was the Central government "controlled by the northerners". The party highlighted the problems arising out of the `North-South divide’ - the `neglect of the South’ in sanctioning development projects, delay in the allotment of funds for the sanctioned projects, and attempts to `impose’ Hindi, `the language of the North’, on the `unwilling people’ of the South. The language issue has proved to be a major campaign point for the party ever since it opted to participate in the electoral process in 1957. The party vowed to restore Tamil to its ancient glory and appealed to the sentiments of the Tamil people through forceful writings and speeches. Its massive agitation against the "imposition of Hindi" in 1965 catapulted the party to political power in the State in the 1967 elections.
Although Annadurai defended his party’s demand for separation in his maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha in 1962 and recorded his protest against a ban on demanding separation a year later the demand had to be abandoned following the Sino-Indian War. Since then, State autonomy and social justice through reservation for the underprivileged in education and employment have been the main political planks of the DMK.
The DMK suffered a vertical split in 1972 when actor-politician M.G. Ramachandran (better known as MGR) was expelled from the party following differences between him and party president M. Karunanidhi. MGR raised charges of corruption against Karunanidhi and his ministerial colleagues and launched the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK). The new party’s leaders thought it wise to change its name by prefixing `All India’, leaving none in doubt about its stand on separation, when the Emergency (1975-77) was in force.
The MDMK is yet another offshoot of the DMK. It came into being in May 1994 after V. Gopalsami (now Vaiko), a senior leader and Member of Parliament, was expelled from the party in 1993. Barring, perhaps, their approach to issues such as Tamil Eelam, the Dravidian parties do not have major ideological differences, particularly in respect of State autonomy, constitutional protection to the reservation formula and making Tamil an official language of the Indian Union.
THE Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) is of recent origin. Dr. S. Ramadoss launched the party in July 1989 by converting the Vanniyar Sangam he founded in 1980 into a political organisation. Its major planks include meaningful and effective reservation for people from the most backward classes (MBCs) and other socially oppressed sections such as Dalits and the tribal people. The Vanniyar Sangam in the 1980s and the PMK in the decade that followed organised numerous agitations in which thousands of people courted arrest and braved police repression, to press the demand for greater social justice to the MBCs. The party’s views on issues such as State autonomy, statutory safeguard for the reservation formula and the official language status for Tamil are identical to those of the three Dravidian parties.