A Brief History of Sivaji Ganesan Road, Chennai

Preface

I couldn’t help rummaging some archives as I watched the visuals of a vegetating “Kalaignar” “Mr” “Dr” “Thiru” Muthuvel Karunanidhi flashing a disabled smile at Prime Minister Narendra Modi who met him in November 2017. One of the greatest ironies of history is the ability of successive generations to be overcome by compassion and forgiveness for the sins of the wicked veterans. Karunanidhi is perhaps the last surviving human symbol of the ideology of social and cultural vandalism called Dravidianism.

But history doesn’t take sides, and my archives led me to some brilliant firsthand accounts of the multi-hued and multifaceted carnage that the said Dravidianism inflicted upon Tamil Nadu en route to its single-minded quest for political power. All these accounts invariably make for painful reading. The following is a loosely adapted translation of a few minor facets of this phenomenon recounted in the Jeevana Kannada periodical then edited by the Kannada literary stalwart, Masti Venkatesa Iyengar.

Jeevana: Volume 20: Issue — II (June 1959)

A staunch critic of Communism and the post-Independence Congress Party, Masti Venkatesa Iyengar begins his essay with how “recent incidents show that not merely the Communist Party, but all our political parties will willingly abandon decorum in public life.”

From here, he recounts the firsthand story of the renaming of the Annie Besant Road in Madras. The adapted translation of the text of this story follows. I’ve added emphasis and inline commentary where appropriate.

There used to be a road named Annie Besant Road in one of the extensions of Madras city.

Now, Sivaji Ganesan happens to be a very famous and popular Tamil cinema actor. Apparently, this gentleman donated a lot of money to a certain charity. The Corporation of Madras then decided to rename Annie Besant Road to Sivaji Ganesan Road.

Of course, Sivaji Ganesan is a great soul and a gentleman. Because he selflessly donated his money, it is only fitting to name a street in his honour. However, in the zeal to honour Sivaji Ganesan, it is unjust to erase Annie Besant’s name from public memory.

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Although she was born in England, Mother Annie Besant made Bharatavarsha her own Motherland. She struggled throughout her life for our dharma, for our people and their upliftment. She fought for the freedom of our land and breathed her last in the lap of Madras. She’s a truly heroic Mother who spent fifty years of her life dedicating herself to the selfless service of this land. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to name a street in her honour in every locality of Madras. Given this backdrop, how proper or just is it to erase her name from that very street which bore her name?

However, the people of Madras don’t seem to have expressed any opposition to this unjust act.

The New Mayor of Madras

The same sort of impropriety is reflected in the conduct of the new Mayor of Madras. In the recent elections to the Corporation of Madras, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has secured a majority. As a consequence, one of the Kazhagam’s leaders has been elected as the Mayor.

Narendra Modi meets Karunanidhi. Pic Courtesy: Google Image Search

The new Mayor of Madras that Masti Venkatesha Iyengar refers to is A.P. Arasu, who was the DMK’s first Mayor of Chennai (Click 1959 in the timeline of the DMK party’s website). Around the same time, the 35-year old Karunanidhi was making waves within the party having won the Kulithalai Assembly seat in his electoral debut in 1957. Ten years later, he would become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.

Continues Masti, “It has been the tradition for every new Mayor to give the city’s citizens a message upon assuming office. The Madras Radio Station’s (Ed: All India Radio, Madras) officials invited the Mayor to deliver his address to the citizens of Madras.

Now, there is a debate over terminology in Tamil Nadu: whether the Radio station should be called Baanuli (Ed: literally, “from the sky”) or Akashavani (Ed: literally, “voice from the sky”). The Veera Tamizhs (Heroic or Valorous Tamils) contend that the word Akashavani must be rejected at all costs because it is a Sanskrit word. However, the Central Government has passed a diktat which allows Tamil Nadu’s radio stations to use both terms.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is a party with an objective to transform Tamil Nadu into a pure Dravidian state. One of the organs of this objective is to mount a vehement and sustained opposition to Sanskrit. In line with this, the Worshipful new Mayor expressed his moral outrage — that he would not use the medium of Radio because the Central Government has not banned the word “Akashavani,” and therefore would not give the traditional Mayor’s message to the citizens of Madras.

Although Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is opposed to and wants to abolish Sanskrit, Madras is a large city, with people holding diverse opinions. As the Mayor of such a city, he should not have used his position to act merely as a mouthpiece of his political party and rejected the invitation of the Radio station.”

Ramanujam Institute

Yet another caustic incident that has occurred in Madras is the decision to close down a research organisation named the Ramanujam Institute.

The illustrious Srinivasa Ramanujam’s name is familiar to all educated Indians. Gifted with divine prodigiousness in Mathematics, he stunned the greatest of the world’s great scholars with his talent and genius. And so, in order to immortalise this blessed genius, our people conceived of an institute of higher learning named after him. A few years ago, Daana Veera Azhagappa Chettiar gave a benefaction, and thus was born the Ramanujam Institute.

Currently, because this Institute faces a paucity of funds, a move has been initiated to close it down. It has also been decided that in the place of this Institute, a Professor’s Chair in Ramanujam’s name in Madras University would suffice.

Equally, the Central Government has given its approval to this move by accepting the claim that the Madras Government lacks funds to run the Ramanujam Institute, and that the Madras University is unable to run this Institute autonomously.

To us, it seems that the Central Government hasn’t invested any thought as to how absolutely unjust this move is. Srinivasa Ramanujam is not merely one among a crore — he is born once in a Yuga. And if the Central Government gives even one crore rupees to preserve an Institute that immortalises his name and contributions, it’s neither wrong nor wasteful. If the Central Government cannot allocate even one lakh rupees every year to this Institute which was established by a Dharmatma like Azhagappa Chettiar, it is abdicating its duty.

Our political leaders haven’t cultivated an attitude, character or disposition of assessing their own mettle and behaviour. Had they cultivated it, they wouldn’t have agreed to close down the Ramanujam Institute — they are the same people who claim that Tagore and Bose are great people. Tagore is great in their eyes because Westerners proclaimed that he is great. Unlike Tagore, the sphere that Ramanujam worked in is not a field that brings mass popularity or political following. Unlike Bose, Ramanujam did not travel the world. Had he done that, he would’ve garnered equal fame and respect.

And by not discerning this simple fact, our national leaders are not only inflicting injustice upon a genius like Ramanujam but even worse, they’re injuring national self-respect.

Needless, the political class characterised by the likes of Congress and Karunanidhi paid no heed to the sane and sage advice of wise and upright folks like Masti Venkatesa Iyengar and others. As history shows, that road only descended to the abyss of personal power and a culture of slavish patronage culminating in the national loot symbolised by the 2G Spectrum Scam and landed A. Raja in prison.

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Sandeep Balakrishna
Writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. Author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore," "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History," and "Seventy Years of Secularism." He has translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.
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