amil Nadu vs Tamizhagam — Governor Ravi stirs up political storm in DMK-ruled state

New Delhi: Tamil “country”, or merely the abode of the Tamils? This is now the subject of an intense political discussion in Tamil Nadu, with the assembly witnessing a furore and Governor R.N.Ravi walking out after refusing to read a paragraph of his speech.

The controversy was triggered by Ravi’s suggestion that the state of Tamil Nadu should realistically be called ‘Tamzihagam’. 

Tamil Nadu originally means Tamil ‘land’, now also read as ‘Tamil country’. ‘Tamizhagam’, on the other hand, means the ‘abode’ or ‘land’ of the Tamil people and was the name of the ancient Tamil country.   

At a programme in Raj Bhavan on 4 January, when the Governor claimed a “different kind of narrative has been created” in Tamil Nadu.

“Everything applicable for the whole of the country, Tamil Nadu will say no. It has become a habit. So many theses have been written — all false and poor fiction. This must be broken. Truth must prevail. Tamizhagam is a more appropriate word to call it. The rest of the country suffered a lot of devastation at the hands of foreigners for a long time,” he said in his speech.

Although the remarks have been condemned by Dravidian parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state unit has come out in support of it.

Opposing the governor’s suggestion, DMK Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi said that the name of the state is connected to the Tamil language, tradition, politics, and life itself

Explaining why Tamil Nadu can’t be called ‘Tamizhagam’, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D. Raja pointed out that Tamil is spoken not just in the state but also neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka. In addition, it’s actually one of the official languages in Singapore. 

“It is widely spoken in Malaysia and even in some parts of Vietnam,” he said. 

Also Read: Blunt opposition, resurgent BJP—Why the churn in Tamil Nadu politics is a headache for Stalin

Why the debate? 

At the centre of the debate is the reading, or misreading, of the word ‘Nadu’.  Tamil Nadu literally translates into the ‘Tamil land’.

But a misreading of the word and the complexities of translation has meant that the word now also reads as “country”.

On the other hand, Tamizhagam, also spelled as Tamilakam, means the abode of the Tamil people. Defined in the Sangam literature as the area south of present-day Chennai, Tamilakam, or the ancient Tamil country, includes the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Puducherry.

CPI’s Raja, who is from the state, said Governor Ravi wasn’t from the state and he didn’t understand its history. 

Raja, who was born in 1949 in the erstwhile state of Madras, recalls how demands for a name change kept coming up periodically till the DMK under C.N. Annadurai came to power in 1967.

“When I was a schoolboy or even in college, it was called Madras. Demands had occasionally been made for a renaming, including one of our own (CPI) leaders P. Jeevanandham. But it was after the DMK came to power and when Annadurai was the CM that the state Assembly passed the legislation for renaming the state,” he told ThePrint.

Chaos at TN Assembly

On Monday, slogans from the opposition rent the air as Ravi began his address in the Tamil Nadu Assembly in its first session of the year. 

The chaos escalated after Ravi skipped some sections of his speech which had references to Dravidar Kazhagam founder Periyar, father of the Indian Constitution B. R. Ambedkar, former chief ministers K. Kamaraj and C. N. Annadurai. 

As Chief Minister M.K. Stalin asked for the original speech prepared by the government to be retained, Ravi walked out of the state Assembly. 

Sources close to Ravi told ThePrint that the governor had received the final speech from the state government on 5 January and had stated his objections to it on 7 January.

The parts that were left out were done so for a reason, the sources said, adding that the parts that the governor left out were most praises of the state government and not “factual details”. 

According to the sources, one section that was left out read: ‘This government will continue to march in valour and vigour (the) Dravidian model of government.” Sources said the section was left out because it was for the CM to praise the “Dravidian model”, not the executive head of state.

Another section that was left out read: “This state continues to be (a) heaven of peace and tranquility & free from any violence”.  “‘Heaven of peace’ isn’t ground reality when news channels are reporting law and order issues in the state every day,” the source said. 

Another expunged part said that Tamil Nadu fishermen in jailed Sri Lanka “were released only by efforts of the state government”. Here, the source said, the governor objected to the word “only” and wanted “state and union government” to be added. 

Another “error” that the governor’s office pointed out was a line that read “TN stands to attract highest FDI than any other states in India in past 1.5 years”. “The truth is that during the last 1.5  years, Tamil Nadu only attracted $2.5 billion while Maharashtra got $28 billion and Karnataka $25 billion,” the source said.

Sources in the Raj Bhavan told ThePrint that what happened in the assembly Monday shows that the speaker couldn’t act independently.

“The speaker was a mere spectator when members of assembly gheraoed (the governor) and raised slogans,” a source said. “After the governor’s and speaker’s speech, the national anthem has to be played and the session has to be prorogued. The CM’s speech was not part of the convention and rules. Changing the speech of the executive head of state is a matter of serious discussion by legal experts,” the source said.

DMK MP Tiruchi Siva told ThePrint that in practice, the governor’s address is meant to be a  readout of the policies of the state government. 

“How can he refuse to read a part of the speech after he had approved it? This does not behove the democratic traditions of India and nor does it speak well of the moral aptitude of the governor,” the DMK MP said.

The journey from ‘Madras’ to ‘Tamil Nadu’ 

The demand for the renaming of Madras had been raised many times in the assembly. But it took an Annadurai to point out that renaming Tamil Nadu “would not smash Indian nationalism”, CPI’s Raja said. 

In the 1960s, when CPI’s Bhupesh Gupta moved a Bill in Parliament to change the name of the state, he was supported by Annadurai even as some members, including those from the Congress, cited “historical reasons” to oppose the move. 

The name change finally came through on 14 January 1969  —  months before the death of Annadurai who became the last chief minister of the state of Madras and the first CM of the state of Tamil Nadu.

DMK MP Siva said that Annadurai raised the issue in Parliament when he was a member.  “He had raised it as a private members’ resolution but was told that it is a matter that needs to be cleared by the state Assembly. That’s what was done, and due process was followed when the name was changed,” he said. 

Governor Ravi, he said, shouldn’t wade into subjects that are “clearly not his remit”. “Is it the duty of the governor to talk about the cultures and traditions of a state where he is only briefly posted? His duty is to fulfil his Constitutional obligations,” the DMK MP added.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: From BoJack in veshti to black queen’s triumph, Chess Olympiad’s ‘Tamil identity politics’


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