It's a moment of immense pride that 75 years of Indian Independence, achieved by numerous sacrifices, is being celebrated with great vigour. A number of freedom fighters from Tamil Nadu that include Pulithevan, Theeran Chinnamalai, Veeran Azhagumuthukon, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Marudhu Brothers, Velu Nachiyar have led wars of valour against the British hegemony. The bravery of those including Pazhassi Raja from Kerala is worthy of our salute.
The freedom struggle against the British was actually started by many chieftains — Adivasis who wanted to protect their culture, language, administration, and unique characteristics. The struggle that emerged from South India was significant. In the 75th year of Independence, along with remembering the freedom that we gained, we also need to remember the spirited struggle of the rulers from our states. It is imperative for strengthening the values of federalism and to add glory to the Independence Day celebrations.
Earliest calls for autonomy
Tamil Nadu has been raising its voice for States’ rights both before and after Independence. It can be said that the maiden speech delivered by 'Perarignar' C N Annadurai at the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) of the Indian Parliament in 1962 was a proclamation for State Autonomy in independent India. Even though Perarignar Anna demanded Self-Determination — and had to give up his demand later - considering the greater interest of India as a whole, he placed States' Rights as his primary demand.
Demand for more rights to States is not a new one for India. Even before Independence, the then Congress President Maulana Abul Kalam Azad stressed for federalism and States’ rights to the Cabinet Mission that consisted of Sir Stafford Cripps, sent by British Prime Minister Clement Atlee in 1946.
In its demand, the Indian National Congress stated: "For a country as vast as India with varied geographies, having a Unitary government is a non-starter. Each territorial unit should have the fullest possible autonomy within the Union, consistently with a strong national State".
Post-Independence, during the Constitutional Assembly Debate, Dr B R Ambedkar who was the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, clearly mentioned that Union Government and State governments are established as per the rights accorded in the Constitution and that the Union Government shall not possess an attitude of domination.
DMK's persistent demand
At a time when the rule of a single party prevailed both at the Union and the States, it was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) which made State autonomy an important topic of discussion and voiced against the increasing centralisation of powers. The election of 1967 brought a paradigm shift in this regard. The DMK rose to power in Tamil Nadu as the first regional party to do so. Perarignar Anna, the doyen of State Autonomy, became the Chief Minister.
The voice for States’ rights started echoing from states like Punjab, West Bengal, Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir as well.
'Muthamizh Arignar' and 'Kalaignar' Muthuvel Karunanidhi who succeeded Anna as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Retired Justice Rajamannar to critically evaluate the relations between the Union and the State governments. It was a significant milestone in the journey of State Autonomy. The report of the committee was sent to the Union Government. It is worth mentioning that, acknowledging the report, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her letter dated 22nd July 1971 has said, “If the views of your government on this matter are made available to us, they will also be taken into account. These are important issues, and we intend to consult all the Chief Ministers.”
It is the need of the hour for those at the Union Government to have a broad view regarding States Rights and reconsider their thoughts in the interest of federal structure of the nation. The struggle for States' Rights have been persisting in India for the past 75 years through various phases.
The current trend of centralisation against the basic tenets of federalism poses a challenge to States’ rights. It is indeed a mockery of democracy to systematically challenge the duly elected state governments led by non-BJP parties, through Governors. The definition of Democracy is 'Of the people, for the people and by the people'. Creating troubles to state governments elected by people through Governors who are neither the representatives of people nor elected by the people’s representatives is akin to digging the grave for democracy.
The harmonious co-existence of people speaking various languages is the symbol of India’s diverse character. The 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of our Constitution and the ‘to-be-added’ languages should be protected and nurtured. Our central demand is that there should not be any discrimination among them. On the contrary, the hegemonic act of giving importance only to Hindi and Sanskrit and imposing them on others will nonetheless lead to a silent genocide.
Our Dravidian Movement boasts of a proud history of having many martyrs who sacrificed their lives opposing the hegemony of Hindi and save Tamil from the continuous onslaught of conscious Hindi imposition. Following Tamil Nadu, many other States have come forward to the battleground against the move of converting India into Hindia. Instead of adding fuel to the fire of language issue, it is imperative to make all Dravidian languages including Tamil and all other scheduled languages of India as the Official Languages with equal status.
Other pressing issues
The main factor behind the raging of our Chieftains against the British rule was the unjust taxes imposed on them. Similar to the British rulers, Union Government also have snatched the tax rights from states by introducing the Goods and Services Tax (GST). States like Tamil Nadu that contribute significantly to the tax revenues get a paltry sum compared to their contribution.
We are forced to bear the brunt of entrance exams like NEET which has continued to destroy the dream of the less-privileged since the day of its introduction and the National Education Policy, because many subjects which were with the States were moved to the Concurrent List against the spirit of federalism. This is the time for the State governments to join hands and fight to bring Education back to the State List, reclaim the fiscal rights and rage against the practice of running parallel governments through Governors.
It was Muthamizharignar Kalaignar, a ceaseless crusader of State Autonomy, who secured the right for all Chief Ministers to hoist the National Flag on Independence Day. In the 75th year of Independence, let’s stand under that jubilant flag and resolve to uphold federalism.
(The author is the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu .)