“What’s in a Name?”: Rechristening Madras State
From the earliest days of tamiḻppaṟṟu, the territorial space in which Tamil was spoken was referred to as either tamiḻakam, “home of Tamil,” or tamiḻnāṭu, “land/nation of Tamil,” an area that in the colonial period was named “Madras.” Since neither had an overtly political agenda, neo-Shaivism and classicism were not particularly concerned about conducting their devotional activities in a territorial space which both was ruled by a foreign power and was signified by a foreign word. But for Indianism and Dravidianism, with their obvious interest in ensuring the rule of Tamil in all spheres, it was sacrilegious that the very land in which the language was spoken did not officially bear its true Tamil name. Quoting from a primary school textbook, S. B. Adithan (1905-81) wrote indignantly in 1958: “ ‘The nation we inhabit is called India. In it, we inhabit the southern portion that is South India, called Madras State.…’ Here, we do not even see the term ‘Tamil Nadu.’ What is wrong in teaching that the land we inhabit is called ‘Tamil Nadu’? Do they fear that if they use the term ‘Tamil Nadu,’ our impressionable Tamil children will develop attachment to Tamil Nadu?” (Adithanar 1965: 5).
To many a devotee of Tamil, this incongruity became especially inexcusable after 1956 when the multilingual Madras Presidency was dismantled, leaving only the Tamil-speaking region to continue on as Madras state. Prior to this date, adherents of Indianist inclination had been willing to wait till the Indian state had honored the demand for linguistic states, which were created only after a protracted struggle from the late 1930s through the mid-1950s. In turn, in 1938 the Dravidian movement had launched its battle cry, “Tamilnadu for Tamilians,” a cry that by the early 1940s transmuted itself into “Dravidanadu [Dravidian nation] for Dravidians.” For the next decade or so, until they had sorted out the many differences over whether they were fighting for the autonomy of Dravidians of the putative Dravidanadu, or just for the Dravidians of Tamilnadu, the DK and the DMK used both terms, Dravidanadu and Tamilnadu, interchangeably. After the States Reorganization Act of 1956, the dream of a multilingual Dravidanadu was abandoned, and followers of the Dravidian movement joined proponents of Indianism in their demand for renaming the state—with one major difference, of course (Karunanidhi 1989: 316-17, 519-21). For Dravidianism, at least until the early 1960s, the state renaming was linked to a separatist project for creating an independent Tamil nation. The Indianist regime, on the other hand, always steadfastly maintained that the renaming of the state as Tamilnadu was not contrary to the spirit of Indian nationalism. Indeed, it was a celebration of India’s multilingual plurality.
These differences did not deter devotees of rival factions from coming together, with the common cause of ensuring that the state be renamed. In the late 1950s, the two political parties most enthusiastically concerned with this issue were the Nām Tamiḻar (We Tamils) and Sivagnanam’s Tamil Arasu Kazhagam. The We Tamils party was founded in 1958 by a wealthy London trained barrister, S. B. Adithan, the publisher of the popular Tamil daily Tiṉatanti. The party’s principal agenda was the founding of a sovereign Tamilnadu. The many ideological differences he had with Adithan and his own ambivalences over tamiḻppaṟṟu notwithstanding, Ramasami lent his considerable influence to the We Tamils, his vision of a sovereign Dravidanadu having been rendered unfeasible (Anaimuthu 1974: 1878-79; E. V. Ramasami 1961). In 1960, the We Tamils conducted statewide protests for the secession of Madras and the establishment of a sovereign Tamilnadu. The protests were marked by the burning of maps of India (with Tamilnadu left out), and they led to the arrests of Adithan, Ramasami, and numerous others (Sundararajan 1986: 32-35). Soon after, in early 1961, Sivagnanam, an Indianist devotee of Tamil who was ideologically opposed to men like Adithan and Ramasami on many fronts, spearheaded the protests launched by his party, Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, outside government offices and the legislature in Madras, as well as in several other cities all over the state, leading to the arrest of hundreds (Sivagnanam 1974: 851-65).
These protests and arrests themselves followed the tragic death in Virudhunagar of a sixty-year-old Gandhian and lifelong social reformer, Shankaralinga Nadar (1895-1956), on 13 October 1956, after a prolonged fast of seventy-seven days. Foremost among his list of demands was the renaming of Madras state (Sundararajan 1986: 68-76). The Congress government ignored Shankaralingam’s demands, and even the DMK later formally distanced itself from his act. But his sacrifice did not go unnoticed among Tamil’s devout (Karunanidhi 1989: 282, 711; Pancanathan n.d.: 29-31; Sivagnanam 1974: 809-10). Indeed, a decade later when Madras was formally renamed Tamilnadu, Annadurai reminded his fellow members in the Legislative Assembly of Shankaralingam’s martyrdom for the Tamil cause, and in 1970, when Karunanidhi became chief minister, a monthly pension was granted to the dead man’s wife (Karunanidhi 1987b: 225).
Shankaralingam’s death, prior to the 1957 general elections, did not visibly alarm the Congress party, but the protests of 1960-61 led by the We Tamils and the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam did elicit a response, highlighting as they did the growing threat of the Dravidian movement on the very eve of the 1962 elections. In early 1961, the government partially relented and, after a lengthy debate in the legislature, agreed that within Tamilnadu, when communications were conducted in Tamil, the name “Tamil Nad” would henceforth designate Madras state. For communications with other states, the central government, and the rest of the world, especially as these were conducted in English, the state would continue to be referred to as Madras. In consigning the English name, “Madras,” to use in the world outside the Tamil-speaking region, which would henceforth be designated by the Tamil name, “Tamilnadu” (albeit misspelled “Tamil Nad”), the state’s legislation at least conceded the devotional community’s demand that in the intimate sphere of the home and the family, it is Tamil that should reign.
But the respite purchased with this gesture was only temporary, for many of the devout and the rival political parties that backed them continued to keep the pressure on the government. In 1963, the matter was debated at length in the Indian Parliament where, following the submission of a nonofficial bill, Annadurai offered an impassioned defense for unilaterally adopting the name “Tamilnadu” on all fronts. The bill was turned down, on the grounds that the request had to be made officially by the state government. However, in 1964 the Congress government of M. Bhaktavatsalam, already pushed to the wall by the rising wave of anti-Hindi sentiment in the state, once again rejected renewed demands. It was not until the DMK came to power that things changed. One of its very first acts was to pass a resolution in July 1967 confirming the change of name, and on 14 January 1969, Madras state was officially rechristened Tamilnadu. So, after more than a decade of petitioning and debating, and after many centuries of having been a literary and cultural reality, “Tamilnadu” became a political reality as well. When Annadurai “raised his voice to say ‘Hail, Tamil Nadu,’ every member, including Congressmen followed suit. How could any Tamilian remain unmoved?” (Ramanujam 1971: 26)
Through the maze of petitions and protests, it is clear that the Congress—the “nationalist” party that under colonial rule took pride in contesting English, and that fostered linguistic consciousness in the Madras Presidency as a counter to British power—increasingly pushed itself, and was in turn thrust, into a corner from which it vigorously defended the legitimacy of the colonial inheritance. Its spokesmen insisted that they were in favor of retaining the old colonial name as a matter of expediency; in no way should this be mistaken as an absence of “love” for Tamil on the Congress’s part. “We have foreign monuments and roads and streets named after foreign persons.…We have indeed so much else of the hangover of the past that we cannot take a big broom and sweep them away.” There were several grounds on which this paradoxical defense of the colonial “hangover” was mounted. First, the Congress insisted that in contrast to “Madras,” the name under which “we have lived for centuries,” the name “Tamil Nadu” had no foundation in the literature and history of the region. The Congress persisted in this argument over the years. So, in May 1963, T. S. Pattabhiraman declared in the Rayja Sabha:
There has been Bengal and there must be Kerala historically. But there has been no Tamil Nad historically. It is only the creation of politicians, of political parties of a recent date. There was nothing in existence as a unified Tamil Nad till about five hundred years ago. It was “Pandya Nad” or “Chera Nad” or “Chola Nad.” There has never been historically a “Tamil Nad.” And why do you want to create a new one, when historically it is not justified? It is not justified politically. It is not justified democratically.
Not surprisingly, this argument about the alleged illegitimacy of “Tamil Nadu” and the implicit historical legitimacy of “Madras” provoked angry responses. The most notable of these were Annadurai’s documentation of the deep historicity and antiquity of the term during the parliamentary debate in 1963 and Sivagnanam’s similar effort in the Madras legislature in 1967. “The name Tamilnadu did not appear yesterday or today. We hear of the name from the time of Tolkappiyar 2,500 years ago,” skeptics were told. As its detractors did not fail to point out, the absurdity of the government’s position was apparent from the fact that the ruling party’s regional wing had renamed itself Tamilnadu Congress in the 1920s. Indeed, throughout the debates in both Madras and New Delhi, all parties concerned, including the Congress, liberally used the term “Tamilnadu” when they referred to Madras state. As one critic of the government remarked astutely, “Their very speeches nail down this point. What [we] seek to do is to give de jure recognition to a de facto fact that is there.”
Second, the Congress insisted that the word nāṭu in the compound “Tamilnadu” was inherently dangerous, for it suggested that Tamil speakers might want a separate nation (nāṭu) of their own and did not want to be a part of pārata nāṭu, “India.” Bharati may have referred to the Tamil space as centamiḻnāṭu, “glorious Tamilnadu.” But “that might have been appropriate in song, and for arousing devotion towards one’s nāṭu. Today, however, we are independent and rule ourselves under a parliamentary system.…Is Tamilnadu our nāṭu or is it India that is our nāṭu? How can we say that this is our nāṭu and that too is our nāṭu?”
Here, Chief Minister Bhaktavatsalam was deliberately playing upon the multiple meanings that have historically coalesced around the word nāṭu, the most recent of which, of course, was the modern sense of “nation” that Bharati, Kalyanasundaram, and others had popularized from the turn of the century. This was a strategic move on Bhaktavatsalam’s part, for it was bound to remind everyone that the parties demanding the renaming had been only a few years ago also demanding secession from India in the name of a sovereign Tamilnadu. Given that Madras was in the throes, in the early 1960s, of the most violent of anti-Hindi protests, renaming the state Tamilnadu would be tantamount to surrendering to “antinationalist” forces, in the view of the government. Further, such a renaming would also alienate the many non-Tamil-speaking peoples who still lived in the state and considered it their home. Would this mean that they would have to leave the state? “The ‘We Tamil’ Party will say that only Tamilians should reside in Tamil Nad and all others should get out. This will be opening the Pandora’s box.”
Third, and most consistently and steadfastly, the government repeatedly asserted that much was invested in the name “Madras,” for it was the name by which everybody in the world knew the state. “When our eminent people go to America, to Germany, and to France, they are recognized only if they say they are from Madras.” What would happen to the reputation and fame of the state if Tamilians gave up its familiar name and adopted a new name such as “Tamilnadu”? supporters of “Madras” asked repeatedly. Another Congress member pointed out—most injudiciously, under the circumstances—“Just because 42 per cent of the people in India speak Hindi, we do not call it Hindi Nad.” More astutely, in 1964 Bhaktavatsalam reminded everyone that by retaining the colonial word, the government was not declaring its devotion to the English language; instead, it was staking a claim on the very name “Madras,” at a time when there was such danger of losing the city that bore that name to neighboring Andhra Pradesh. It is our way of saying to the Andhras that Madras is “ours,” not “yours,” he declared. Indeed, it is telling that until the very end, even when the renaming resolution was submitted by the DMK in 1967 and every other party supported it unanimously, the Congress representative, Karuthiruman, suggested that perhaps members should consider the hyphenated term “Tamilnadu-Madras state,” which in his view conveyed a desirable union of the English and Tamil names. In effect, the Congress, this most “anticolonial” of political parties in the state, was implicitly declaring that modern Tamil speakers as a political and territorial community could only have a presence in the world by allowing themselves to be mediated through a colonial category.
There are good political reasons why the Congress doggedly refused to accede to the demand for renaming, even though prior to 1947, it had just as vigorously sponsored the cultivation of linguistic consciousness and regional pride to neutralize colonial power. “I do not see any reason why, when we [Indians] are in power, we should not give effect to what had been done when we were not in power,” one of its critics wondered. But the reasons would have been apparent to everyone, as the demand for renaming was most enthusiastically voiced by parties which were clearly in opposition to the Congress, and whose strength was on the rise in the various regions of the nation. That itself was a sign that linguistic and regional pride (as sponsored by these oppositional parties) would challenge the nation (and the Congress party). The establishment of linguistic states, the internecine struggles between them over borders and resources, the switch to regional languages for their administration, and the resistance from various quarters to Hindi all pointed towards the fragmentation that threatened the union of India, as well as Congress power. As one Congress member put it, “It will be opening the Pandora’s Box, once you begin to give recognition for a language as the basis for renaming a state.” Pushed against the wall by the upsurge of linguistic sentiments, the Congress was repeatedly forced to take a stand that went against its own reputation as a defender of linguistic consciousness in the colonial period. So the same party that had vigorously upheld de-Anglicization and vernacularization, and that had renamed the Parliament “Lok Sabha” and India “Bharat,” now held out against the demand for renaming Madras: “they want the names to be changed after the language; just because it was named by the British people, they want to change it.” The (mock) incredulity in this member’s tone betrays the Congress’s realization that the “Pandora’s box” of linguistic pride that it had helped open, as an anticolonial strategy, had to be now tightly reclosed if the union (and Congress power) were to be maintained, even if this led it to mount a defense of English and the colonial inheritance.
Thus the Congress was compelled to make its case on pragmatic grounds: everybody in the world knows us as Madras; why should we risk losing our reputation by changing our name? When there were “so many problems of importance concerning the daily life of the people with which we are trying to grapple,” the demand for renaming was not just inconsequential but even distracting:
It is perhaps necessary to remind ourselves that in this House we are trying to tackle fundamentals. Once we find proper solutions to basic questions affecting our life, the life of the society, its economics, its goals, political and social, the rest will take care of themselves. When we solve our economic problems, when we solve our cultural problems, these changes in names of places and of roads and of persons will adjust themselves to the changing conditions.
The Congress’s materialist pragmatism sharply contrasts with the devotees’ “sentimental” attachment to the name “Tamilnadu.” The government may well have asked, “What is in a name?” but for Tamil’s devotees, and various other supporters of the renaming, this particular name was everything, for it was the one “named after our language.” When asked “What do you gain by renaming [Madras] as Tamil Nadu?” Annadurai replied: “We gain satisfaction sentimentally; we gain the satisfaction that an ancient name is inculcated in the hearts of millions and scores of millions of people. Is that not enough compensation for the small trouble of changing the name?” By renaming Madras as Tamilnadu, “something is changed in our thinking, in our soul, in our fiber,” he concluded. Similarly, a few years later, Sivagnanam declared, “Nobody has a right to refer to me by someone else’s name.…I should be referred to by the name of my language, my ethnicity, and my land.” For its devotees, the very “fundamentals” of life and livelihood were invested in Tamil. The honor shown their language by renaming their state after it was far from an incidental matter that would follow after the “basic questions affecting life” had been tended to. For Tamil, as they had repeatedly asserted, was life itself.