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  • Writer's pictureLAWGIC STRATUM


Author: Madhumitha

Tamil Nadu politics is unique in its structure as it is influenced by two main factors, the dominance of the Dravidian parties and the Tamil film industry. Elections in Tamil Nadu are like a religious festival, as opposing parties come out to the streets for rallies and speeches, promising this, and that.

This article is a guide to understand the rise of the Dravidian Parties in Tamil Nadu.

It all started with the self-respect movement, founded by E V Ramasamy, also known as Periyar. In 1925, Periyar founded this movement in the Madras Presidency to encourage non-Brahmins or Dravidians to abandon their superstitious beliefs and adopt rational thoughts. Brahmins were believed, to have introduced the caste system and were called “North-Indian outsiders”. As Brahminical rituals were being condemned, atheism was the basis of this movement.[1]

As a result, the concept of “self-respect marriages” was introduced, which was an alternative to marriages that took place without a Brahmin priest. Another significant outcome of this movement is the encouragement and propagation of the Tamil language.

Before the rise of the DMK and AIADMK, the Justice Party was prevailing. It was founded in 1916 and was headed and led by landowners and non-Brahmin upper castes and shared similar ideas with the self-respect movement. While in power, between 1920 to 1937, the party brought out the reservation system in educational institutes and religious reforms.[2]

However, people viewed the party as a non-Brahmin, elite one, and it slowly began to lose relevance. In 1944, the party merged with the Dravidar Kazhagam led by Periyar.

In 1937, when Congress announced that Hindi as a compulsory language, Periyar’s followers opposed it and termed it a “Brahmin-Bania ploy to colonize the Dravidians”. It was during this period, the demand rose to create a separate nation, “Dravida Nadu”. But the demand did not have strong supporters, and it eventually, fizzled out.[3]

Tamil Cinema and Politics

Dravidian ideologies were propagated in Tamil cinema and provided an influential platform in this matter. The 1952 Tamil flick, Parasakthi, written by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, is considered a milestone for Tamil politics. Movies of that nature promoted the ideas of social justice, rationalism, and opposed Brahminical views.

Yesteryear actors such as MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, MR Radha held the torch for DMK in the Tamil film industry. MGR used his movies to build votes when he formed his party. When Superstar Rajinikanth asked voters to vote against Jayalalithaa during the 1996 elections in Tamil Nadu, her followers routed.[4] The fact that former actors and actresses have ruled the state and that actors such as Vijayakanth, Sarathkumar, Rajinikanth, and Kamal Hassan are forming their parties is a testimony to the influence of cinema in politics in Tamil Nadu.

The Rise of DMK and AIADMK

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), an off-set of the Dravida Kazhagam, won the 1967 Assembly elections, making C.N. Annadurai the Chief Minister of the state until he died in 1969. Late M. Karunanidhi, who was the party’s president at the time, succeeded him.

This Government implemented schemes that helped the poor such as subsidized rice and promotion of the Tamil language. The party also won the elections in 1971, but inter-party rivalries agitated. Allegations of corruption also weakened their ideological bearings. In 1972, late actor MGR left the party and formed his own, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).[5]

1977 was a landmark year for ADMK as MGR was the first film star who became a Chief Minister in any state. His party won the elections for three consecutive years, and MGR remained the Chief Minister until he died in 1987. The much-appreciated and successful mid-day meal scheme became the legacy of the Government. However, as allegations and rumors of corruption surfaced, the state’s economy crumbled. Under the leadership of MGR, ADMK became the first Dravidian party to share power at the Centre, under the Charan Singh Government.

MGR’s death in December 1987 split ADMK into two: one led by his wife, late Janaki Ramachandran, and the other led by late J. Jayalalithaa. The factions got back together under ADMK-led Jayalalithaa. She was swift in carrying on the legacy of MGR, in terms of welfare such as free kitchen appliances, childbirth allowances, and the like.[6]

While her governance led to her popularity, especially among the poor, it also led to a stagnant economy in the state. The various corruption allegations called for criticism from various third parties. Despite the charges and conviction, Jayalalithaa has come to be revered by her people. Her governance was much similar to MGR, which was also why she is ‘worshipped’ in the same manner.

AIADMK Under Jayalalithaa

In 1982, Jayalalithaa joined ADMK as the Propaganda Secretary and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. After MGR’s demise, she became the party leader and successful in uniting the party. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, ADMK came to power in the following election but lost the 1996 election due to corruption allegations.

A judicial probe was launched into the corruption allegations which subsequently led to the brief imprisonment of Jayalalithaa. However, her party made a comeback in the 2001 Assembly election but lost in the 2006 election.[7] After their win in the 2011 elections, ADMK has stayed in power since. Jayalalithaa is the first Chief Minister to have disqualified after her conviction in 2014, but she returned to power in 2015, after the Supreme Court overturned the decision.

After her demise in 2016, the state went into an emotional outrage, and a political battle for power began within the party. The rift between Paneerselvam and Sasikala proves all the wrongs with the Dravidian movement. What started as a party that promotes social justice and rationalism, the movement became the victim of dictatorial methods, which is evident from the splits within the parties and the strong second rung in the parties.

Alliance With The Union Government

The Dravidian movement aimed to distinguish itself with its anti-North and anti-Centre ideologies. However, as the party progressed, the political agenda overtook their ideology, and both the parties began to share power with the Centre. While ADMK shared power briefly, DMK has been an important component with various Union Government since 1989.

Their alliance with the National Front, the United National Democratic Alliance, and the United Progressive Alliance has been some of its notable ones. In the 2004 general election, DMK’s tie-up with Congress led to the sweeping of all the 39 seats leading Congress to form the government at the centre. ADMK won 37 seats in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, which has been recorded as the most number of seats won by a Dravidian party.[8]


Though the Dravidian movement aimed for a casteless society and idealized rationalism, the political agenda and pursuits encouraged the parties to build votes based on caste. In Tamil Nadu, politics has been largely dominated, by the castes such as the Chettiars, Mudaliars, among others. While the Chettiars have been termed as a “forward caste”, the other castes have been termed, “backward castes”. This has become a laying ground for votes wherein 68% of the population is constituted with the BC.[9] Both the parties, DMK and ADMK have pinned their election hopes on these castes. There are also other caste-centric parties in Tamil Nadu, such as the PMK (represents the Vanniyars) and the VCK(represents the Dalits).

However, these parties have only stayed at the periphery of Tamil Nadu politics.

Tamil Nadu is one area where Congress could not breach after losing in 1967 and has become a relegation of playing second fiddle to both the Dravidian parties. The BJP is a non-entity in state politics, and other Dravidian parties such as the MDMK and DMDK have only a little impact on the elections. Neither Karnunanidhi nor Jayalalithaa have won consecutive elections since 1989; they have alternatively occupied the seat at St. George Fort.


[1] A Dravidian Citadel, First post, [2] How did Tamil Nadu grew into India’s one of the most developed state, [3] TN make or break election for Dravidian Parties, [4] Film, Culture,Politics and Industry, SV Srinivas, [5] ??? [6] 50 years of First Dravidian Government in Tamilnadu, [7] Dravidian Power, [8] Man of many parts, [9]Why caste is important in Tamilnadu politics,

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