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Oddities of a State's Politics

Geeta Ramaseshan

By Vaasanthi
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 268, Rs. 425.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

If you are looking for a serious academic work on the politics of Tamil Nadu you risk being disappointed. But if you want a bumpy roller coaster ride with sufficient chills and thrills at every turn then this is the book I recommend. The author herself narrates how horrified she was at the thought of writing an academic book when David Davidar approached her to write on the oddities of Tamil Nadu’s politics.   Vaasanthi, writer, novelist and columnist was the editor of India Today’s Tamil edition for nine years and is presently serving as a consultant to the magazine. But she lived outside the state for most of her life and hence regrets not having witnessed momentous periods in the history of Tamil Nadu. However, being an “occasional visitor” and not an “insider” in terms of living in the state, Vaasanthi brings to her writings a refreshing measure of clarity and objectivity.   To those living outside the state, Tamil Nadu politics is often confusing and full of contradictions. As a state it was the pioneer in addressing social inequality and was the first to introduce reservations almost fifty years ago. The demand for secession started in the 1930’s but today the state is a major player in national politics. The Dravidian movement that attacked the caste system is now seen as having done more harm to the dalits. E.V. Rama-swamy Naicker or Periyar, the founder of the Self- Respect Movement and the leader of the Dravidian movement shunned hierarchy and held radical views on the institution of marriage and on the status of women. But these have been completely forgotten. What has emerged is subservience “ reminiscent of medieval times. Jayalalithaa is hailed as Theiva Tai, Divine Mother, or Thanga Thalaivi, golden leader. Likewise, Karunanidhi is praised on public platforms by leaders young and old as a redeemer of the glory of Tamil culture and devoted to the progress of Tamil language.” (introduction) The cut out culture, the larger than life leaders, the sway of script- writers, the domination of film stars on the political scene and the emergence of the leader cult make the politics of the state very different from the rest of India. “What is it that makes Tamil Nadu politics so different?” asks Vaasanthi and moves on to give a gripping narrative.   Starting with Periyar, she traces the beginnings of the Self Respect Movement, ...

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