An overview of the legacy of Netaji in the southern state
Tamil Nadu constantly strives to maintain a sense of cultural separateness from the national narrative. An impressive array of local icons dot the Tamil socio-political landscape. Some of them are even celebrated in response to what is seen as hegemonic attempt to foist pan Indian heroes. However, there is one icon of Indian history who has dominated Tamil imagination as well as anyone from the state– Subhas Chandra Bose. Here, Swarajya presents you examples which best illustrate the extent of Netaji in popular Tamil imagination.
If there was one individual instrumental in establishing Bose’s strong presence in Tamil imagination, it has got to be Muthuramalinga Thevar.
Muthuramalinga Thevar was a powerful leader from the Maravar communiy and a close confidante of Bose. He played an instrumental role in mobilizing huge support for INA and was one of the founding pillars of Forward Bloc. He followed Bose out of Congress and started the Tamil Nadu wing of Forward Bloc.
Infused with a combination of religious fervor and revolutionary ideas, he reignited the martial streak of his traditionally militant castes who were emasculated by imperialistic intervention. He worked for the propagation of saiva siddhanthism and once famously said “Nationalism and Religion are two eyes of the nation. Politics without divinity is a body without soul.”
He started a Tamil Weekly Nethaji and gave a clarion call to the members of his community to join the INA. He fought for the denotification of ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ which stigmatised the Mukkulathor’ complex of castes -Thevars, Kallars and the Maravars. When the ‘Brahminised leadership’ of Madras Congress did not show sufficient wherewithal to oppose British attempts to disenfranchise militaristic castes, Thevar began to disengage with it and found common ground with Bose.
Thevar, a nationalist who fought for the removal of Criminal Tribes Act in Tamil Nadu, also happens to have a streak of pro-caste feeling which led to a violent clash with a local Dalit community. After his death, the Forward Bloc was weakened by several splits. Through some deft social engineering and prominence of Sashikala household , Maravar have turned a near captive ADMK votebank.
Across southern Tamil Nadu, Bose continues to prominently feature in Thevar iconography. As part of the new wave of competitive caste belligerence, observance of the birth and death anniversary of caste icons has gained renewed vigour in the state. One such occassion is Thevar Jayanthi. During this day, entire state is plastered with posters of Muthuramalinga Thevar along with Bose clad in his military attire.
Tamil Woman dominated the Rani Jhansi Regiment of INA
While the daredevilry of Lakshmi Swaminathan (famously known as Captain Lakshmi Sahgal) is well known, lesser known are the inspiring stories of Janaky Thevar and Rasammah Bhupalan. The latter two were members of Rani Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army and later went on to play a part in the Malayasian independence movement.
As a 14 year old, Janaky Thevar once attended a rally of Bose and was so enthralled by his idealism that she handed over her expensive diamond earring to INA as a part of fund raising drive. Despite her father’s strident opposition, she signed up with INA and rose up in the ranks to become the second commander of Rani Jhansi Brigade.
Bose and Tamil Separatist movement in Sri Lanka
Bose was a major source of inspiration for Tamil Seperatist groups who waged an armed resistance against the Sri Lanka state for a seperate Eelam.
In an interview given to Frontline in 1987, LTTE chief Prabhakaran, when asked about the influences on his life, said– “When I was young, I always had a picture of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I used to keep his picture on my table when I used to study. I had written on my table, “I will fight till the last drop of my blood for the liberation of my motherland.”
Bose in Tamil Cinema
In the cinema-crazy state, fascination with Bose has been a recurring theme in many Tamil Movies. In the popular 1996 film, Indian, Kamal Haasan played two characters. One of them was of an old man who was a member of the Indian National Army and was enraged at the corruption in independent India. Seemingly inspired by the ideals of Bose he goes on to brutally eliminate petty and corrupt officials.
In another Tamil Movie called Thevar Magan, copious adulatory references are made about Bose and how the Mukkalothar caste mobilised in his response to this call. Some of worst violent caste-conflicts in south Tamil Nadu correlate with the release of this highly caste-centric movie starring Kamal Hassan, otherwise known for his Dravidian faux-rationalism.
In a society that prides itself as rooted in a valorous and militaristic past, the fascination with Subhas Chandra Bose is easily understandable.