Thoroughly researched, engagingly written, combining analytical rigour with anecdotal verve, R. Kannan’s book on C.N. Annadurai is a landmark in the annals of contemporary Indian political biography. It brings to life a giant of our age who deserves to be far better known outside his native Tamil Nadu. The impact of Anna’s life and message still endures. Every thinking Indian should be aware of it, and there could be no better source in the English language to understand Anna’s contribution in shaping our India than fine book’ – Shashi Tharoor
‘Anna: The Life and Times of C.N. Annadurai admirably fills an intriguing gaap – the absence of a reliable biography of one of the most interesting, attractive, and consequential of modern India’s Political leaders, whose legacy is no less than the permanent transformation of Tamil Nadu’s socio-political landscape, the ascendancy of the federal idea and a whole new democratic language of connecting of the masses. This is a sympathetic work that . . . uses it sources well and keeps a critical distance from its subject and the movement he led. A special triumph is the fresh life it brings to the fascinating personal and political relationship between Anna and his formidable mentor, the iconoclastic social reformer Periyar. This accessible and lucidly written work is an invaluable read on the Dravidian movement in its dynamic and most democratic phase, before the loss of innocence’ –N.Ram, chairman and publisher, The Hindu group of newspapers
R. Kannan is a child of the Dravidian movement and has long been a commentator on Dravidian politics. Raised and educated in Chennai, Kannan completed his LLm from the University of Georgia and PhD in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He has served in various capacities with the United Nations in two continents for nearly a quarter of a century. He presently heads the Basra office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq. His latest book is MGR: A Life.
This is not a hagiography. But then, it is difficult not to succumb to C.N. Annadurai’s extraordinary human facets, genius and vision. The Tamils judge a person by the attendance at one’s funeral and beyond the niceties said on the occasion. Anna was judged well, for Tamil families around the world mourned his passing away as a personal bereavement. If he conjured up mammoth crowds while he lived, next only to Nehru, in his heath he created a record that remains unbeaten. Unlike Nehru, however, Anna’s beginnings were far from aristocratic. They were modest and Anna often prided himself on being a ‘commoner’.Yet, from those humble beginnings, he rose to be loved by his people like none other before or after him. This work is an attempt to explain the ordinary man’s extraordinary journey.
Growing as I did in the north of Madras, a bastion of Anna’s DMK and in a family with leaning towards the Dravidian movement, the effect came to a standstill. I was seven years old and could not understand why the city had ground to a halt like never before. As my father, S.K. Rajaratinam, explained the greatness of the leader who was no more, Anna felt like a hero whom I had not been fortunate enough to meet. As I came to know more of Anna, I began thinking about writing a biography of the man who had walked as a colossus among the Tamils. Inexplicably, despite his heavy footprints on the Tamil political landscape, there are not many biographies of Anna, even in his native Tamil.
Anna lends his name to streets, parks, a university, the Chennai international airport and government welfare projects. His statues and busts are ubiquitous in Tamil Nadu. Anna’s image flutters as part of a major Dravidian party’s flag and leaders of the Dravidian parties ritually invoke his name like devout Hindus do with Ganesh. Yet there is a huge gulf between Anna’s iconic status in the public sphere and the inability of many of these who swear by him to emulate his selflessness, simplicity, honesty, political culture or graciousness.
In writing this book, my sources have principally been Anna’s own writings as well as various memories in Tamil. Among the recent secondary sources, I found Arunan’s work Anna Atchiyai Pithitha Varalaaru particularly useful. I would like to gratefully acknowledge my thanks to Gandhi Kannadasan for permission to quote from his father Kavignar Kannadasan’s works Manavaasam,Vanavaaam and Naam Paartha Arasiyal.
I am indebted to many for their eccouragement, kindness and assistance in the persuit of this project. I alone am responsible for any shortcomings. At this juncture, I would like to remember my late father, the economist S. Guhan, the poet Ponnivalavan, family friend N. Shankar and my relative P.Sethu for they would have been pleased with this venture. I am grateful to the late Dr C.N.A. Parimalam, P.C. Ganesan and K.Rajaram, and Iniyan Sampath, Arunan, T.K.S. Villalan, Anna Peravai’s R. Sembian, Dr Arul Natarajan, Vaigai Ramamuti, D.V.N. Bose, S. Paramesh, S.N.Rajendran, P.Malarvannon, Era. Sezian, Dr M.Naganathan and Pon. Manickam for helping me with research material and S.S. Rajendran, R.M. Veerappan, S. Madhavan and K. Veeramani for clarifying certain issues to me. I wish to record my appreciation for V.R.S. Sampath, K. Ramalinga Jothi, G. Lakhmanaswamy, V. Jayaprakash, Kadiresan Pillai, S. Kannadasan, K. Shamshudin, S. Sethuramachandran, M.A. Anubukarasu, T. Chitrarasu, S. Ashok Kumar, D. Mahalaksmi, N. Arun Mei Azhagan, Mike BAnfield and Jolyon Naegele for their kind assistance. I am especially grateful to my wife for her continual proddig and my sister-in-law, Dr Vijayrani Niraimathi Azhagan, for being a constant source of encouragement and support. My apologies if I have inadvertently forgotten to mention anyone.
I wish to thank N. Ram, editor-in -chief of The Hindu, for giving me the opportunity to write a series of op-ed pieces on Anna in the run-up years to Anna’s centenary. I wish to thank him and minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, for their blurbs and the latter for also putting me in touch with Penguin. I worked like to especially thank Kamini Mahadevan, my editor, who worked with me patiently and diligently to shepherd this project, which would have not been possible without her assistance. Similarly, I wish to place on record my deep appreciation and thanks to Jaishree Ram Mohan for her painstaking and most helpful editorial assistance. My thanks got o Ravi Singh, publisher and editor-in-chief Penguin Books India, and all those there who have been instrumental in the making of this book.
A note on the usage of names: I have used Madras and Chennai, and Madras and Tamil Nadu interchangeably; similarly, I have used names with the initials and sometimes just the names. Tamils as a general rule have only one name. The other is usually their father’s given which is the initial before their name. I have used traditional spellings for names such as kannadasan, Neduchezhian, Thanjavur, Tuticorin, etc.; however, in cases where the Tamil words are not that commonly known, for example Manavasam or Pari, I have followed the transliteration Manavaasam and Paari for ease of the non-Tamil reader.
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