Dravidian Leaders – Rajarajan RJ
Sir A.T. Panneerselvam
Veteran Periyarist Ve. Aanaimuthu in his life documentary, faced a question from the interviewer, From when you became a dravidian ideologue?
Ve. Aanaimuthu replied like this.. It was in March 1940, I was 15 years old then. I went to the river in my village for taking bath and returning back holding my Vetti on the hand in order to dry it. A friend of mine running towards me and said, “Hey, You know Panneerselvam died”. I said, “Ayyo!” in shock. Another guy who is a brahmin named Seetharaman said “Ozhinjaanaa Paavi” which means “Ah, That Sinner Died!”. That was a slap on my face. I realised the hatred they have on him. That day made me turn towards the Dravidian movement, the veteran said.
Why this hatred on Sir. A.T. Panneerselvam from the upper caste people? There are many reasons to it. Before, seeing the reasons, lets read what Thanthai Periyar had to say about the sudden demise of Sir.A.T Panneerselvam.
Periyar wrote in Kudiyarasu dated 17.3.1940
“I didn't cry when my wife died. When my mother died, I took it as natural. We should not feel bad for a person who lived 95 years. When my brother’s son who studied in London and returned back, died in his age 20, I was composed. But, Sir. A.T. Panneerselvam’s demise is shaking my mind. When I think about Tamil’s future, my heart is getting shocked”
“The reason is, My Wife, My Mother, My Children’s demise is my personal loss. It is linked to my selfishness as well. When the selfishness fades off, their memory also fades off from me. The demise of Panneerselvam is linked to the public welfare. So, Whenever, I think of Tamils, Panneerselvam comes to my mind. When this will fade off? My mind struggles to find someone who can replace him.”
Periyar, who doesn't show his emotions often had written the above. This speaks about the life of Sir. A. T. Panneerselvam.
Sir.A.T. Panneerselvam born in a village named “Selvapuram” near Thiruvarur. His full name is Sir Arockiyasami Thamarai Selvam Panneerselvam. His family belongs to the Catholic religion. Panneerselvam did his schooling in Thanjavur and his college was in Tiruchirappali Saint Joseph College. He went to London to study Law.
He got married to Ponnu Paappu Ammal and they had 6 children. After returning from London, He Practiced as a Lawyer in Thanjavur. He indulged himself into the public life. He became the Chairman of Thanjavur municipality. He also served as the leader of District Education.
In his tenure, One of the notable issue was on the “Thiruvaiyaaru Raja’s College” which denied teaching or studying Tamil as they promoted Sanskrit. Tamil Scholar Karanthai Umamaheshwaranar who was a friend of Panneerselvam brought this issue to him. When the scholar approached the college, they showed a Sanskrit manuscript as an evidence and mentioned, Raja Sarfoji had given permission only to teach sanskrit. Sir A T Panneerselvam got the manuscript and gave it to Gnaaniyaar Adigal who was a scholar in both Tamil and Sanskrit. Gnaaniyaar Adigal said, there is no mentioning that only Sanskrit should be taught in the college. Sarfoji Raja mentioned that the college is “For Educational development” and not “For Sanskrit Development”.
Thus, the college started teaching Tamil as well and started producing many Tamil scholars. The college was renamed as “Rajas college” and later as “Arasar Kallori” in Tamil.
Later, Sir A.T. Panneerselvam associated himself with the Justice Party.
He was the District Secretary of Thanjavur.
He had implemented social justice in all possible ways in any position he holds. He nominated a scheduled caste member as the leader in Pattukottai (in Thanjavur District) when he was the district secretary. When pressure came from a dominant caste leader to remove the scheduled caste member, Sir. A.T Panneerselvam stood by his decision. Later, the chief minister intervened and informed the dominant caste leader to obey the decision of the party.
He had also held positions like Member of Chennai Legislative Assembly, Committee Member to the Chennai Governor, Finance and Home minister of Chennai Presidency, Opposition Leader, etc.,
In his tenure as the member of assembly, he ardently worked for the social justice of all people. His voice was always for the oppressed communities. He faced then congress and brahmin leaders like Rajaji directly in the assembly. Sir. A.T Panneerselvam is famous for his straight forwardness and boldness.
Selvam was a natural leader of the non-brahmin party like Justice party.
After the demise of leaders like TM Nair, Sir.Pitti Thiyagarayar, Dr. Natesan the justice party was on the path of decline. Selvam saw Periyar EVR as the only leader who can save the justice party and Tamil Nadu. He also associated himself briefly with the Self-respect movement started by Periyar.
Sir.A.T.Panneerselvam’s role in 1938 Anti Hindi protest is important. He roared in both Assembly and Public meetings. He spoke in the assembly that, “Through Hindi, not just Tamil language even the lives of Tamil people will get destroyed.” Periyar had seen Panneerselvam as a true Tamil leader.
When Periyar got arrested during the anti-Hindi protests, Sir.A.T Panneerselvam vociferously voiced against the Congress government in the assembly.
There are instances where he was questioned by the congressmen for his association with Periyar. Once, a congress member asked Sir. A.T Panneerselvam, You being a Justice party leader meeting Periyar in Erode. What does it mean?
Sir A.T. Panneerselvam replies, If Vardah where Gandhiji live is a sacred place for you, Erode where Periyar lives is our sacred place.
When someone asked, “What is the meaning of Periyar?” Panneerselvam replied “Periyar means Mahatma”.
There was an interesting meeting between Sir. A.T Panneerselvam and Gandhi, wherein Sir.A.T panneerselvam told Gandhi on how Brahmins are dominating the political powers and not letting any non-Brahmin to grow. He openly mentioned Gandhi that Brahmins are just using him to attain and retain power.
He participated in the round table conference in London representing non-Brahmin Tamils and Christians.
Throughout his life, he put the lives of the common man as his priority. He didn’t save anything for his family. When he found a work in London and leaving to London, he mentioned to his son George that I’m going to save money from London for the family welfare. For that, George jokingly replied that, he could not save when you were earning 5000 rupees as a minister, but now you are saying you are going to save money. You don’t need to send us any money. Please don’t ask us to send money from here, George said and laughed. Sir.A.T. Panneerselvam also laughed!
Scenes were emotional when Periyar went to send off Panneerselvam. Both of them were emotional. No one would have imagined that, this was the last time, they two meet each other. Before starting to London, Selvam wrote a letter to Periyar from Karachi.
The letter goes like this..
To My Beloved Leader,
Yesterday I reached here from Bombay. The flight I have to take from here had not reached yet. It seems the flight will only reach this evening. I will start tomorrow morning 7AM. So, I think, I will reach London by Monday,
The unexpected death of Sir A.T Panneerselvam was definitely a setback for Tamil Politics. His education, political experience, elocution and most importantly the stand on social justice politics would have helped Tamils to attain a better life during his lifetime.
Today, If you come across a Tamilan with the name Panneerselvam, high chances are there, that a Dravidian party member was the reason behind that name. Not just his name is alive, Sir.A.T. Panneerselvam is alive in the name of social justice.
- Rajarajan RJ