“Madras Manade” – How Chennai remained with Tamil Nadu

Chennai Illai, Madras: Tales from the City

(A chapter titled, ‘”Madras Manade” — How Chennai remained with Tamil Nadu” by A.R. Venkatachalapathy in a volume edited by him titled, “Chennai Not Madras: Perspectives on the City”)

Chennai is now well-entrenched as the capital of the modern state of Tamil Nadu. Not only is it the administrative headquarters but it has also evolved over a century and a half since at least the mid-19th century as the social, political, and cultural capital of the Tamil country. Despite its cosmopolitan nature and a significant minority population, no Tamil could possibly imagine that Chennai could be anything but Tamil. But for some years in the mid-20th century the pre-eminent place of Madras as the Tamil capital came to be challenged by Telugu politicians. “Madras Manade” (“Madras is Ours”) captures this controversy in an alliterative Telugu slogan.

Though Telugu speakers, at about 15 per cent of the population compared to about 70 per cent of Tamil speakers, constituted a clear minority in the city of Madras, for a variety of historical reasons they had high visibility. Proximity to Telugu regions, the dominance of the Telugu elite in the early history of Madras, their prominence in early nationalist politics where some of them founded organizations such as the Madras Native Association, and their preponderance in trade and business gave, at least to some, an illusion of Madras as a Telugu city. This was further accentuated by the disproportionate power Telugu speakers wielded in an electoral world where enfranchisement was based on property holding and direct taxation. With the gradual rise of Indian nationalist politics, at the threshold of its mass phase, legitimate demands were voiced for a separate province of Andhra for Telugu speakers. It is said that such demands were articulated as early as 1913. The Andhra Maha Sabha was a major voice in the articulation. By 1920, with its Nagpur session, the Indian National Congress had reorganized itself on linguistic lines and the newly-formed Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee demanded that the city of Madras come under its jurisdiction. Similar claims were made on Madras when a separate Andhra University was formed in 1926. Though such demands were articulated through the subsequent two decades, the issue came to a head only as Indian independence became imminent. The Telugu demand for Madras unfortunately got tied to the formation of a separate Andhra state and consequently became a running sore for over half a decade.

In June 1948 the Constituent Assembly of India appointed a commission headed by S.K.Dar, with Panna Lal and Jagat Narayan Lal as members, to examine the formation of the new provinces of Andhra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra. Interestingly no mention was made of Tamil Nadu as it was erroneously assumed that the Madras Presidency was representative of Tamils. In the event the Dar commission recommended reorganization not on “linguistic consideration but rather upon administrative convenience.” This was a view that was close to Jawaharlal Nehru’s heart despite the many assurances the Congress had made over the years, and especially during the 1937 elections, on linguistic reorganization of provinces.

The Congress in turn, in its Jaipur session (December 1948), appointed a Linguistic Provinces Committee with Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Pattabhi Sitarammaya (hence commonly known as the JVP Committee after their initials). The committee, which presented its report in April 1949, more or less accepted the Dar Commission’s views by recommending the postponement of linguistic reorganization by a few years. But Andhra was an exception. “In some ways,” the JVP Committee observed, “the demand for an Andhra Province has a larger measure of consent behind it than other similar demands,” and added ominously, “Yet there is a controversy about certain areas as well as about the city of Madras.” While the JVP Committee argued that Greater Bombay should not be part of any linguistic province, it placed Madras on a different footing despite its apparent analogous nature:

to a large extent what we have said about Bombay city applies to Madras. At the same time there is a difference in that it is a clear Tamil majority area. It seems impossible to restrict the aspirations of the majority to the confines of the city and as far as we can see its isolated existence would be a perpetual source of conflict between Andhra and Tamilnad.

Therefore the decision of the Congress leadership was clear and unequivocal right from the beginning: “On the whole, therefore, we feel if an Andhra Province is to be formed its protagonists will have to abandon their claim to the city of Madras.” But there precisely lay the problem. Inextricably linked with the demand for Madras, the declaration of Andhra province came to be delayed by a few more years. Further, it also occasioned unnecessary and tragic loss of lives and property and caused teething problems for the fledgling nation state.

Pressure began to mount as is clearly recounted in the voluminous Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. By September 1949 Nehru had received at least three deputations: one an Andhra deputation led by P. Ramamurti, another of the Tamil members of the Constituent Assembly, and a third of the Andhra Maha Sabha. Meeting these delegations only further convinced Nehru of his position articulated in the JVP Committee. In November the Congress Working Committee, following the JVP Committee’s views, recommended to the Government of India that an Andhra state be formed but without Madras city.

As Nehru wrote shortly later to P.S. Kumarasami Raja, the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency, “it now appears that the way to the formation of the Andhra Province is not as easy or clear as we had thought it was.” An eight-member Partition Committee had been formed in November 1949 and the Madras Cabinet had approved its report in January 1950, “based on a large measure of agreement.” But this was mired in controversy, with T. Prakasam (“one leading member from Andhra” in the words of Nehru) signing a note of dissent that the apparatus of the new province should reside in Madras city until a new capital was ready, clearly a ploy to subvert the federal decision not to grant Madras to Andhra.

In the ensuing months the movement for Andhra hotted up. In the coastal districts and Rayalaseema, support was welling up for a separate Andhra province. Apart from numerous public meetings, one Swami Sitaram even undertook a fast portending perhaps the subsequent fast of Potti Sriramulu which ended tragically. Given Nehru’s view that “Personally I am opposed to bringing in fasting as a method of finding a solution for political problems” and his categorical statement in Parliament that “Government will … submit to facts and not fasts,” the fast was broken only with the intervention of Vinoba Bhave. During the course of this fast it all once again boiled down to one issue: while the protesters demanded a separate Andhra state and the government was more than eager to grant it, the doubtful claim over Madras was what stalled the issue. In Parliament on September 14, 1951 the government said as much when N.G. Ranga, the prominent Andhra Congressman, made an intervention in the debate.

As the agitation for a separate Andhra got protracted, the fault lines within the Andhra Congress began to be more visible. It became obvious that the interests of Rayalaseema and the coastal districts of Andhra were not in tandem. (Here it should be mentioned that, even after the so-called police action in Hyderabad which ensured its integration in the Indian union, its amalgamation with the Telugu state of Andhra was scarcely discussed.) Given their close proximity and other material interests in the city of Madras, Rayalaseema and Nellore could not envisage an Andhra province without it. Further, their people were also apprehensive about due representation to them in the new province and therefore demanded a proportionate share in the new legislature and other government offices. This amounted to putting a spoke in the Andhra wheel. The elite of the coastal districts of Andhra had a far larger stake in the creation of a separate state than in a faraway city. As Nehru observed in a letter to Swami Sitaram on September 29, 1951, “On the Andhra side, there appear to be varying opinions. Some people say that they were prepared to give up the city of Madras wholly; others are not prepared to do so; yet others … want to reserve consideration of this to a later stage.” To this may be added the view that Madras city should become a Chief Commissioner’s province, effectively under the control of the Central government.

If this was the political division within the Andhra government, the situation in Tamil Nadu was even more complex. While the Congress was deeply faction-ridden, and the other dominant force, the Dravidian movement (both the Dravida Kazhagam under Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam under C.N. Annadurai), with their commitment to a Dravidian homeland consisting of the whole of southern India, did not divert adequate energy to the issue. The Communists on the other hand, emerging afresh from underground after being weakened by toeing the misconceived B.T. Ranadive line, reflecting the ground strength of their movement, preferred to be led by the Andhra section of the Communist Party. Ultimately it was left to the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, headed by Ma. Po. Sivagnanam, a pressure group within the Congress, to counteract the Andhra demand. Apart from organizing meetings and conferences, the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam intervened effectively in the Madras Corporation by passing resolutions that thwarted Andhra designs on Chennai. (A particularly tactical move was the defeat of a motion brought forward in the corporation expressing sympathy for the death of Potti Sriramulu in December 1952, which was a moral blow to the Telugu demand.) An important all-party public meeting of Tamil leaders was organized in March 1953 by the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam where Periyar E.V.R., M. Bhaktavatsalam, S.S. Karaiyalar, Meenambal Sivaraj, and others spoke. In subsequent meetings widely respected Tamil cultural figures with no overt political connections also participated.

In this context, with the question of Madras and the interests of Rayalaseema acting as brakes, the struggle for a separate Andhra state went from strength to strength. The situation drove both the state and Central governments to exasperation. Once Nehru was even forced to write to P.S. Kumarasami Raja, “A reference in the Hindu says that your government is apparently waiting for us to do something about the Andhra province or for us to ask you about it. I do not quite know what is meant.” By early 1952, Nehru was blaming T. Prakasam and his supporters alone for the stalemate in forming the Andhra province. In a press conference in New Delhi Nehru asserted, referring to Prakasam’s dissent note to the partition committee’s report where he had insisted that Madras city be the interim capital of the new Andhra province: “As a matter of fact, if Mr Prakasam had accepted that award three years ago, probably there would be an Andhra province now.”

By this time however the first general elections of January 1952 had added more variables. The Congress failed to win a majority in the Madras Presidency, weakening the hand of K. Kamaraj, its leader, and paving the way for Rajaji to form a Congress government through a prescient form of horse-trading. On the other hand, T. Prakasam had himself lost his deposit in the North Madras constituency, exposing the weakness of his demand. He headed the United Front, a motley alliance dominated by the Communists, which opposed the Congress. Despite Rajaji’s well-advertised view that the demand for linguistic provinces was a “tribal demand”, he nevertheless supported the formation of an Andhra province but without conceding the city of Madras. (It was widely believed that Rajaji’s support for the immediate creation of Andhra province would give him a reprieve from the relentless attack of the Communists whose legislators mostly came from Andhra.)

Various Andhra leaders such as Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and V.V. Giri put pressure on the Central government. Even the philosopher Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was not to be left out in this regard. All this only drove Nehru to exasperation. Nehru refused their demand for the appointment of a commission without general agreement: “Even reference to an arbitration means consent of parties.” He also ruled out plebiscite, as it would not throw up a clear result. By July 1952 Nehru made it ever more clear that “there has been so much argument on this subject that no one can say anything new or worthwhile.”
This, however, was to change with one as-yet-unknown Congressman’s fast. In a letter to Rajaji, Nehru had observed that “some kind of fast is going on for the Andhra province …. I am totally unmoved by this and I propose to ignore it completely.” But it was not to be. Potti Sriramulu epitomized the demand for Andhra. Actively egged on by T. Prakasam and Bulusu Sambamurthy, he began his fast at the latter’s hime on October 19. 1952. Within days Nehru had to sit up and listen: “I do not know how long we can just go on postponing it. If we are clear that sometime or other we shall have to face it, it does little good to go on postponing this and waiting for a more favourable opportunity. The probability is that conditions will deteriorate.”

T. Prakasam kept on the pressure by convening an all-Party convention in Madras on December 7, 1952, and dissolved it after calling for immediate formation of Andhra with Madras as capital. It was left to T. Nagi Reddy, the Communist leader, to reconvene the meeting and pass a resolution that left the question of Madras to a plebiscite.

Nehru hoped to seize this psychological moment to the advantage of the nation-state. He feared that otherwise there would be complete frustration. He even suggested the appointment of a one-man commission which was turned down by Rajaji as he feared that it would only help “to keep alive the claims which we wish to be abandoned.”

The death of Potti Sriramulu on December 15, 1952 after 57 days of fasting led to violence in Andhra, especially in Nellore, and the looting of Vijayawada railway station. Genuine fears arose about the safety of Tamils in the Telugu districts. Despite Nehru’s bold statement in Parliament that “we must not mix up various things because a riotous mob did something”, the Government of India appointed in December 1952 a committee under K.N. Wanchoo.

Wanchoo’s report, submitted in early February 1952, unequivocally favoured the creation of an Andhra state but equally clearly recommended that Madras should not be included. However he indicated that until a new capital was built the Andhra government could be temporarily (for about five years) lodged in Madras. Understandably Nehru was inclined to accept this recommendation but Rajaji stoutly opposed it on the grounds that the troubles would spread to other Tamil areas where a sizeable Andhra population lived. He even went to the extent of threatening to resign from the chief-ministership. This finally convinced Nehru and he agreed that this move would only result in “unseemly agitation, acrimonious controversies, and administrative conflicts” and would adversely affect the friendly atmosphere.

By 1952 the question of Andhra was pretty much settled, if ever it was in question. Despite the seeming controversy, the Andhra demand for Madras was a rather sectarian one raised by a group of Andhra leaders from the Rayalaseema region. What gave some impetus and nationwide visibility to the agitation was that it was linked to a very popular, genuine, and longstanding demand for a separate Telugu-speaking province of Andhra. But in fact the demand for Madras unnecessarily delayed the formation of this province. The relative quiet with which Tamil Nadu responded to the Telugu demand for Madras was rooted in the certainty that it was most obviously a Tamil city conceded by one and all.

The bitterness between Andhra and Tamil Nadu festered for some years after, with the controversy over the northern borders becoming the subject of further agitation and necessitating yet another commission. That however is a separate story.


1) Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volumes 10-22, Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, 1990-97.
2) Ma. Po. Sivagnanam, Puthiya Tamilagam Padaitha Varalaru, Poonkodi Pathippagam, Chennai, 1986.
3) T. Vasundhara and S. Gopalakrishnan, Sub-Nationalism: A Case Study of Modern India, New Era, Madras, 1996.

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