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Kamaraj: a Study in Percolation of Style

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2008

Duncan B. Forrester
Madras Christian College, Tambaram, Madras-59, India


A Complex stratified polity such as that of India, containing a variety of political cultures and a great diversity of political structure, inevitably produces a multitude of styles of political behaviour. Such styles may be the product of different political cultures and processes of recruitment and training, and they interact with each other in significant ways. In particular, the new integrated political system encourages what I call the ‘percolation of style’ from one stratum of the system to another. The percolating process flows in two-ways—from the national arena to the local, and vice versa—and the process itself affects the nature of political styles. A style which was appropriate and effective in one arena will need adaptation if it is to meet the distinctive challenges of a different stratum in the political system. Percolation thus involves modification of style, and the whole process may be viewed as the gradual development of new styles responsive to the demands of new situations. Inevitably this leads to multitudinous tensions, destructive or creative, but the process is thus an integral part of political change and an understanding of stylistic percolation is an important key to the understanding of the nature and direction of political development.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1970

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1 I am grateful for helpful comments on a draft of this paper to my collague Mr V. S. Venkataramanan and to a number of my M.A. students. Mr N. Ramon of the Hindu and the staff of that paper's library and reference section were kind enough to put material on Kamaraj at my disposal.Google Scholar

2 Caldwell, Bishop, who worked among the Nadars for a long period from the 1840s, wrote of them: ‘There was one peculiarity of the Shanars which I found as time went on of great advantage to them. I found them constantly endeavouring to improve themselves and make progress, both intellectually and in social position.’ Reminiscences, Edited by Wyatt, J. L., Madras, 1894.Google Scholar Cited in Irschick, Eugene F., Politics and Social Conflict in South India, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University Press, 1969, p. 277, n. 5.Google Scholar

3 Mackenzie, G. T., quoted in Thurston, E., Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Madras, 1909, Vol. VI, p. 365.Google Scholar

4 Thurston, , op. cit., Vol. VI, p. 364,Google ScholarCf. Hardgrave, R. L. Jr., The Nadars of Tamilnad, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969, pp. 111–19.Google Scholar

5 Thurston, , op. cit., Vol. VI, pp. 370–1.Google Scholar

6 Rudolph, Lloyd I., ‘The Modernity of Tradition: The Democratic Incarnation of Caste in India’, American Political Science Review, Vol. LIX, No. 4, 12 1965, p. 980.Google Scholar

7 These paragraphs are much indebted to Hardgrave, Robert L. Jr, ‘Varieties of Political Behaviour among the Nadars of Tamilnad’, Asian Survey, Vol. VI, No. 11, 1966,Google Scholar and Caste: Fission and Fusion’, Economic and Political Weekly, Special Number, 07 1968, pp. 1065–70.Google Scholar

8 Hardgrave, , ‘Varieties of Political Behaviour’, op. cit.Google Scholar

9 On the Justice Party and the Non-Brahman Movement, see Irschick's fine study, already cited.Google Scholar

10 Thurston, , op. cit., Vol. VI, p. 378Google Scholar and Narasimhan, V. K., Kamaraj—A Study, Bombay, 1967, pp. 45.Google Scholar

11 Interview with the writer, 3 February 1966.Google Scholar

12 Interview.Google Scholar

13 ‘People tell me that I was not educated. I don't claim that I went to a University. But I do know geography. I know most of the areas of Tamilnad. I know where the rivers are and where the water tanks are. I know in which town people make a living which way. Are these things not geography and only the books which contain straight and curved lines?’ Kamaraj, quoted in Subbaraman, P. S., Kamaraj—Symbol of Indian Democracy, Bombay, 1966, p. 20.Google Scholar

14 Interview.Google Scholar

15 See Prakasam's, Statement in the Madras Legislative Assembly, reported in the Hindu, 26 03 1947.Google Scholar

16 Narasimhan, V. K., op. cit., pp. 40–4.Google Scholar

17 Hardgrave, R. L. Jr, The Dravidian Movement, Bombay, 1965,Google Scholar quoting Indian Express of 14 02 1957.Google Scholar

18 Hindu, 17 02 1957,Google Scholarcited in Hardgrave, , Dravidian Movement, p. 57.Google Scholar

19 Link, 27 05 1961,Google Scholarcited in Hardgrave, , Dravidian Movement, p. 76.Google Scholar

20 Kamaraj's interest in ideological matters is certainly not great, nor are his statements notably profound. He defines socialism thus: ‘Those who are backward should progress. What is essential for a man's living must be given: dwelling, job, food, and education. That is socialism.’ Cited in Lukas, C. Anthony, ‘Political Python of India’, New York Times Magazine, 20 02 1966.Google Scholar

21 Thurston, . op. cit., Vol. V, pp. 2732.Google Scholar

22 On this see Hardgrave, ‘Varieties of Political Behaviour’.Google Scholar

23 Narasimhan, , op. cit., p. 69.Google Scholar

24 In 1952 Muthuramalinga declared that if Kamaraj were elected, he would become a sanyasi. On being elected, Kamaraj announced that he had sent him a saffron robe. In 1957 he declared that a victory for Kamaraj was a victory for the Nadars and a serious threat to the Maravars. A Congress success in Mudukalattur would lead to a third world war, he said! Hardgrave, , The Nadars of Tamilnad, p. 224.Google Scholar

25 Ryerson, Charles III, Encounter in South India, Bangalore and Washington, D.C., 1966, pp. 52 ff.Google Scholar

26 Full accounts of these incidents appear in the Hindu for 09 and 10 1957.Google ScholarSee especially the reports of L. M. Srikant, Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Hindu, 6 10 1957)Google Scholarand Datar, B. N., Union Minister of State for Home Affairs (Hindu, 8 10 1957).Google Scholar

27 Cf. Nehru's remark on these incidents: ‘It is clear that the old order under which the Harijans can be kept down can no longer continue and everyone must realize that this business of superior and inferior castes and vested interests is no good.’ Hindu, 25 09 1957.Google Scholar

28 Thurston, , op. cit., Vol VI, pp. 128;Google ScholarRudolph, , op. cit.;Google ScholarNicholas, Ralph W., ‘Caste and Politics in Madras, 1920–1953’, Anthropology Tomorrow, Vol. VI, No. 3, 1960.Google Scholar

29 See Hardgrave, Robert L. Jr, ‘Caste in Kerala: A Preface to the Elections’, Economic Weekly, 21 11 1964,Google Scholarand ‘Caste and the Kerala Elections’, Economic Weekly, 17 04 1965.Google Scholar

30 See my article, ‘After Nehru’, Parliamentary Affairs, Spring 1966.Google Scholar

31 Weekend Review, Delhi, 3 01 1968.Google Scholar

32 Brecher, M., Succession in India, London, 1966, p. 20.Google Scholar

33 Brecher, , op. cit., pp. 193, 196201.Google Scholar

34 ‘Unfortunately, organizational reconstruction was ignored during the four years of Kamaraj's tenure as Congress President. At best his performance was very uneven, reaching a crescendo with each of the three successions, but each time followed by little but intermission. The inertia of the President affected the entire organization and particularly, the central office. “Never before”, according to one observer, had the AICC office in Delhi “been reduced to such idleness and irrelevance.”’ —Kochanek, Stanley A., The Congress Party of India, Princeton, 1968, p. 423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

35 The one exception is 1954, when, on appointment as Chief Minister he successfully contested a by-election in Gudiyatham, North Arcot District—a Vanniyardominated constituency.Google Scholar

36 See Hardgrave, , The Nadars of Tamilnad, pp. 187, 197, 228–9.Google Scholar

37 See Gnanadason, J. N., ‘The Nagercoil By-election; January 1969: A Study of the Congress Campaign’, Economic and Political Weekly, 16 08 1969.Google Scholar

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