So Karunanidhi has made a fashion statement that everyone in DMK, including actor Khusboo is following. Effective last weekend, the 88-year old DMK chief ditched his trademark white kurta and yellow shawl, replacing the same with a black shirt and a white shawl. Although the DMK patriarch, frequently calls himself a rationalist, he could not have chosen a more auspicious month to sport black.
After all this is the time of the year when thousands of people in south India wear black dhotis, observe fasts and walk barefoot on religious grounds. They is their way of shunning all evil before they head out on the pilgrimage to Lord Ayyappan's abode in Sabarimala, Kerala.
Black is clearly the aam aadmi's colour this time of the year in Dravidian land. This year however it has become a political statement. Let's face it. Our Dravidian politicians are not fashionistas. Men wear starchy, hospital-sterile white dhotis. As for our female politicians, Chettinad checks or handloom sarees are not their go-to-work clothes and if you want fashionable ethnic wear you will have better luck tuning into Lok Sabha TV.
So, don't miss the point, the switch to black is for a 'cause'. In fact, Karunanidhi says he has chosen to don black as a form of protest and that his hand has been forced in the matter. According to him, he had merely wanted to go black for just a day, but events have left him and his party with no choice but to be men in black 'forever'. It is all a part of protesting against the 'current AIADMK government'.
Writing in his party mouthpiece 'Murasoli' the DMK chief has said that his party had sought permission to hold a human chain protest rally on October 5. They were all planning to wear black shirts for the day. However, since permission to hold the human chain rally was denied by the police, he decided to continue wearing black for days on end, as a symbol of protest pioneered in Dravidian politics by his mentor, Periyar (EV Ramaswami). Karunanidhi further recalled in the article that he was the first man to volunteer for the Black Shirt movement mooted by Periyar on September 29th, 1945 via the publication 'Kudi Arasu'.
Karunanidhi has signed off his article with a flourish saying, 'I will wear black from today, I will wear it forever'. But political observers wonder how long can 'forever' would last. After all, black shirts are the standard uniform of the Dravida Kazhagam party. Plus, black badges and black shirts have been worn as a form of protest frequently by many political parties. As Karunanidhi himself will tell you, even the AIADMK MLAs have turned up in black in the Assembly. If anything, Operation Black is a universal symbol of sorrow and democratic protest.
The question is how will the rebooted black shirt movement achieve its goal?
Decades ago, when a leading newspaper asked Periyar about The Black Shirt Movement, EVR penned an article for that paper, wherein he said, 'There is no movement at all by that name. Those who are dissatisfied with, affected by and inimical towards the movement, have named it so. Evidently the Editor meant 'Dravidastan Movement.. For it is improper to call a great national movement by the kind or colour of the dress worn by its followers. I won't call the Congress movement 'khaddar shirt movement'.
In the same article, Periyar also said, 'The black shirt is worn by us as a symbol of the darkness and degradation in which the Dravidians of this great sub-continent are plunged. It is a symbol of our social and economic bondage. We of the movement are proud to wear it, just as a true Congressman is proud to wear khaddar. The idea is entirely mine and is not borrowed from any foreign party or organisation. Black is usually associated with death and sorrow. In order to indicate to the public and also to remind ourselves of our sorrowful plight in all spheres of life, I have prescribed the black shirt as a symbol' added Periyar. He further wrote, 'The Dravidian Movement is essentially a socio-religious organisation whose aim is to reconstruct society on a human and rational basis. Though its ultimate aim is to destroy religions as popularly understood and practised, it is not so virulently anti-religious as is represented by the interested few'.
Periyar may have called it a socio-religious movement, but Karunanidhi has always projected himself as a rationalist, which in itself has been a subject of speculation. A small group of doubting Thomases has always viewed his yellow shawl in particular as an auspicious piece of charm, worn with the aim of bringing him prosperity and warding off evil. That same group believes that Karunanidhi's switch to black shirts has more to do with astrology and less with politics.
Meanwhile, political observers say that the black shirt brigade has its work cut out to be an effective Opposition to the AIADMK. Wearing black and distributing pamphlets against the AIADMK is all very well, but with both the DMK and the AIADMK on the same side in a number of issues-such as opposing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, the DMK has to go out on a limb if it wants to hasten the anti-incumbency factor against the ruling AIADMK which romped home to power with a sweeping mandate from the public.
The black shirt may stay for sometime after all - until the next elections at least.
Other columns by the author
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist