The 104th birth anniversary of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Kollywood superstar M.G. Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR, was celebrated in Jaffna on January 17 in front of his memorial statue in the city.
MGR was a wildly popular actor and became a cultural icon among Tamils from the 1950s right through the 1960s and 1970s. Through his movies, MGR propagated the Dravidian ideology to the Tamil masses which later helped him launch his political career.
A devoted follower of C.N. Anna Durai (Arignar Anna), the founder of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), MGR disseminated Anna’s ideas and assumed an important position in the DMK. The passing of Anna triggered an internal rivalry in the party between MGR and M.K. Karunanidhi.
MGR broke away from the DMK and founded his own Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK) in 1972 and became Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1977.
MGR was a firm supporter of the Eelam Tamil liberation movement spearheaded by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A crucial benefactor of the armed liberation group, MGR was known for his generosity and, according to one source, provided Rs. 110 million to help build up LTTE. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran maintained a close relationship with MGR and has said in an interview that he fondly called him ‘Anna’. Prabhakaran and the LTTE received crucial help from their proximity to MGR who defied the central government of India to fund the movement.
As Tamil Nadu assembly elections are coming up, MGR’s legacy has been idolized which recently caused a row in the Tamil Nadu political arena. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palanisamy promised in the hustings that their party would return MGR’s administration to the state. In turn, actor-turned-politician Kamal Hassan said that he was the true spiritual successor of MGR and averred that, if elected, he would bring MGR’s probity and financial rectitude to office.
Meanwhile Seeman, leader of the Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), a Tamil-nationalist party in the state, controversially stated that other than lending support to the Tamil nationalist movement in Eelam, MGR’s administration was not such a pleasant one as other parties claimed it was.
MGR was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka to an ethnic Malayalam family on January 17, 1917. He died on January 24, 1987 in Chennai due to health complications. The fact that MGR was not of Tamil origin has sometimes led to criticisms over his right to lead the Tamils.