CHENNAI: “Deeply disappointed”, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister M.K Stalin said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Stalin’s letter dated January 17 perhaps encapsulated the sentiments of thousands of Tamilians, after the tableau proposed by the state government for the Republic Day celebrations was rejected by New Delhi.

For many, it was yet another sly attempt to invalidate the contributions of Tamil Nadu to the freedom struggle and their role in India's history.

Back in September all state governments received a letter from the Centre asking them to send their tableau proposals for Republic Day. The selection committee immediately rejected the proposed tableaux from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Karnataka. Later Karnataka's tableau was accepted, but not the others.

According to Stalin’s letter, the TN government had shown the committee seven designs as per the suggested modifications and they were still rejected. The CM also said that they were not even called for the fourth round of selection, a move he termed “unacceptable”.

The Defence Ministry had recommended a few themes such as India @ 75 – Freedom Struggle, Ideas @ 75, Achievements @ 75, Actions @ 75, and Resolve @ 75 for the state tableaux. Accordingly Tamil Nadu proposed a tableau showcasing the state’s role in the freedom struggle. It included prominent freedom fighters from the state like VO Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Bharathi and Rani Velu Nachiyar.

VO Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) was a freedom fighter and founder of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company. He launched the first Indian-owned shipping service, to compete against the monopoly of British ships.

Subramania Bharathi, also known as Mahakavi Bharati was a poet, social reformer and journalist who kindled patriotism through his literary works during the freedom struggle.

Rani Velu Nachiyar was a queen of the Sivagangai estate. Having been trained in martial arts, Silambam, horse riding, archery and other forms of combat, she was the first Indian queen to, along with the support of Haider Ali’s army, wage war on the British East India company.

These prominent freedom fighters who significantly contributed to India's freedom struggle were derecognized by the selection committee.

Tamil political activist and author Subbaiah Veerapandian, who is also chairperson of the newly constituted Social Justice Monitoring Committee of Tamil Nadu, told The Citizen that

“The selection committee did not clearly mention reasons for rejecting our tableau. If they reject it, they have to mention the reason. And who are they to reject? The Centre’s duty should be to coordinate, not rule over state governments.

“Someone sitting up there says that VOC was a businessman? That’s ridiculous. How can they say that? Is he Ambani or Adani? He’s a man who lost all his wealth and health in the freedom struggle. He lost everything for the sake of the nation. How can they call him just a businessman?

“They also identified Velu Nachiyar as Jhansi Rani. They asked us why we sent Jhansi Rani in Tamil Nadu’s tableau. It shows their ignorance. I wonder what qualifies them to be in the selection committee.”

On the state government’s decision to showcase the star-crossed tableau across Tamil Nadu for its own Republic Day celebrations Veerapandian said,

“The CM took a very bold decision, one that would encourage our people. In fact, the tableau that was sent to Delhi had only three freedom fighters Velu Nachiyar, VOC and Bharatiyar, but the ones that were displayed across TN had many more freedom fighters added, including Periyar.”

“This system must be dropped. In my opinion, all States and Union Territories, whether big or small, must find a place in the celebrations. This is not a one-off incident. This discrimination has been going for a long time, and it is increasing now. We, the people of Tamil Nadu do feel neglected. This is bad for the country, not just for Tamil Nadu.

“Even though autonomy is a far cry, at least some equality must be shown. We agree that there used to be some political democracy in the past, although there was no social democracy. But, these incidents show that even political democracy is under attack.

“All States must be treated equally and all States must be given the same status. The Union government should not act like a boss.”

Echoing these sentiments, David Prabhakar, professor of Tamil literature at the Madras Christian College said,

“It’s obvious that this move was politically motivated. There is an agenda behind everything. Our government was just trying to project our own freedom fighters. But the Centre rejected it. This has been the pattern for a long time. They want to write history from the Vedic and Aryan perspective and completely erase South Indian figures.

“As an academician, I can say that even with the New Education Policy and the proposal to have a central body of authority, they are trying to take away autonomy of states and force their ideology through education. They don’t want to recognise the antiquity of South Indian culture.”

Tamil Nadu tableau rejected by central govt committee displayed in Chennai Republic Day parade