Justice Party Movement

C. N. Mudaliar, T. M. Nair, and P. Theagaraya started the ‘Justice Movement’ in Madras Presidency in 1916 to secure jobs and representation for non-brahmins in the government. The Justice Party, officially the “South Indian Liberal Federation“, was a political party founded on 20 November 1916 in ‘Victoria Public Hall’ in Madras by C. N. Mudaliar and co-founded by T. M. Nair, P. Theagaraya, and A. M. Thayrammal, as a result of series of non-Brahmin conferences in the presidency. The formation of the Justice Party marked the culmination of several efforts to establish an organisation representing non-Brahmins in Madras and seemed as the start of the Dravidian Movement.

Historical Background

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the communal division between Brahmins and non-Brahmins began in the Madras presidency, mainly due to caste prejudices and disproportionate Brahminical representation in government jobs. The Brahmins enjoyed a higher position in India’s social hierarchy. They dominated the administrative services and the newly created urban professions. The social, economic, and political divide between Brahmins and non-Brahmins became more apparent at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Brahmins’ dominance was also prominent in the membership of the Madras Legislative Council during 1910-20. The non-Brahmins leaders denounced this dominance in the form of Pamphlets and open letters to the Madras Governor.

In 1909, two lawyers, P. Subrahmanyam and M. Purushotham Naidu declared plans to establish an organisation named “The Madras Non-Brahmin Association” and recruit a thousand non-Brahmin members before October 1909. But, they elicited no response from the non-Brahmin people, and the organisation never saw the light of the day.

Later in 1912, the disaffected non-Brahmin members of the bureaucracy like Doraiswami Naidu, G. Veerasamy Naidu, S. Narayanaswamy Naidu, and Saranava Pillai established the “Madras United League” with C. N. Mudaliar as its Secretary. The league restricted itself to social activities and distanced itself from contemporary politics.

On 1 October 1912, the ‘Madras United League’ was reorganised and renamed “Madras Dravidian Association“. This association opened several branches in Madras. Its major accomplishment was to establish a hostel for non-Brahmin students. It also organised annual “At-home” functions for non-Brahmin graduates and published books presenting their demands. The association sowed the seeds for the Justice Party.

Formation of Justice Party

In the 1916 elections to the Central Legislative Council, the non-Brahmin candidates: P. Ramaryaningar and T. M. Nair, were defeated by the Brahmin candidates. The same year K. V. Reddy Naidu and P. Theagaraya Chetty lost to Brahmin candidates in local council elections. These defeats led to the formation of a political organisation so as to represent non-Brahmin interests.

On 20 November 1916, non-Brahmin leaders and dignitaries, including C. N. Mudaliar, T. N. Nair, P. Theagaraya Chetty, K. V. Reddy Naidu, P. M. Sivagnana Mudaliar, A. Ramaswamy Mudaliyar, and A. M. Thayarammal, came together to form the “South Indian Liberal Federation” (SILF) as a political movement. They gathered in Victoria Public Hall in Madras. Dr C. N. Mudaliar was the founder of this movement, and Dr T. M. Nair and P. Theagaraya Chetty were co-founders.

The meeting also founded the “South Indian People’s Association” (SIPA) to publish English, Tamil, and Telugu newspapers to publicise grievances of non-Brahmins. P. Theagaraya Chetty became its Secretary.

Later, the movement was popularly known as the ‘Justice Party‘ after it published an English daily newspaper: ‘Justice‘, to promote its ideals.

The Justice Party elected its first officeholders in October 1917. Arcot Ramaswamy Mudaliar was the first general secretary of the Justice Party. Madras city was the centre of the party’s activities.

Objectives of the Justice Party

The first non-Brahmin conference was held on 19 August 1917 at Coimbatore under the presidency of P. Ramarayaningar. On 18 October 1917, the Justice Party published its objectives (as formed by T. M. Nair):

  • To promote education, social, economic, political, and moral progress of all communities in Southern India other than Brahmins.
  • To discuss general questions and make a genuine and timely representation to the government of the views and interests of the people of Southern India with the object of safeguarding and promoting the interests of all communities other than Brahmins.
  • To disseminate sound and liberal views in regard to public opinion through public lectures, by the distribution of literature and by other means.

Between August and December 1917, several non-Brahmins conferences took place all over the Madras Presidency. These conferences symbolised the arrival of the South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF) as a non-Brahmin political organisation.

Justice Movement

From 1916 to1920, the Justice Party struggled to convince the public and the British government to support communal representation for non-Brahmins in the presidency.

Conflict with Home Rule League

In September 1916, Annie Besant, the leader of the Theosophical Society, founded the Home Rule League in Madras. Many of her political associates were Tamil Brahmins. She viewed India as a single homogenous entity bound by similar religious, cultural, and philosophical characteristics and an Indian caste system.

The association of Annie Besant with Brahmins and her vision of a homogenous India based on Brahminical values brought her into direct conflict with the Justice Party. In December 1916, the “Non-Brahmin Manifesto” by the Justice Party voiced its opposition to the Home Rule League Movement. The Home Rule periodical “New India” also criticised the Manifesto.

Demand for communal representation

On 20 August 1917, the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, proposed political reforms to increase the representation of Indians in the government and to develop self-governing institutions. This declaration increased the division among the non-Brahmin political leaders of the presidency.

In late August, Justice Party organised a series of conferences to support its claims. P. Theagaraya Chetty cabled Montagu asking for communal representation for non-Brahmins in the provincial legislature. He demanded a similar system to the one granted to Muslims by the Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909, i.e., separate electorates and reserved seats.

To compete with Justice Party, the non-Brahmin members of Congress formed the ‘Madras Presidency Association’ (MPA)Kesava PillaiPeriyar E. V. RamasamyP. Varadarajulu Naidu, and Kalyanasundaram Mudaliar were the non-Brahmin leaders involved in forming the MPA.

On 14 December 1917, Edwin Montagu arrived at Madras to listen to comments on the proposed reforms. The British colonial authorities, including Governor Baron Pentland, supported communal representation.

But, Montagu was not inclined to extend the communal representation to subgroups. Thus, Montagu-Chelmsford Report, issued on 2 July 1918, denied the request.

During 1919-20, the Joint Select Committee held hearings to finalise the Government of India Bill 1919, which would implement the Montford Reforms. A delegation of the Justice Party, including Arcot Ramaswamy Mudaliar, K. V. Reddy Naidu, K. A. Rao Naidu, and L. K. Tulasiram, attended the hearings. The Committee’s report, issued on 17 November 1919, proposed communal representation in the Madras Presidency. The number of reserved seats was to be decided by the local parties and the Madras Government.

After prolonged negotiations between Justice Party, MPA, Congress, and the British government, a compromise called “Meston’s Award” was reached in March 1920. Thus, 28 seats, out of the 63 general seats in plural member constituencies, were reserved for non-Brahmins.

Opposition to Non-Cooperation Movement

In 1919, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement against the British. He called for a boycott of the legislatures, courts, schools and social functions. Non-Cooperation Movement did not appeal to Justice Party, which sought to leverage continued British presence by participating in the new political system. It was at odds with Mahatma Gandhi, primarily due to his praise for Brahminism.

In April 1921, when Gandhi visited Madras, he spoke out about the virtues of Brahminism and Brahmin contributions to Indian culture. Justice Party’s newspaper: Justice, Dravidian, and Andhra Prakasika, persistently attacked the Non-Cooperation Movement.

1920 Election

In 1920, when the Diarchy System of administration was introduced (at the Provincial Level) due to the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919, the Justice Party took part in the presidential governance. It won the first direct elections in the Madras Presidency in 1920 and formed the government.

The Justice Party was the main political alternative to the Nationalist Indian National Congress (INC) in Madras. Due to the non-cooperation campaign, the INC boycotted the November 1920 elections. Justice Party won 63 of the 98 seats. For the next 17 years, it formed four out of five ministries and was in power for 13 years.

A. Subbarayalu Reddiar became the first Chief Minister in 1920. But, he soon resigned due to declining health. Ramarayaningar (Raja of Panagal), the Minister of Local Self-Government and Public Health replaced Him.

Transformation into Dravidar Kazhagam

Internal Conflict

In late 1923, internal disagreement emerged, and the party split when C. R. Reddy resigned and allied with the Swarajists who were in opposition. The Justice Party won the second council election in 1923. However, in 1926, the party lost to Swaraj Party. The Swaraj party refused to form the government, leading the Governor to set up an independent government under P. Subbarayan.

After four years in opposition, Justice Party returned to power in 1930. B. Munuswamy Naidu became the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency, but his tenure was troubled with controversies. In 1930, Naidu and P. T. Rajan had differences over the presidency. Naidu did not hold the annual party confederation for three years and resigned in November 1932.

After his removal from power, B. Munuswamy Naidu formed a separate party with his supporters, known as the “Justice Democratic Party“. It had the support of 20 opposition members in the legislative council. However, after his death, his supporters rejoined the Justice Party in 1935.

Decline of Justice Party

The increasing nationalist feelings and factional infighting drove the Justice Party to shrink steadily from the early 1930s. The party was seen as collaborators, supporting the British government’s measures to counter the nationalist movement. Many leaders left the party to join Congress.

Merged into Self-Respect Movement

In the 1937 election, the Justice Party lost to Congress. After its crushing defeat, the party lost its political influence and never recovered. The newly formed Congress government, under C. Rajagopalachari introduced compulsory Hindi instruction. To oppose this government’s move, Justice Party joined the Self-Respect Movement led by Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. The resulting anti-Hindi agitation bought the Justice Party under Periyar’s control.

Periyar E. V. Ramasamy became the president of Justice Party on 29 December 1938. Periyar withdrew the party from electoral politics and converted it into a social reform organisation.

Transformed into Dravidar Kazhagam

At the 14th annual confederation of the Justice Party held in December 1938, a resolution passed, pressing the Tamil people’s right to a sovereign state under the direct control of the Secretary of State for India.

In 1939, Periyar organised the Dravida Nadu Conference for advocacy of a separate sovereign and federal republic of Dravida Nadu”. On 17 December 1939, he raised the slogan “Dravida Nadu for Dravidians“, replacing the “Tamil Nadu for Tamils (used earlier since 1938).

Periyar’s influence pushed Justice Party into anti-Brahmin, anti-Hindu and aesthetic stances. The party had never possessed much popularity among students but started making inroads with the help of C. N. Annadurai.

On 27 August 1944, at Justice’s 16th annual confederation, a resolution passed, compelling party members to renounce British honours and awards, drop caste suffixes from their names, and resign nominated and appointed posts. The party also took the name “Dravidar Kazhagam“.

C. N. Annaduari, who played a vital role in passing the resolution, became the general secretary of the transformed organisation ‘Dravidar Kazhagam’. Most members joined the Dravidar Kazhagam.

Significance of Justice Party

  • The efforts of the Justice Party resulted in the reservation of seats in legislative council elections for non-Brahmins.
  • The Justice Party’s period in power is remembered for introducing caste-based reservations and educational and religious reforms.
  • The ‘Non-Brahmin Manifesto’ by the Justice Party in December 1916 became an important document which would later shape the rise of the Dravidian movement.
  • The party won the majority in the first election under the dyarchy system in 1920.
  • The party had a role in establishing Andhra and Anamalai universities and developing the area around present-day Theagaraya Nagar in Madras city.
  • In opposition, its remembered for participating in the anti-Hindi agitations of 1937-40.
  • The Justice Party and the Dravidar Kazhagam are the ideological predecessors of present-day Dravidian political parties.

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