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Vol. XXVII No. 10, September 1-15, 2017

Justice Party – and the birth of T’Nagar

by Padmapriya Baskaran

Raja of Panangal

In front of the Raja of Panagal’s statue in Panagal Park, T’Nagar. Govi Lenin extreme left. (Pictures courtesy: Kombai S. Anwar.)

The Justice Party Heritage Walk during Madras Week was an enriching enough experience to warrant an entire article about the evolution of T’ Nagar. For someone like me, who has spent a considerable amount of my life in and around T’Nagar (I could literally claim there isn’t a street there my feet haven’t touched) there were several surprises in store. For one, I learnt that T’Nagar was shaped like a rising sun, with Panagal Park forming a semi-circle and G.N.Chetty Road, Theyagaraya Road, and Venkatnarayana Road emerging from it like the rays of the sun with Usman Road forming the baseline.

It was the Raja of Paanagal and not Panagal or Panangal (as a tea shop outside the park was named) who was instrumental in converting the Long Tank, extending from Nungambakkam to Saidapet, into a township to cater to the increasing population of Madras. Although that has today made us Mambalamwasis, running behind water tankers for drinking water, in those days, it ensured the creation of a planned settlement that better connected Mambalam and Puliyur villages to the rest of Madras. The Raja of Paanagal also introduced the Communal GO (1921) – the outcome of non-Brahmins seeking equal opportunities in education and employment with Brahmins. He also did away with the requirement of Sanskrit proficiency to pursue medical education.

Mayor Basudev’s (1930-37) family members joined us. The trade union leader was the man behind the development of Anna’s Left ideologies, while translating his speeches into Tamil. “He also introduced a money-lending bill which was ahead of its time, but it failed to meet its objective” added Jaidev, his direct descendant. Their four-ground property on Gopalakrishna Road was purchased for Rs 500 when the lay-outs were made, he stated.

Justice was the name of the newspaper run by the South Indian Liberal Association, founded by Dr. T.M. Nair, Pitti Theyagaroya Chetty, and Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar. The Party came to be referred to by the name of the newspaper it ran. Dr Nair ran a magazine called Antiseptic in which he also published political ideas! Pitti Theyagaroya, a wealthy philanthropist, faced humiliation when he was not allowed to climb up to the gopuram of a temple despite making a generous donation. He wanted to make access to temples open to all. Both Nair and Chetty, although initially differing in their outlooks, came together and met Natesa Mudaliar who had founded the Dravidian Association in 1912 to support the non-Brahmin students with food and hostel facilities. Together, they created a Party that aimed to uphold the rights of the non-Brahmins.

C.D. Nayagam, whose statue stands inside the T’ Nagar High School, led the first anti-Hindi agitation in 1938 and came to be called Sarvadhigari! He helped Periyar marry Maniammai. Thiru.Vi.Ka used to bathe in the Long Tank every day! Some relief from Pachaiyappa Mudaliar bathing in the Cooum! Interestingly, history has only documented bathing men!

Govi Lenin mentioned several other leaders of the Justice Party, such as W.P.A. Soundarapandianar, who took the bold step of cancelling licenses of bus services that did not allow Dalits to board them. Pondy Bazaar is named after him. O Thanikachalam Chetty, Thirumalai Pillai, G. N. Chetty, and Venkatanarayana are other Justice party leaders Lenin spoke about and who have roads named after them in T’Nagar. He narrated how the Party moved from one for the rich landlords to one for the masses through the leadership of Periyar and Anna. He spoke about the internal bickering within the Justice Party and also tried to demystify popular beliefs that the party supported the British in return for titles and that it was anti-Brahmin. The genesis of the Party was in demand to include non-Brahmins in education and jobs. Over time, it’s philosophies and ideologies changed! Happens with every party, as leaders change, so does the manifesto, Lenin said as he signed off!

With T’ Nagar being less than a hundred years old, the walk was based on statues and street signs. It was a great presentation and deserved a larger audience!! Maybe naming it ‘The Birth of T’ Nagar’ would make it more appealing to those who think of this as a mark only about a political story. Two of the descendants of Paanagal Raja and Mayor Basudev attended the walk along with their spouses, enthusiastically reliving the history and offering additional information about their forefathers.

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