M.S.S. Pandian (1958–2014) was an eminent historian of South Indian politics, caste, culture, and cinema. His writings offer distinctively Tamil insights on these areas. In this book his chief focus is Tamil political culture for roughly thirty years since 1985. His success lies in bringing a historical understanding to bear on what he called “the strangeness of Tamil Nadu”.
A key figure in Pandian’s thinking was E.V. Ramasamy “Periyar”. Pandian argues that Periyar’s ideals and strategies long remained popular among Tamil progressives, but that their survival became difficult because of radical changes in pan-Indian political culture. To show these changes, this book is organised chronologically as well as along thematic sections that reflect the themes of Periyar’s Dravidian ideology: linguistic identity, state politics, religion, and caste.
Periyar’s ideas, Pandian argues, can still provide productive standards for critical analysis of politics in India. But because they are not widely known or appreciated outside Tamil Nadu, they represent the “strangeness” of Tamil politics instead of being adapted as progressive in the country as a whole.
M.S.S. Pandian (1958–2014) was, at the time of his untimely demise, Professor, Department of Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He was co-editor of the twelfth volume of Subaltern Studies. His books include The Image Trap: M.G. Ramachandran in Films and Politics (1992), and Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present (2006).