Writing the biography of a leader who died 40 years ago could be a daunting task. In the case of DMK founder C.N. Annadurai (Anna), an icon of the Dravidian movement, his biographer R. Kannan says he had to overcome the dangers of writing yet another hagiography of the charismatic leader.

While there is plenty of material, including 25,000 pages of writings and speeches by Annadurai, besides the writings of numerous contemporary leaders, those who knew Anna from close quarters prefer evading questions, says Mr. Kannan, whose book, Anna: the Life and Times, was published a few months ago.

“Though Anna died 40 years ago, the political environment is not conducive for them to speak out. For instance, the issue of MGR's resignation from the Legislative Council. Anna was in jail at that time and it shocked him. Film director T.R. Ramanna, who directed some of MGR's films, suggests that his resignation came at the instance of his elder brother M.G. Chakrapani. But a senior leader and close associate of MGR evaded the question,” says Mr. Kannan, a political officer with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo.

Throughout the project, Mr. Kannan faced similar situations. “The book would have been richer with information if these leaders had shared information.”

As many senior leaders were not forthcoming, he had to depend on materials, including those that were rather polarised. On the one hand, he relied on the writings of the critics of the Dravidian movement such as author Jayakanthan, poet Kannadasan and CPI(M) leader P. Ramamurti and on the other he had the versions of people who almost worshiped Anna.

“But in the end, I could come up with a more balanced picture. I have a great sense of admiration for Anna. I was seven when he died. Although I never got to see him, I grew up in north Madras hearing so much about him that he became an inspiration. I did not wish to deify him though. I wanted to show that he was a tall leader with shortcomings and limitations owing to his political milieu and the kind of followers he had to mobilise,” Mr. Kannan says.

Responding to the criticism that he had not made use of more recent academic works that interpret the movement very positively, Mr. Kannan says that if Jayakanthan and Kannadasan were highly critical, the others believed in the infallibility of the Dravidian ideology.

“I regret that I could not use the archival material. Probably the police records could have shed light on Anna's political career during the British period. But the subsequent Congress government's views were well known,” he said.

He says that though 95 per cent of Anna's writings are available, there is need to find the rest. “The government or a university should come forward to translate his selected works for the benefit of non-Tamils. Anna successfully fought for the retention of English as an associate language, and importantly to preserve India as a multi-lingual and diverse nation. If India has made strides in information technology, the credit should go to Anna.”

Mr. Kannan says the Tamil version of his book will be brought out by Ananda Vikatan in the next few months. “There is not much the Tamil audience will find new. Still it would be a comprehensive and useful reference book.”

Mr. Kannan is planning biographies of MGR and Periyar. “With these two books, one can cover a century of Tamil Nadu politics in a readable way.”