A street name unchanged

Changing street names — or at least wanting to do so — is not new. Back in the 1930s, when Theagarayar Nagar was formed, much of it from the Long Tank, one of the roads in the area, which linked Theagarayar Road with the Hindi Prachar Sabha, was named Thanikachalam Chettiar Road. A slim biography of his that I recently received tells me that O. Thanikachalam Chettiar was, with Pitti Theagaraya Chetty, Dr. T.M. Nair and Dr. C. Natesa Mudaliar, one of the founders of the Justice Party. In 1938, however, when C. Rajagopalachariar was Prime Minister, having ousted the Justice Party, his Congress stalwarts wanted the name of Thanikachalam Chettiar Road changed. And, in the normal course of things, that would have happened.

Several processions and public meetings were organised to protest the proposed change — and this, mind you, was nine years after O.T. Chettiar, as he was best known, had passed away. At the largest of the meetings, in Armenian Street, C.N. Annadurai was one of the impassioned speakers. Not long afterwards, the proposal to change the name to Hindi Prachar Sabha Road was shelved, and Thanikachalam Chettiar Road still survives — though now minus the ‘Chettiar’.

O.T. Chettiar, a lawyer with Short, Bewes & Co and then Bewes and Thanikachalam — one of the earliest Indo-British partnerships — and eventually on his own, should best be remembered for the role he played in drafting the Justice Party’s manifesto and for two resolutions that he piloted on the floor of the Madras Legislative Council in 1921. These resolutions pioneered the scheme for communal reservation of posts in Government Services and the Judicial Service, and formed the basis of the famous Communal G.O. in 1928. Whether such policies of reservation (or affirmative action, if you will), are to be welcomed or not have been debated ever since, the attitude adopted by the debaters generally having more to do with their communal affiliations than the merits and demerits of a policy which in many ways is still with us.

Theagaraya Chetty was the first President of the Madras Corporation (1919-1923). Thanikachalam was elected President in 1925. Both were close friends. Both of them, together with Dr. Natesa Mudaliar, played a significant role in settling the B & C Mills’ strike in 1921, led by Thiru Vi Kalyanasundaram. The six-month-long strike was marked by frequent clashes between two groups of workers — one deciding to go back to work and the other to continue the strike. Sadly, the divide was on communal lines. After all the rioting and firing had died down, O.T. Chettiar strongly criticised the police in the House, and, in that era of Dyarchy, it was tantamount to criticising the Governor and supporting Thiru Vi. Ka., a staunch Congressman and opponent of the Justice Party. In many ways it typified O.T. Chettiar’s straightforwardness and impartiality.


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