Tamil Nadu Sought American Help for Independence from India in 1975

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2013 (ID. 2013-06-01)
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1. Introduction

2. Background

3. The Cable

4. Analysis and Discussion

4. 1 A Serious Attempt to Independence
4.2 Hidden Separatists Among Us
4.3 A Wise but Unsuccessful Move


DK - Dravidar Kazhadam 

DMK - Dravida Munnetra Kazhadam 

1. Introduction

This article is about a 1975 cable from the United States of America (USA) consulate in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India to the their State Department in the American capital city Washington. It reveals that a Tamil Nadu State Government minister, Rajaram, belonging to the ruling DMK party, approached and enquired the USA consular officer if America would support Tamil Nadu independence. It was not some hypothetical query. It is clear from the cable that at least some top leaders in the ruling DMK party were seriously considering unilateral declaration of Independence for Tamil Nadu if America would support it. The cable is provided in its entirety in Section 3 of this article but some background information first.

2. Background

In order to understand the cable (which is presented in its entirety in Section 3), we present some background information first. Tamil Nadu independence movement dates back to 1938 [Reference 1]. DK and its offshoot DMK took up the cause in the 1940s. DMK leaders, they were some of the great Tamil orators of that time, thundered their demand for independent Dravida Nadu from platform to platform; their Dravida Nadu independence essentially meant Tamil Nadu independence [Reference 2]. DMK abandoned its independence demand in 1963 after the Indian Parliament passed the Sixteenth Amendment to the Indian Constitution that prohibited those who advocate separatism from running for public offices (such as Indian parliament and state legislative assembly) [Reference 3]. Having given up the independence demand, DMK was able to contest in elections. DMK won the 1967 state assembly election and formed the state government. DMK remained silent about independence for Tamil Nadu. The DMK government even sent police to stop some public meetings espousing Tamilnadu independence and arrested organizers.

In spite of the public posture of giving up the Tamil Nadu independence demand about 12 years before, a state government minister and a senior DMK leader, Rajaram, was enquiring if USA would support Tamil Nadu independence. This enquiry is described in the cable from the American consulate to the superiors in America. The cable is dated July 3, 1975, just about a week after the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, declared a state of emergency, upon request by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; this gave the Prime Minister the power to rule by decree, suspending elections and civil liberties. Mrs. Indra Gandhi and her father Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of India) were sympathetic to "leftists ideas" and were friendlier with the Soviet Union (USSR) than with United States of America, although neither were Communists.

3. The Cable

Here is the cable in its entirety.

1. I called on Tamil Nadu minister of labor and housing Rajaram at his residence last evening, and presented him a copy of the latest foreign service newsletter in which his picture with secretary Simon appears. The minister immediately asked what my reaction was to what had happened in India. I began to reply along the lines that a lot had happened since we last met. He interrupted and said: "I'm glad you came by because I was going to contact you. I want to ask you a leading question. Would the United States give assistance to us if Tamil Nadu decided to become independent?" I said I would reply equally directly, and the answer was no; this was an internal affair of India and we supported the territorial integrity of India and other countries. I asked if this was something that was being seriously considered. He said no, not at the highest levels; the DMK had several years ago abandoned secession as a policy.

But a lot of the younger people in the party have been talking about it in the past few days. These younger people, he said, are saying that the USSR and other communist countries are backing Mrs. Gandhi in her efforts to kill democracy here; if this succeeds, communist influence will grow, and Tamil Nadu should secede and the question of whether the U.S. would help has been discussed. That was why, the minister said, he had wanted to raise the matter with me.

2. Rajaram did not revert to this again during the remainder of the conversation. We went on to talk about the current attitudes of the DMK and the Tamil Nadu government towards the emergency and Rajaram's views on future developments which are being reported SEPTEL. [Editor's Note: SEPTEL is an abbreviation for Separate Telegram.]

3. Rajaram, who has been a minister since 1971 has been consistently friently and accessible to the consulate general. He attended the dinner which I hosted for ambassador Saxbe, and has been to the United States twice. I am inclined to take what he said at face value, i.e., that there may be some talk among younger members of the party of possible independence if the situation in India should deteriorate very badly, but that it is not something that is now being seriously considered by the higher echelons of the party.

4. Since drafting the above, I have been visited by a local educator, previously unknown to me, who had asked for an appointment a couple of days ago. He claimed close association with the consulate in the days of Hank Ramsay and Paul Sherbert. He said his concern over the current situation had led him to call on the Chief Minister yesterday and to tell the Chief Minister that the situation might become so bad that Tamil Nadu should try to become independent and that, if the rest of India were under a Communist-influenced dictatorship, the U.S. might help. He said the Chief Minister had replied that he did not know what would happen next, but he was watching the situation closely; with regard to the U.S., the Chief Minister said that, after Vietnam, he did not think the U.S. would take on anything new in Asia. All of the above was a pretty one-sided conversation, as I had initially told him I was not going to comment on the situation at all.

[About the cable: The above cable was originally classified as "secret" and later decalssified and released (Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 06 JUL 2006). The cable is available on the Internet at https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1975NEWDE08889_b.html , and is also excerpted in some newspapers. The cable is dated  "1975 July 3, 12:08 (Thursday)" and titled "Ministerial Query Re U.S. Attitude Towards Tamil Nadu Independence". Starting from 2010, the Wikileaks website published thousand of diplomatic cables from the embassies and consulates of the United States of America (USA). The above cable is one of those thus published.]

4. Analysis and Discussion

Having presented the American diplomatic cable in its entirety in Section 3, we present our analysis of the cable and the surrounding events in the context of Tamil Nadu nationalism and independence movement. This is our opinion.

4. 1 A Serious Attempt to Independence

DMK publicly dropped its independence demand in 1963 under threat of being banned from contesting elections. It is obvious from the cable that at least some DMK leaders and cadres had independence aspirations burning hot in their hearts in 1975, strong enough to approach a foreign power enquiring about support--a serious crime (treason) if it became known. Minister Rajaram's statement, "no, not at the highest levels; the DMK had several years ago abandoned secession as a policy. But a lot of the younger people in the party have been talking about it in the past few days" is an escape clause in case the conversation became public; as I said previously, what Rajaram was doing might be considered treason. [This writer is not a lawyer and it is just an opinion on his part.] It is quite possible that younger cadres were asking leadership to take the emergency situation to secede from India. Unless top leadership are sympathetic to it, it is inconceivable that a minister-level leader would enquire American consulate if USA would support Tamil Nadu independence.

It is clear from the cable that Minister Rajaram did not mention it casually during a conversation. Here is the relevant quote from the cable: "He interrupted and said: "I'm glad you came by because I was going to contact you. I want to ask you a leading question. Would the United States give assistance to us if Tamil Nadu decided to become independent?"". Only after the consular officer said that USA would not support Tamilnadu independence that the minister said that independence was not considered at highest levels but a lot of the younger people in the party have been talking about it.

In the opinion of this writer, it seems that at least some senior leaders would not be averse to declaring independence if America was ready assist. What I try to point out is that public abandonment of secession or separatism, under the threat of gun or, as in this case, under threat of political ban, may not mean much; what is deep in the heart does not change. How many leaders of Tamil Nadu political parties are secret separatists today? We may never know because their voices are gagged by the 1963 Sixteenth Amendment to the Indian Constitution.

Minister Rajaram tells the consular officer, "a lot of the younger people in the party have been talking about it in the past few days". After DMK gave up independence in 1963, there was no mention of independence within DMK, yet aspirations for independence seems to be alive among younger cadres. How may young people today secretly hope for independence but are afraid to talk about it?

4.2 Hidden Separatists Among Us

The cable also mentions an unnamed academic "canvassing" for independence.  How many teachers, professors, professionals, factory workers, farmers and students today are secretly hoping for independence? Indian government and other opponents of Tamil Nadu independence often say that the people of Tamil Nadu want to be part of India. How do they know? Hold a plebiscite (referendum) in Tamil Nadu. Let us know what people want [Reference 4].

4.3 A Wise but Unsuccessful Move

In the opinion of this writer, considering declaration of independence during the political turmoil of 1975 declaration of emergency and approaching America for help were wise moves. It did not succeed in 1975. There might be other opportunities in the future.

Remember that it was during the political turmoil in the former Soviet Union in 1991 that the various nations within the Soviet Union (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, etc.) successfully declared independence and are now independent countries. There are many similarities as well as differences between the situation in 1991 Soviet Union and the situation in 1975 Indian Union.

Remember, America got French support in its independence from England. It is with Indian support that Bangladesh became a free country. Kosovo became an independent country with support from many West European countries and America. This time, in 1975, America refused to offer support (possibly because of its negative experience in Vietnam war that ended only a few months before); had the timing been different, it was possible that American help might be forthcoming. We will never know. There might be other opportunities in the future. A nation, a people, yearning for independence cannot be easily stopped forever.


1. DMK and Tamil Nadu Independence: A Recent Political History of TamilNadu (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2003 (28 KB)

2. Why DK and DMK initially asked for Independent Dravida Nadu and later moved towards Independent Tamil Nadu (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, May 2005 (14 KB)

3. DMK, Dravida Nadu and D.B.S. Jeyaraj (by K.J. Trivedi and Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, July 2003 (10 KB)

4. Hold a Plebiscite (Referendum) in Tamilnadu on Independence (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, August 2008 (27 KB)

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