From the 1920s to the late 1960s, Tamil nationalism in India was characterized by elements of radical innovation which made the Dravidian movement a mobilization for cultural revolution, in Tamil terms, as well as for the defense of Tamil interests vis-à-vis the central government. In the last twenty years concern for the ordinary person has manifested itself in extravagant displays of state largess and the encouragement of personality cults directed toward Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu. I delineate below major ideological themes of the nationalist cultural revolution and argue that these ideological elements, while representing change in Tamil political culture, were in many ways deeply anchored in prerevolutionary political concerns supported by institutions and symbolic systems with precolonial antecedents. I link these ideological elements to the dissolution of radicalism in Tamil nationalism and to the emergence of a style of governance which has undermined standards of public administration.

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