B S Raghavan

Original messiah of ‘Yes, we can!’

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

A whole generation before Barack Obama, as a candidate for the office of the US President, used “Yes, We Can” as the ruling motto of his campaign, M.S.Udayamurthy, who passed away on January 21, took the people of Tamil Nadu by storm with a series of articles in popular Tamil magazines and addresses to different categories of audiences all over the State rousing the people with his inspiring call: Unnaal mudiyum, thambi! (yes, you can, brother).

His message was a golden blend of six postulates: Self-awareness, self-reliance, self-motivation, self-development, self-confidence and self-pride.

He instilled in his readers and listeners the conviction that the citizens should not be seeking scapegoats outside of themselves for the deficiencies and faults that they see around them. Collectively and individually, they had the power, duty and responsibility to set things right and make governments and institutions work for the betterment of the society.

He called on them to regard themselves as holding the destiny of the nation in the palm of their hands and as the first line of defence against the ravages caused by bad governance and the ills and evils prevalent in society. The constant refrain of his fervent exhortations was that a duty was cast on each and every citizen, particularly the youth and the women, to ever remain vigilant and proactive so that any tendency to make suckers out of them was nipped in the bud. The sum and substance was that the citizens got the government and social dispensation they deserved.

The content, the language, the style and the diction of his writings on the never-say-die spirit that he demanded of the people were overpowering in their impact on the young impressionable minds and in no time at all, they not only won him enormous following in Tamil Nadu, but also influenced the thinking of the people in neighbouring States.


A chemical engineer by profession, he was living in the US during this phase, but soon decided that his place was among his own people in his native Tamil Nadu, and that, instead of limiting himself to propagating his ideas through articles and speeches, he should give them an organisational platform with a clearly defined vision and mission. That was the genesis of the Makkal Sakthi Iyakkam (People’s Power Movement) launched by him on his return to India as a way of constructively channelling the energies of the people.

Apart from serving as a compelling reminder of the role and responsibilities of the citizens to keep public functionaries of every description on their toes by insisting on the highest standards of accountability, M.S.Udayamurthy’s initiative, the first of its kind in the Indian context, gave an impetus to a dimension of public life which was lacking till then.

No wonder, then, that a number of distinguished personalities were drawn to the Makkal Sakthi Iyakkam (MSI), and they willingly lent their services to building it up as a spearhead for action on a wide range of public causes such as electoral and administrative reforms, regenerating villages, strengthening of democracy at the grassroots through panchayati raj institutions, and reorienting educational courses and teaching methodologies to suit the requirements of a brave new India of Udayamurthy’s dreams.


He was particularly passionate about interlinking of rivers. In order to pressure the Government to action on this front, he undertook four padayatras altogether covering more than 2,500 km.

All of this was integrated within the framework of the Iyakkam’s overarching objectives of clean politics and good and honest governance with citizens involving themselves to the maximum in the effort and living up to the principles that “We, the People” had enshrined in the Constitution.

The imprint the charismatic Udayamurthy left on Tamil Nadu’s political and social landscape so impressed K.Balachandar, the renowned film Director and Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, that he made a popular movie out of the many facets of his novel experiment with Kamal Hassan acting the hero of the same name.

In the light of all that, Udayamurthy thought that he could make a difference to electoral politics as well and in the 1996 election, fielded candidates, including himself, in 11 constituencies and lost in all of them.

As his great admirer and long-time friend, I feel diminished by his passing. We seldom see people of his dedication and public-spiritedness. It is all the more reason why students in schools and colleges should be made aware of his immense contribution to raising the quality of citizenry and level of public discourse.

Published on January 27, 2013

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