Colombo, November 22 (The Citizen): Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has emerged as India’s most successful political party electorally, dominating parliament like a colossus and ruling 17 States either on its own or in coalition with other parties, four of the five South Indian States have been beyond its grasp. But the BJP will not give up. What does the future hold for it in the South, especially in Tamil Nadu, the hardest nut to crack?
While Andhra Pradesh and Telengana may fall prey to the BJP’s style of politics, Kerala and Tamil Nadu would prove to be major challenges for political, socio-cultural and historical reasons. Of the two, Tamil Nadu is a harder nut to crack because it has a consistent history of asserting its distinctness from the rest of India. It has rejected the “Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan” model crafted by the BJP and sold successfully in North India.
The BJP has cut no ice in Tamil Nadu despite years of struggle. It has only 4 seats in the Tamil Nadu Assembly and only one in parliament occupied by L. Murugan who was sent to the Rajya Sabha from BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh a Hindi-speaking State in Central India.
In one of his articles, political commentator M.G.Devasahayam quotes The Hindu to say that in the last elections in 20 Municipal Corporations (except Greater Chennai) in Tamil Nadu, the BJP contested in 935 seats, won 21, and lost the deposit in 822 seats (88%).
“In the three large municipal corporations (Greater Chennai, Coimbatore, and Madurai) the BJP was washed out. In Coimbatore, it contested 98 out of 100 wards and drew a blank. In Madurai, the party contested 99 out of 100 wards and won in just one. In Greater Chennai also, the party contested in all 200 wards and won just one seat, that too on a pure caste basis in the Brahmin-dominated ward of West Mambalam,” Devasahayam points out.
In Tamil Nadu’s long history of Dravida (Tamil national) politics since the 1960s (as opposed to upper caste-based North Indian politics), the emphasis has been on Tamil and English and the total rejection of Hindi. It has shown a passionate adherence to secularism and caste-based affirmative action for social justice. Thus, it has thus been a rare socio-political entity in India. But the BJP is a totally different kettle fish. It is wedded to Hindutva, a political plank based on the supremacy of Hindu power. It has also been an aggressive promoter of Hindi as an official language to the annoyance of the Tamils.
However, despite the inhospitable socio-political environment in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has used different methods to get a foothold there. It first tried to draw the Dravida (Tamil) parties (DMK and AIADMK) into coalitions. The Dravida parties reciprocated. But this did not yield fruit in Tamil Nadu politics. One of the main reasons for the AIADMK’s defeat at the hands of the DMK in Tamil Nadu in the last State Assembly elections was its alliance with the BJP.
In view of the criticality of the caste-based social justice issue in Tamil Nadu, the BJP under Narendra Modi, began to recruit and project the Backward Castes and Dalits. The BJP had to live down its image of being a party of Brahmins and North Indian trading castes. Thus, the State party Presidentship was given to Backward Caste persons like Tamilisai Soundararajan, L.Murugan and K.Annamalai. The music maestro Ilayaraja was also taken on board.
Fast Tracking Sanskritization
The BJP’s preference for the backward castes tapped into the yearning of these marginalized Hindu communities for social mobility in the time-honored Sanskritized Hindu social order. The traditional method of social mobility through Sankritization (a process described by social anthropologist M.N.Srinivas) was revived by the BJP. Traditionally, the process of Sanskritization of a marginalized caste, and its acceptance by the traditional social order, was tedious and time-consuming. But the BJP has fast-tracked the process by involving the wannabes in Hinduized, Sankritisized local and all-India politics. The BJP has thus been gaining some adherents from sections which were previously supporting the secular/Dravida parties.
The State unit of the BJP also became a promoter of the “Tamil God” Murugan, who is popular among the Tamil masses. However, Modi could not deviate from his policy of promoting all-India Hinduism to integrate India under the watch of the BJP. The on-going “Kashi-Tamil Sammelanam”, a month-long event being held in Kashi or Varanasi since November 19 with the involvement of government institutions, is the first off-shoot of this integrationist project.
Kashi is a place for pilgrimage for the Tamil Hindus, though mainly for the Tamil Brahmins who are only 2% of the population. However, there are many temples in Tamil Nadu for Shiva because most Tamil Hindus are Saivites. Kashi figures in the names of Tamils and places in Tamil Nadu. Kasi Viswanthan, Kasinathan, Kasi Chetti, Sivakasi and Sivaganga, are some examples. “Kashi Yatra” or “Going to Kashi” is part of the Tamil marriage ritual, albeit only among the Brahmins.
At the inaugural of the Sammelanam, Modi said that the unending love for Kashi in Tamil Nadu reflects the concept of Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat which was a way of life for the Hindus’ ancestors. “The objective of the month-long Sammelanam is to celebrate, reaffirm and rediscover the age-old links between Tamil Nadu and Kashi – two of the country’s most important and ancient seats of learning,” Modi said.
During the program, Modi released a book on the Tamil classic ‘Thirukkural’ along with its translation into 13 languages. More than 2500 delegates from Tamil Nadu will be visiting Kashi during the month-long sammelanam. By holding the Sammelanam at Kashi, Modi is also connecting himself personally to the Tamils because Kashi is his parliamentary constituency.
Grandiose as the Sammelanam project may be, it is pertinent to ask if it will help woo the Tamil masses. The project will definitely appeal to the Brahmins, Tamil Nadu’s only Sanskritized caste and a natural supporter of the BJP since its advent in Indian politics. It will not appeal to others. Even Modi’s allusion to “Kashi Yatra” in the Tamil marriage ritual applies only to Brahmins who are only 2% of the population. Always against the Dravidian parties, the Brahmins were previously supporters of the Congress but the Hindutvic BJP is now their preferred option. Therefore, the Sammelanam actually addresses only the already converted.
However, the propagation of Valluvar’s Thirukkural, a secular work, should appeal to the non-Brahmins and secular Tamils. But the BJP-appointed Tamil Nadu Governor, R.N.Ravi, raised a stink in Tamil Nadu by claiming that Thirukkural is a “spiritual” work with links to the Hindu Rig Veda.
To the dislike of the Tamil masses, the BJP is still promoting anti-Christian and anti-Muslim feelings, drawing sustenance from a specifically North Indian historical experience. In Tamil Nadu, Muslim rule, such as there was, was mostly benign. The first Muslims had come from the Arab lands as peaceful traders. And Christian missionaries had a huge role in the spread of education and engineering social mobility.
Despite the unfavorable soil in Tamil Nadu for Hindutva-based agitations, the BJP has been raising issues such as freeing Hindu temples from government control, though government grants have enabled small and indigent temples to survive. Whenever possible, the BJP has raised the bogey of “Love Jihad”.
Thus far, the efforts of the BJP, its para-organizations and its adherents have failed to bear fruit. But they can, when push comes to shove, unsettle a secular/Dravidian party in power in Tamil Nadu by using the powers of the BJP government at the Center. Therefore, despite having a strong secularist foundation, Tamil Nadu may have to battle Hindutva continually.