Tamil Nadu: BJP

Worming its way

Print edition : May 16, 2014

BJP and DMDK workers at a rally to be addressed by Vijayakant in Namakkal. Photo: E. LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

IN Tamil Nadu, as the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections came to a close on April 22, it became clear that the two Dravidian parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), for the first time in their existence, were uneasy about the Muslim vote. The BJP, with its rainbow coalition, had sowed the seeds of doubt in the minority community because both the Dravidian parties had in the past done business with the BJP. This forced the two parties to go the extra mile in their criticism of the saffron party and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

Both parties are responsible for diluting the Dravidian ideology of self-respect, social justice and secularism and giving the right-wing political force a foothold in the State. The competitive identity politics that the leaderships of these parties engaged in for short-term electoral gains is widely seen as the basis for the entry of the BJP into the State, which has been ruled by the two Dravidian parties without interruption since 1967.

The BJP had been searching frantically for partners in Tamil Nadu, especially after it named Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. A few caste and ethnic identity-based parties such as the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Kongu Makkal Desiya Katchi (KMDK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), besides Vijayakant’s Desiya Murpoku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), took the bait. To sew up this alliance, the national party silently bore the embarrassment the regional parties subjected it to in the weeks before the rainbow coalition came into being.

Its patience was rewarded. What the BJP wished was achieved after a gap of a decade or so. A visibly satisfied Rajnath Singh, BJP president, called it a “historic moment”. The reason for the euphoria was not far to seek.

Without a strong social base in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has struggled against the Dravidian parties’ supremacy since the 1980s. The DMK allied itself with the BJP in the 2001 Assembly elections, and the AIADMK took it to its fold in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. From then on the party has remained a non-entity until now.

The extent of the rise of the right-wing force in the State’s complex political milieu is directly proportional to the degree of dilution of the ideology of the Dravidian movement founded by ‘Periyar’ E.V. Ramasamy. The Dravidian forces’ descent began in the mid-1980s in a State that had witnessed the growth of radical social movements since the birth of the Justice Party in 1916, Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement in 1925 and, later, the Dravidar Kazhagam (D.K.) in 1944.

The DMK, which broke away from the D.K. in 1949 to enter the political realm after Independence, rode high on the wave of Tamil nationalism, following its anti-Hindi agitation. It grabbed power from the Congress in 1967. The decline of the Congress and the emergence of the Dravidian parties shifted the focus of politics to regional issues.

The split in the DMK in 1972, which resulted in the formation of the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, later rechristened the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, by the actor-turned-politician M.G. Ramachandran (MGR), and again in 1993, which led to the formation of the MDMK, led by Vai. Gopalasamy, or Vaiko, further weakened the Dravidian political movement. This and the declining influence of the Congress opened up a political space, which the right-wing forces are attempting to exploit today.

MGR, according to A. Marx, a social activist and progressive writer, had little faith in the Dravidian philosophy. Hence, when he broke away from the DMK to form the ADMK, the movement against Hindutva suffered a setback. Unlike his colleagues in the DMK, who were noticeably anti-Brahmin, MGR did not pour scorn on Brahminism and Hindutva. He subtly distanced his party from the dogma of rationalistic principles by bringing both Brahmins and depressed classes into its fold besides retaining the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) base. His party thus emerged as a parallel political force in the State.

Erosion of Dravidian ideology

The ascendency of Jayalalithaa in the party hierarchy after his demise further blurred the party’s rationalist and Dravidian lineage. This dilution ensured a level-playing field for other political parties of different ideologies, besides resulting in the rise of rightist forces such as the BJP and caste-based outfits such as the PMK and Dalit parties promoting Tamil nationalism.

A. Marx points out that the “bankruptcy of the Dravidian parties, which prefer popular politics instead of Periyarism, and caste-based outfits, which never oppose the social, political and ritual hegemony of Brahminism”, are responsible for the entry of Hindutva forces into Tamil Nadu.

The Rama Gopalan-led Hindu Munnani, calling itself a Hindu religious and cultural organisation, formed after the conversion of Meenakshipuram Pallars, a Dalit subsect, to Islam, in Tirunelveli district in 1981, was the first to cash in on the erosion of the Dravidian ideology. The violence at Mandaikkadu in Kanyakumari district in 1982 blatantly betrayed the outfit’s rabid anti-minority stance.

After achieving a level of consolidation on the Hindutva plank, Rama Gopalan made his foray into the political arena by launching a strident campaign against the anti-Brahmin DMK in the 1984 Assembly elections. He, however, chose to refrain from criticising the AIADMK, which went on to post a landslide victory in the elections following MGR’s failing health and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The saffronisation of Tamil rituals started taking place simultaneously. Vinayaga Chathurthi, hitherto observed indoors, spilled onto the streets. Chathurthi processions emerged as an integral part of Hindu culture. This and other celebrations such as “raksha bandan” and “Holi”, which were alien to Tamils, were imported mainly to achieve the consolidation of the OBCs behind the Hindutva forces. Dalits were also not left out in the bargain. Among other things, conferences on untouchability eradication in Virudhunagar and rallies in various towns down south were organised to woo them.

The Tamil Nadu Government Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Ordinance, known popularly as the “anti-conversion Bill”, mooted by Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in 1996, and its subsequent withdrawal after stiff opposition, allowed the rightist groups to organise themselves under the Hindutva umbrella. This, understandably, sowed the seeds of suspicion among the minorities.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, participated in a meeting of sadhus and Hindu religious leaders in Madurai on October 20, 2002. He said the ordinance would stop conversions that “denationalise Bharat”. Since then Sangh Parivar outfits have increased their social and political activities in Tamil Nadu. But the fears of the minorities escalated when Chief Minister Jayalalithaa took part in the swearing-in ceremony of Modi as the Gujarat Chief Minister for the fourth time in 2012.

The serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore in 1998 unflinchingly announced the firming up of fundamental forces in the State, which remained comfortably peaceful even during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992. The blasts left 46 persons dead and came barely three months after 18 Muslims were killed in the city in December 1997 in violence unleashed by a section of the police in collusion with a few Hindu militant groups following the killing of a Hindu police constable, allegedly by three Muslim youth.

Ideological neutralisation

Arguably, a complete ideological neutralisation of the Dravidian movement took place when the AIADMK, along with the MDMK, for the first time aligned with the BJP for the 1998 parliamentary elections. This was perceived as a fast-tracking of the right-wing ideology in Dravidian land. Periyar’s principles of self-respect and Tamil nationalism seemed to have run their course and apparently needed reinventing in tune with the contemporary social realities in order to remain relevant.

Against this backdrop and in the fluid political situation that existed, the BJP, looking for electoral gains in Tamil Nadu, gained significantly. The combine won a staggering 30 of the 39 seats. But the A.B. Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government fell after 13 months by a single vote when the AIADMK withdrew its support. The setback did not deter the BJP from seeking new alignments.

It pulled off a coup of sorts when it roped in the “secular” DMK for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. DMK leader M. Karunanidhi justified the alliance by saying that the “BJP is not an untouchable party”. The alliance bagged 26 seats. Pon. Radhakrishnan, the current State secretary of the party, was the first Tamil Nadu BJP leader to become a Union Minister.

When the Gujarat pogrom happened in 2002, the DMK’s initial response was that it “pertained to another State and hence there was no need for the party to react”. Karunanidhi remained silent when the NDA government attempted to rewrite history textbooks on Hindutva principles and introduced astrology in the university curriculum. But when the Gujarat issue was pushed centre stage at the national level, Karunanidhi urged Prime Minister Vajpayee to convene a meeting of NDA partners. He remained with the NDA, only to shift his loyalty to the Congress in 2004.

The 2004 election saw a reversal of fortunes for the BJP, which was forced to align itself with its friend-turned-foe, the AIADMK. The combine drew a blank. The DMK-Congress combine swept the polls, winning all 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and the lone seat in Puducherry, and contributed greatly to the formation of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre.

BJP's poor performance

The performance of the BJP in the State has been poor. Its vote share, so far, with or without an alliance, has not crossed 7.1 per cent, which it recorded in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the DMK. In the previous elections, it had allied itself with the AIADMK and polled 6.9 per cent of the votes. In 1996, the BJP even made it to the Tamil Nadu Assembly for the first time with the lone seat won by H. Raja, who is now contesting from the Sivaganga parliamentary constituency. The party polled 1.8 per cent of the votes.

It later allied itself with the DMK in the 2001 Assembly elections and increased its tally to four seats with a 3.2 per cent vote share. But in the Assembly elections since then, it has failed to win any seat because of its failure to partner either of the Dravidian parties. “Today, they are content with two municipal councillors, three union councillors, a lone district ward member and three corporation councillors, mainly from Kanyakumari and Coimbatore districts in Tamil Nadu,” points out an office-bearer of the DMK unit in Salem district.

Hence, the alliance for the 2014 elections is considered a big boost for the BJP, which is contesting seven seats (its Udhagamandalam candidate’s nomination papers were rejected) in the State. But the congeniality seen outside belies the serious differences among the alliance partners. However, Pon. Radhakrishnan, who is contesting from the Kanyakumari constituency, dismisses the predictions that intra-party vote transfer among the alliance partners will not take place. “We work in tandem. We are confident. The Modi wave, though arriving to Tamil Nadu a bit late, is catching up fast,” he added.

The DMK, after initial equivocation, has maintained its diatribe against the BJP since the beginning of the 2014 campaign. But what has surprised voters is the sudden burst of invectives against the BJP from the AIADMK leader. She had maintained a stoic silence over the BJP and Modi during her campaigning and this apparently sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of the minorities, especially Muslims, that she would opt for a post-election understanding with the right-wing party.

The consolidation of minority votes against Modi is more than enticing for these Dravidian parties. Though the minorities are wary of them, this time they might opt for tactical voting. But what riles Muslims is the lack of trustworthiness of the Dravidian parties.

Both parties had aligned themselves with the BJP in the past. “It is the ‘Modi’fied BJP we dread. We prefer the DMK this time since we feel uneasy with the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK, though she, too, of late, has started criticising the BJP and Modi,” says Abdul Moosa, a cleric in Erode district.

The 2001 Census says there are 37,85,060 Christians (6.02 per cent of the population) and 34,70,647 Muslims (5.56 per cent) in Tamil Nadu. They are evenly spread out in all the 39 constituencies.

The DMK also is desperate. It has to reiterate its commitment to Muslims that it will never endorse any post-election alignment with the BJP. “With the AIADMK too resorting to criticism against the BJP, we need to send a clear message to the minorities,” says a DMK functionary. Neither party wants to court any risk in the five-cornered contest the State is witnessing for the first time.

But a recent communiqué from Chinmaya Somasundaram, the Madurai district president of the VHP, has embarrassed the AIADMK chief. It urges the electorate, including the priests of village temples, “to vote for the AIADMK in Madurai and Theni Lok Sabha constituencies”. Incidentally, the DMDK and the MDMK, allies of the BJP, are in the fray in these two constituencies.

Tamil Nadu’s voters, urbane and literate, are sceptical about the spread of fairytales about Modi’s “Gujarat model” of development that promises a place flowing with “milk and honey”. They see them as “pure right-wing calumnies”. Though they are burdened by the prolonged power outages and acute drinking water scarcity, which in a way threaten to go against the ruling AIADMK, voters are not ready to buy the saffron brigade’s claims of self-sufficiency in the State of Modi. “We present the Gujarat model to the people here. It goes down well with the electorate,” Radhakrishnan says.

For a few, corruption, indeed, is a vital issue to be taken up for discussion. But for a large number of the minorities, communalism is deadlier. “We are united in the fight against majoritarian fascism since it will eat into the vitals of the country’s secularism,” adds Abdul Moosa.

Meanwhile, a group of writers, artists and academics has urged the Tamil Nadu electorate to foil the corporate-communal alliance’s bid for power by voting out the BJP-led NDA alliance. “We are more concerned about the situation in Tamil Nadu as the casteist forces have joined hands with communal forces. Two other parties which claim the secular legacy of the Dravidian parties are also in that coalition,” says a letter, signed by 224 persons. It points out that necessary steps should be taken to defend the country’s secular democracy.

R. Ilangovan

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