The BJP’s ‘vel yatra’, seen as an attempt to gain popularity in Tamil Nadu by invoking religious symbols associated with Lord Muruga, fizzles out with the government taking a firm stand against it

Published : November 06, 2020 17:06 IST

L. Murugan before commencing his yatra. Photo: L. Murugan's Twitter

In a desperate act, the Tamil Nadu unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to boost its popularity in the State using Lord Muruga after its attempts at using Lord Ganesha during the Vinakaya Chaturthi celebrations failed miserably last month. Those who tried to take out a yatra as part of this attempt in defiance of the State government’s refusal to permit it were arrested on November 6.

L. Murugan, the BJP State president, announced in October that the party would undertake a “vel yatra” (vel means spear in English, which is Lord Muruga’s weapon) from the holy town of Tiruttani to Tiruchendur. These towns are among the six “abodes” of Lord Muruga in Tamil Nadu known as “Arupadai Veedu” and the yatra’s itinerary was drawn up in such a way that it would touch all the six holy towns before it concluded on December 6. The symbolisms involved in calling it a yatra, keeping the focus on a God’s weapon, choosing its route and the date of its conclusion are too obvious to be missed by any political observer who is familiar with the BJP’s scheme of things.

“Tamil God, Murugaperuman has already blessed our journey…. This vel will go all over Tamilnadu,” Murugan told the media on November 6 before travelling from Chennai to Tiruttani to commence his yatra.

Responding to this announcement, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami said: “The law will take its own course.” It did today in Tiruttani, when the police arrested Murugan along with about 100 party activists. After the arrest, Murugan said: “All Hindus are brave. But we will not sit back simply if ‘others’ criticise us.”

A junior Union Minister, Kishen Reddy, was in Tiruttani to monitor the progress of the yatra and to possibly report back to New Delhi. Other BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders were also present to take stock of the situation and to assess the ground support for this latest venture of using Lord Muruga as a political tool

Frontline was the first to report that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had denied permission for the Vinayaka Chaturthi procession despite the State BJP leadership’s appeal to him. In a slight change of tack this time, the government filed a response to a notice in the Madras High Court that no permission can be given for such events in view of the Coronavirus pandemic. (Tamil Nadu has recorded over 11,000 deaths until now because of COVID-19, including that of a Minister, an MP, an MLA and many other prominent citizens.)

Opposition political parties have condemned the yatra because they believe that this was nothing but another attempt to use religion for a political end and also because the concluding date of the yatra, December 6, coincides with the day on which the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished in 1992. It is also the death anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, a fact that the BJP has been highlighting to justify the yatra.

The BJP’s new-found devotion towards Lord Muruga began in July this year, when it claimed that a hymn in praise of the lord was abused by an organisation named “Karuppar Koottam”. The organisation had put out a YouTube video which “denigrated” the hymn. Those named by the BJP in this connection were arrested soon after, and serious charges slapped against them. But the BJP kept flogging the issue, and claimed that the main opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), was behind the organisation. The DMK denied that it had anything to do with the outfit. Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections too, the BJP made an attempt to portray DMK as an anti-Hindu party, but it did not stick. The DMK alliance won all but one Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu while the BJP came a cropper.

Ever since, the BJP has used the hymn in a bid to further its popularity and reach with the Hindus in Tamil Nadu—though it is yet to make the demand that this Tamil hymn should be sung in sanctum sanctorums of Lord Muruga shrines in the State. It had organised a hymn recitation programme across the State, and tried to keep the issue alive. The current attempt at a vel yatra is unheard of in Tamil Nadu, including believers—the form of worship known to Lord Muruga’s devotees is the “kaavadi walk”, an on-foot journey from the place one lives to Muruga’s abode in Palani, carrying an arc-shaped kaavadi on one’s shoulders.

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