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Sanatana Dharma row to migrants quip — why ‘oldest Congress ally’ DMK has become thorn in INDIA’s side

From Tamil Nadu Youth Welfare Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin’s remarks on Sanatana Dharma to Chennai Central MP and former Union minister Dayanidhi Maran’s statements on migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, leaders of the DMK have made one statement after another, leading to INDIA drawing fire from the BJP. 

In a video clip which surfaced on 24 December, Maran can be heard saying that migrants from Bihar and UP who have learnt only Hindi are engaged in menial jobs in Tamil Nadu.

While the DMK’s previous controversies primarily drew criticism from the BJP, this one saw allies such as the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) — including Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav — condemn the remarks. Meanwhile, Congress leader Chandrika Yadav even sent a legal notice to the DMK leader demanding an apology.

The controversy comes at a time when the Opposition has been running against time to work out seat-sharing, joint campaigns, and a common minimum agenda ahead of the general election.

On its part, the DMK has blamed the BJP for “confusing people”. Party spokesperson Salem Dharanidharan told ThePrint, “They are worried about the unity of the INDIA bloc. Combined, the INDIA bloc has 55 percent vote share and due to this, the BJP is trying to create a wedge among the partners by spreading old videos. The INDIA alliance is strong and we will defeat the BJP in the upcoming polls.”

But political analyst Harish Wankhede feels that the DMK is essentially trying to draw an ideological distinction and counter the ascendance of the BJP in Tamil Nadu. “It is not so bothered about the implications of its politics on other INDIA partners. It feels that the radical, militant language will help it draw an ideological distinction in the state,” said Wankhede, who teaches at the JNU Centre for Political Studies.

Also Read: No longer just a Tamil dynast—Sanatana Dharma row got Udhayanidhi Stalin national attention 

Remarks on Sanatana Dharma 

While addressing an event in September, Udhayanidhi, son of Tamil Nadu CM and DMK chief M.K. Stalin, called for the eradication of Sanatana Dharma (believed to be a set of duties incumbent upon all Hindus). In his speech, Udhayanidhi said the concept was incompatible with the notion of social justice and should be “eliminated”. He also likened Sanatana Dharma to dengue, malaria, or the COVID-19 virus.

The same month, an undated video of DMK MP A. Raja purportedly saying that “Hindu religion is a menace not only for India but for the entire world” also went viral.

The speeches sparked a row, with the BJP, which saw Udayanidhi’s remarks as a call for genocide, even trying to turn it into an emotive issue in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Telangana. 

Addressing a massive gathering at Bina in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Udhayanidhi’s remarks show that the INDIA bloc of parties harbour a “hidden agenda” to “destroy Sanatana Dharma”.

“At a time when Bharat is emerging as a world leader at global forums, some parties are trying to divide the country and its people,” he reportedly said in his speech. 

He added: “These people came together to form an ‘INDIA’ alliance. Some people are calling it a ‘ghamndiya (arrogant) alliance’. They don’t have a leader yet and there is a lot of suspense on who would lead them going into the Lok Sabha elections next year. They are working with a hidden agenda, which is to attack India’s culture.”

On its part, the DMK underlined that Udhayanidhi was merely drawing from the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar and E.V. Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’ — the founder of the self-respect movement against caste and religious discrimination that lay the foundations on which parties such as the DMK, and its principal rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), came up.

Defending his statement, Udhayanidhi also reportedly demanded to know the stand of the AIADMK on the Sanatana Dharma “since former Chief Minister and Dravidian ideologue C.N. Annadurai had staunchly opposed it”.

The remarks — which came at a time when parties were preparing to fight assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Mizoram — put Congress and other INDIA allies on the defensive. In its first reaction, All India Congress Committee general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal said INDIA parties “were free to hold their own separate views”.

In a more nuanced position proffered later, however, party spokesperson Pawan Khera said like the Congress, other INDIA parties also believe that every religion and faith should be respected.

“Every religion, every faith has its space. No one can treat any particular faith as less than another,” Khera said, reacting to the DMK leaders’ comments

The Tamil Nadu CM Stalin also tried to douse the fire, saying his son was targeting the discriminatory practices of Sanatana Dharma, not the religion itself.

Political commentator Sumanth Raman said, “This is the language that has been used by the DMK for the past 50 years in Tamil Nadu. It will have no negative impact for them in the state. In fact, not saying these things may affect them negatively here. This is a part of their DNA. It will affect the Congress in the northern states, but not the DMK,” Raman said.

Also Read: DMK’s rising star or crowned too soon? Inside MK Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi’s swift ascent as minister

‘Driving North-south wedge’ to remarks on Kashmir

But just as Sanatana Dharma row began to ebb, yet another one arose. Reacting to the BJP’s thumping victories in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh earlier this month in Parliament, Senthilkumar S., DMK’s first-time MP from Dharmapuri, referred to the Hindi heartland using a pejorative term. 

Although the words were eventually expunged from records, and the MP himself apologised for them, the damage had been done — the BJP lost no time in accusing the INDIA bloc of attempting to wedge a north-south divide in India. 

Even the Congress and the other INDIA parties were unsparing in their criticism of the MP.  Responding to the controversy, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the party had “nothing to do with what an individual is saying inside the Parliament”.

In their attempt to control the damage, the DMK said that CM Stalin had “strongly reprimanded” Senthilkumar.

“(The) statement made by Senthilkumar was not correct. TN CM M.K. Stalin has warned the particular member,” T.R. Baalu, the MP from Sriperumbudur and leader of DMK’s parliamentary party, said in Lok Sabha. 

After the Supreme Court upheld the Narendra Modi government’s abrogation of Article 370 earlier this month, the DMK pushed the INDIA bloc into yet another minefield. 

On 11 December, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

While participating in a debate on two bills on Kashmir on the same day, Rajya Sabha MP Mohammed Abdulla quoted Periyar on self-determination. 

The remarks were expunged, but it once again pushed the DMK and the INDIA bloc into a corner. As the BJP, led by Home Minister Amit Shah, pressed the Congress to clarify its position, the party was forced to distance itself from the remarks.

Meanwhile, another DMK MP, Tiruchi Siva, muddied the waters further by holding out the possibility of INDIA bloc restoring Article 370 in the event of its victory in 2024.

“When he (Abdulla) spoke about the abrogation of Article 370, you said it was against the Supreme Court order. If tomorrow, INDIA alliance comes to power and Article 370 is restored. After the Chinese aggression in 1963, we (DMK) gave up our then demand for a separate Dravida Nadu. Later, we were very firm that the DMK is for the unity and integrity of this nation. We stood with the policy of state autonomy. Don’t try to give the DMK a separate colour. What is wrong in quoting Periyar?” Siva said.

This gave the BJP more ammunition to attack the INDIA bloc. “Is he spelling out the agenda of the DMK that Article 370 will be brought back or that of the INDI-alliance?” Shah sought to know, putting the Opposition on the backfoot. 

Writing on the wall?

Given the DMK’s political evolution, it has the potential to create ideological fissures within the INDIA bloc.

Immediately after taking charge as Tamil Nadu CM in May 2021, M.K. Stalin, a self-avowed atheist who took oath in the name of “conscience”, revised his Twitter (now X) bio to read: “Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu | President of the DMK | Belongs to the Dravidian stock”, using a phrase used by DMK founder and Tamil icon C.N. Annadurai in his first Rajya Sabha speech in April 1962.

In his speech, the Tamil icon had said: “I claim sir, to come from a country, a part in India now, but which I think is of a different stock, not necessarily antagonistic. I belong to the Dravidian stock. I am proud to call myself a Dravidian. That does not mean that I am against a Bengali or a Maharashtrian or a Gujarati.”

He added: “As Robert Burns has stated, ‘A man is a man for all that’. I say that I belong to the Dravidian stock and that is only because I consider that the Dravidians have got something concrete, something distinct, something different to offer to the nation at large. Therefore it is that we want self-determination.”

Following China’s aggression in 1962, the DMK dropped its secessionist demand. But as the events in the recent months have shown, dipped in the hues of Dravidian thoughts, the DMK’s politics remains at odds not just with the BJP’s cultural nationalism, but also the centrist positions of the Congress.

According to Wankhede, the DMK is comfortable with the language and idiom that seems out of place in regions dominated by the BJP, where parties have been operating within the larger ideological framework centred around Hindutva and nationalism.

“Parties in BJP-dominated regions are understandably with the DMK’s projection of itself as a non-Brahmanical, non-Hindutva force. It has deep roots in Tamil Nadu. The DMK basically wants people to identify it as a force which is distinct not just from the BJP, but also the Congress,” Wankhede explained.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Gone are the days of ‘Hindi theriyadhu poda’. DMK’s wooing Hindi heartland with podcasts, jobs now

Source: The Print

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