More than three decades after M G Ramachandran, endearingly called as MGR, was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, like a bolt from the blue, gave the actor-turned Chief Minister’s name to the historic Chennai Central railway station. Visiting Tamil Nadu, for the fourth time in 40 days on Wednesday, Modi not only surprised people through the announcement but also presented himself as an alien, betraying his total lack of understanding of the state’s political dynamics or history. For starters, MGR now lives in the hearts and memories of the people and bestowing him an honour at this moment is not going to get votes for anybody. Besides, whoever still votes loyally for ‘MGR’s party’ should technically be voting for the BJP in Tamil Nadu, anyway, for the parties are in an alliance.
Unwittingly, Modi also triggered a public outrage on social media by rechristening the over 140 year old landmark of the city as heritage enthusiasts were up in arms against the idea. But that is beside the point because social media has been habitually been after Modi whenever he comes to Tamil Nadu. The bitter truth is that Modi, by opening his mouth in Tamil Nadu, only displays his ignorance, or is it that he cares two hoots about the state, where the BJP does not even have the courage to field more than five candidates in the coming Lok Sabha elections. He said that the Congress government at the Centre dismissed the State government led by MGR during the Emergency, which was translated verbatim when the fact is that MGR became Chief Minister for the first time on 30 June 1977 whereas Emergency came to an end on 21 March 1977.
Another image from the pantheon of Tamil Nadu’s political iconography that Modi sought to invoke while speaking at the meeting held in Kanchipuram district, was K Kamaraj, the Congress Chief Minister who is still remembered for his path breaking policies on primary school education in the 1950s. But that attempt came unstuck as DMK president M K Stalin was quick to hit back with a startling fact. Stalin recalled that incident in which violent Jan Sangh members tried to kill Kamaraj by setting fire to his house in New Delhi and wondered how someone who came in the lineage of that blood-thirsty mob could speak glowingly of Kamaraj.
Modi had actually missed a chance to capture hearts, if at all he could, by revealing his new found love for Kamaraj when he came to Tamil Nadu earlier. Speaking in Kanyakumari district, the Congress party’s political bastion that rehabilitated Kamaraj politically in 1967, Modi was eulogizing about Rajaji instead of Kamaraj. Historically, Kamaraj replaced Rajaji as Chief Minister and the two tall leaders were seen more as rivals within the Congress. Apart from the fact that Rajaji, who had had only short stints as Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu, was not very particularly popular for any major economic policy, as Modi was trying to suggest, it would had been more appealing to speak about Kamaraj in Kanyakumari. But Modi spoke about him in Kachipuram, where he did not make a single mention about C N Annadurai, another iconic Chief Minister who was born in that district. In fact, the ‘C’ in his name stands for Conjeevaram, which is a distorted spelling for Kanchipuram.
Surprisingly, Modi, or was it his speech writer, did not know that one could connect more to the people of Tamil Nadu through Annadurai than an ancient Sanskrit poet Kalidas, whose reference to Kanchipuram found a mention in the speech. It is intriguing that Modi did not remember that the party that the BJP has aligned with is named after Annadurai – the ‘A’ in AIADMK stands for Anna, as he Annadurai is referred to in Tamil Nadu by his followers – and that he was addressing the crowd to canvass votes for the alliance. Ironically, in the speech, he assured to fulfil regional aspirations, when the main charge against him and his government in Tamil Nadu has been the tendency to least care about ‘Tamil aspirations’.
If the hashtag ‘GobackModi’ had trended in his earlier visits, it was only because the local people were angry with the Centre’s attitude towards the state, particularly Modi not visiting the state when it had been battered by cyclones. Now Modi hopes to storm into the state’s political scene but is seemingly making a fool of himself with apparently no one to even advise him on the nuances of state’s political dynamics. Interestingly, many people in Tamil Nadu are not grudging about it. If Modi does not understand them and their political aspirations, they are not concerned. He goofing up in his speeches in the State augurs well for them as it would only keep the BJP away from the people.