Rath Yatra a shot in the arm for Dravidian politics

MK Stalin has affirmed that DMK will fight the BJP to deny them any toehold in Tamil Nadu

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Kavitha Muralidharan

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on the ailing DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi last November, it set several tongues wagging. Speculations about DMK softening towards the BJP – till then seen as a strong ally of the AIADMK – was rife. For political observers, the BJP was perhaps keeping all its options open. The party perhaps did not want to leave any stone in Tamil Nadu – a state that has steadfastly refused to allow the BJP any toehold.

But when the state rallied against BJP’s national secretary over his remarks on Dravidian icon EVR Periyar, Tamil Nadu showed that it continued to remain a tough nut to crack. The BJP leader eventually had to bite the dust with his own party distancing itself from his remarks. Coming soon after the controversy over Periyar, the Rath Yatra in Tamil Nadu failed to strike a chord with the general public. While the ruling AIADMK maintained that it could not refuse permission to the Rath Yatra since ‘all religions should be treated the same’, the Opposition including the DMK and several other parties went to town about the Rath Yatra being a ploy to create communal tensions in the state. Several leaders including MK Stalin were arrested when trying to stage a protest against the Rath Yatra. When questioned about Tamil Nadu alone protesting Rath Yatra unlike other states, Stalin retorted: “Only Tamil Nadu had a Periyar.”

In responding so, Stalin perhaps unambiguously conveyed that the DMK would remain faithful to its Dravidian ideology. In a fiery speech delivered on March 25 at the Erode regional conference of the DMK, Stalin reiterated it again. “They have been audacious because most of India remains under their control. Except for a few states, everything has come under their control. But the DMK will continue to fight them,” he declared. In his over-an-hour-long speech, Stalin invoked the name of Periyar more than once, asserting that the party will continue to live up to Dravidian ideals.

The Erode speech perhaps solidified Stalin’s position as the leader of the DMK. In taking on the BJP with no ambiguity, Stalin indicated that he would tread the path treaded by his father Karunanidhi. “Of course, DMK has often been faulted for aligning with the BJP in 1999. But one should also remember that Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) adopted it as a strategy. He was indisputably anti-communal and if he aligned with the

BJP, it was only a strategic move. He never allowed the party to gain any real ground in the state,” says Salma, writer and an activist in the DMK. “It makes no sense for the DMK to align with the BJP now. They are very powerful now and can manipulate Tamil Nadu even if they are given a small space,” she adds. Salma points out that the two-day DMK conference at Erode resonated with fundamental Dravidian ideals – from underlining the importance of federalism and opposing any form of hegemony. “Almost all the speakers spoke about the importance of Dravidian movement and its contribution to the state. Listening to several such speeches, I very instinctively felt the state would certainly be better off with leaders like MK Stalin who know what to speak and how to act.”

Stalin also walked the talk. He wrote to ten chief ministers of non-BJP states and ‘perhaps not coincidentally so’, criticising the fiscal policy of the government in allotting funds to the States. Terming the fifteenth finance commission’s terms of reference as a travesty of justice, Stalin said it would reduce the distribution of Central revenues to the progressive states by a very substantial margin.

Stalin’s politics of assertion comes perhaps at a time when the state direly needs it. After being in a political turmoil for over a year, Tamil Nadu has been several witnessing tectonic shifts including political launches by popular actors Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. Both the actors have said that they have entered politics to ‘fill the vacuum’. Evidently, Stalin wants to challenge this notion of a political vacuum. After all, Stalin has had over 40 years of political experience and has been nominated as the party’s heir even when Karunanidhi was active.

With the BJP consistently maintaining a little over a two per cent vote bank in the state, Stalin perhaps knows too well that working on DMK’s core strengths will help him gain acceptance beyond the party. If Stalin continues to tread the same path, the BJP may have more bitter battles ahead.

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