In the recently held Tamil Nadu urban body elections, we saw the DMK record a thumping victory. While the ‘Dravidian stock’ ridicules and mocks Tamil Nadu BJP for its performance, the latter is rejoicing with 308 seats, including all town panchayats, municipalities and corporations, and a vote share of 5.41 per cent. The party’s performance tells that a lot worked for them despite the strong anti-BJP sentiment prevalent in the state.
The DMK and Tamil Nadu can remain in denial about the BJP’s increasing footprint in the state but the longstanding narrative of DMK Vs AIADMK is now turning into a DMK Vs BJP contest. Making the BJP their primary enemy can also be a tactic of M.K. Stalin’s party to reduce AIADMK into a weak force. The state has probably never seen this level of polarisation in the last two decades.
The DMK has been playing the ‘progressive’ card, not through any meaningful action, but through anti-BJP, anti-Modi and anti-Brahmin politics, and appeasement. Criticising BJP-Modi-Brahmins is an easy way to be recognised as a ‘progressive’ party.
One of the campaign videos of Tamil Nadu BJP had captured this DMK strategy perfectly. Critical of the DMK for problems in the state, a man dressed up as a DMK worker says: ‘Tell them (people) BJP will come’.
— BJP Tamilnadu (@BJP4TamilNadu) February 18, 2022
The hypocrisy of social justice politics
Outside Tamil Nadu, the DMK is being celebrated as the epitome of social justice. On the Republic Day, chief minister Stalin announced the ‘All India Federation for Social Justice’ and invited a bunch of leaders to join the federation, essentially a reach out to non-BJP leaders. Stalin has truly picked up the social justice baton, says senior journalist and columnist Dilip Mandal, in his article for ThePrint. Senior journalist Prabhu Chawla says ‘he (Stalin) has taken the lead to forge a political alternative to the NDA’. But these commentators should also know that Stalin rallied behind Rahul Gandhi, a leader who proclaimed himself to be a ‘janeudhari Brahmin’ in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
While religious polarisation in Hindi-speaking states may be more pronounced compared to Tamil Nadu, it doesn’t make the picture rosy in the southern state, especially going by the recent incidents under the Stalin government. It is in Tamil Nadu that 40 Dalits were recently converted to Islam because of discrimination by caste Hindus. It is in Tamil Nadu that Ambedkar statues are caged for their own safety, again from caste Hindus. And it is in Tamil Nadu that a law student from the Muslim community is tortured in the police custody, allegedly, for not wearing mask. DMK cannot turn a blind eye to such incidents by merely romanticising the ‘Dravidian model’, a term increasingly gaining currency recently. It has become a ritual for the DMK IT wing to bulldoze any argument that comes their way, with comparisons from the Hindi heartland states.
NEET and its political pitch
The DMK has used the NEET issue to up its ante against the Narendra Modi government and increase its appeal among the people. This was also the centrepiece of DMK’s 2021 assembly election campaign that brought them to power. While the end-goal for what they are struggling is rational and pertinent, the whole issue has now been made to look like a tussle between the Governor (seen as a representative of the Union government) and the state government. Earlier in January, the DMK accused home minister Amit Shah of repeatedly ‘denying appointment’ for the all-party representation on the issue.
This was followed by DMK’s mouthpiece Murasoli attacking the Governor for his remarks on the NEET issue and two-language policy. The article said that the Governor cannot behave like a “big brother” and warned that “it is not Nagaland, but Tamil Nadu”. When the Governor returned the Bill for reconsideration, stating that the Justice A.K. Rajan Committee report was a “jaundiced view”, Stalin tweeted saying, “I am thinking of the words he (Annadurai) roared years ago: ‘does a goat need a beard, does a country need a governor?”
பேரறிஞர் அண்ணாவின் 53-ஆவது நினைவுநாளில், "ஆட்டுக்குத் தாடியும், நாட்டுக்கு ஆளுநரும் தேவையா?" என்று அண்ணா அவர்கள் அன்றே காரணத்தோடு எழுப்பிய கேள்வியை எண்ணிப் பார்க்கிறேன்.#StandForStateRights pic.twitter.com/ObhQ9UG8IX
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) February 3, 2022
Tokenism and headline management
After a woman from Narikurava tribe was denied Annadhanam, the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowment minister P.K. Sekar Babu dined with her. Stalin himself visited the woman’s house.
In another incident, 20 priests of Chidambaram temple were booked under SC/ST Act for stopping a Dalit woman from entering the shrine.
Does all this mean DMK is spearheading the anti-caste movement?
In both these cases, the oppressor is a Brahmin and only such cases will be talked about. There are also atrocities that are propagated by non-Brahmin caste Hindus. Even if they were handled rightfully, they would not be bragged about and made to trend. The narrative set here only enables non-Brahmin caste Hindus to further their aggression.
A classic case of headline management is Dalits not being allowed inside Selliamman Temple in Tindivanam, which is apparently run by Vanniyars. No case was filed by the authorities. The treatment meted out to over 50 families residing on the Egmore pavement in Chennai must also find mention. While they were promised a resettlement, they were made to languish in makeshift arrangement and even delivered food in a trash collection auto.
Those who can see through the DMK’s social justice narrative, identify it as continuing hegemony of non-Brahmin caste Hindus over the lower castes. The true anti-caste movement for Stalin’s DMK should start by fulfilling the long-pending demand for a separate legislation to protect inter-caste couples against honour killings. It was reported that 300 cases of caste killings happened between 2016 and 2020, among the highest in the country. From Dr. Thol. Thirumavalavan, the VCK president who is part of the DMK alliance, to a victim turned activist, Kausalya, this demand has been repeatedly brought before the state government. The true sense of social justice lies in enacting special legislation like this. It lies in redistribution of Panchama lands, and proper political representation of the oppressed community within the party. The DMK cannot just go around chest-thumping what Karunanidhi did for these communities, making it seem every time that they are the saviours of the lower castes — a clear case of ‘savarna saviour complex’. The DMK celebrates that Chennai will see a Dalit woman mayor. But the 50 per cent representation to women in the local body was brought by former chief minister late J. Jayalalithaa.
The chief minister who proclaimed ‘I will protect you like a father, brother’ and who has been on videos encouraging the children to report any incidents of sexual abuses, especially in schools, will not dare to disassociate from the #metoo accused Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu. Stalin facilitated Vairamuthu recently on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in the industry.
தமிழோடு புதுமையையும் அறிவியலையும் சேர்த்து, சிறந்து விளங்கும் கவிதைகளை- திரைப்படப் பாடல்களை தேனருவியெனக் கொட்டி, தமிழால் நம்மை நனைக்கும் கவிப்பேரரசு @Vairamuthu அவர்களது எழுத்துப் பணியின் பொன்விழா இலச்சினையை வெளியிட்டேன்.
தன் தமிழால் கவிப்பேரரசு நூறாண்டு கடந்தும் நம்மை ஆளட்டும்! pic.twitter.com/VBK9BT3Nt9
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) February 11, 2022
The leader who set up an All India Federation for Social Justice did not comment on the much debated Hijab row. We could hear only a few voices from the DMK leadership like that of Kanimozhi. For a leader who is trying to forge a pan-India alliance, Stalin cannot be silent on these critical issues. Where social justice is spoken in the context of women empowerment, one should also know that Stalin’s cabinet has only two women ministers with no coveted portfolios.
DMK is long perceived as the party devoted to social justice, but there is a lack of egalitarianism in its actions. There is a desperate attempt to build a national image for M.K. Stalin as the icon of social justice by hitting out on BJP-Modi-Brahmins. And it is turning out to be another hero-worship on the lines of Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR and Jayalalithaa. It is by over-obsessing with the BJP and making them their primary opponent that the DMK has helped BJP to always stay in the news cycle. BJP, the party no Tamilian would spare any attention is now grabbing eyeballs. It is actually DMK that let elephant in the room.
Aananth Daksnamurthy is an incoming Fulbright- Nehru scholar. He tweets @aananth95. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)