Chennai: The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) suspended party functionary T. Manickam Monday, hours after a video went viral of him appearing to abuse a Dalit man, allegedly for entering a temple in Tamil Nadu’s Salem. The incident now has become still more fodder for the opposition BJP in the state.
“Our leader (Chief Minister M.K. Stalin) has been very categorical that nobody should make such remarks. Our leader has said that he will never hesitate to take action and that is what has happened,” DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan told ThePrint Monday.
Manickam had been the the DMK’s union secretary for Salem.
The now-viral video had prompted Opposition parties to slam the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state vice president Narayanan Thirupathy alleging that it was in the DNA of the DMK to use abusive language against its opponents.
“We have been opposing the DMK for the past one-and-a-half years… BJP will oppose any indiscipline or arrogance on the part of political parties or government and we won’t keep mum on what DMK does to threaten democracy, BJP will certainly oppose DMK,” Thirupathy told ThePrint.
Manickam’s alleged abuse of a Dalit man is at least the fifth such incident of a DMK party member being involved in a controversy over their statements in the past four months. This has given an opportunity to the BJP — which has been aggressively trying to make inroads in Tamil Nadu politics — to train its guns at the DMK. The DMK responded by taking action against the party members involved in three of the five cases.
“Because of these speeches, the BJP is most certainly picking up steam, as these are opportunities to score (for the Opposition party),” said Sumanth C Raman, a senior political analyst.
While the BJP is still a political lightweight in Tamil Nadu — with just four MLAs in the 234-member assembly — its aggression in the state has created for it an image of being the principal opposition.
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From ‘abuse’ to ‘threats’
According to senior police officers in the state, the alleged Salem incident took place on 19 January at a temple maintained by members of the state’s Vanniyar community. The temple is under the jurisdiction of the state government’s Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE), which maintains most temples in Tamil Nadu, and which, the ruling DMK insists, strives for equal access to everyone to all places of worship.
The officers added that Manickam was arrested and charged under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, as well as provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.
Reacting to the alleged incident on social media, BJP Tamil Nadu president K. Annamalai wrote, “A DMK MP was seen taking pride in the temple demolition yesterday and today we see a DMK district functionary in Salem district in Tamil Nadu preventing brothers and sisters from the SC community from entering into a temple.”
A DMK MP was seen taking pride in the temple demolition yesterday & today we see a DMK district functionary in Salem district in Tamil Nadu preventing brothers & sisters from the SC community from entering into a Temple.
DMK model of Social Justice for us all! pic.twitter.com/hLDK4xCXK6
— K.Annamalai (@annamalai_k) January 30, 2023
Annamalai was referring to a video he had tweeted Sunday, in which DMK MP from Sriperumbudur, T.R. Baalu, appeared to be claiming that he had demolished 100-year-old temples. Many on Twitter, however, pointed out how Annamalai had shared an edited version of the speech and claimed that in the original video Baalu had said that he demolished the temple after building another more spacious temple.
Earlier this month, amid a standoff between Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi and the Stalin-led state government on various issues, including the name of the state, DMK functionary Shivaji Krishnamurthy had allegedly made derogatory remarks against the Governor claiming, “We will send terrorists so that they will gun you down”.
The DMK reacted by suspending him from all posts and primary membership of the party.
At the same event, DMK’s organisational secretary R.S. Bharati had also reportedly taken a dig at the Governor. “I had earlier stated that those who sell soan papdi and panipuri don’t know the pride of Tamil Nadu… many have come from Bihar and I think the Governor has also come by a similar train,” he was reported as saying.
There was, however, no action taken against Bharati.
In November last year, Nagercoil mayor and DMK leader, R. Mahesh, appeared to have been caught on camera giving life threats to BJP cadres, allegedly indicating through gestures that their heads would be cut if they tried to disrupt his event.
Mahesh had later denied giving any verbal threats and added that the hand gesture was to remove an insect that was bothering him.
Similarly, in October, last year, DMK functionary Saidai Sadiq had drawn flak for reportedly calling actress-turned-BJP leaders in Tamil Nadu — Namitha, Khushbu Sundar, Gautami, and Gayathri Raghuram — “items”.
Senior BJP leader Khushbu Sundar had retaliated by questioning CM Stalin if this was the Dravidian model that he boasts about. The incident had sparked widespread criticism and the DMK had to suspend Sadiq to put the matter to rest. The controversy had also led DMK MP and deputy general secretary of the party Kanimozhi Karunanidhi to apologise for the alleged comment
DMK controversies, BJP opportunities
According to political analyst Raman, the DMK has had a history of speakers who specialise in making “abusive” statements, but this was backfiring now.
“Right from the 1960s, the DMK has had platform speakers who have specialised in abusive speaking, but times have changed, the platforms have changed, and so has the impact of these speeches,” he said.
“In the era before social media these speeches were not a problem, because their reach was very limited. Now the speeches go viral and this creates a negative impression of the party,” he added.
T.K.S. Elangovan, former DMK MP, claimed that such speeches were usually the result of provocation.
“We are not people who provoke anybody, but when we are provoked our cadres get angry and spit words like this. It is a retaliation to something that was spoken by others. When retaliation comes with a peaceful mind it will be a normal reply, but when they get angry they say such words. It is not with an intent to attack, but just words,” Elangovan said.
Meanwhile, the BJP has been attempting to use these controversies to its advantage, said political analysts.
Senior political analyst R. Mani told ThePrint, “Annamalai often spreads doctored videos. The mandate that was given to Annamalai by BJP high command has been properly fulfilled and Annamalai’s job has been to tell lies,” said Mani.
In July 2022, Annamalai had tweeted a five-second muted video accusing DMK minister K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran of hitting a woman with a paper on the head and even demanded his resignation. An extended video released on social media later showed the the minister and the woman in the video engaged in friendly banter. The two had also clarified this to the media and alleged that the video was taken out of context by Annamalai.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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