New Delhi: A decision of the SRM Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST) in Chennai to confer an honorary doctorate on Tamil poet-lyricist Vairamuthu and the subsequent cancellation of the event have once again disturbed the political equations of Tamil Nadu.
Union Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh was scheduled to attend the convocation where Vairamuthu was to be conferred the honour.
However, soon after the decision was announced, it invited strong objections from some leaders of the BJP, Hindu outfits, and also women’s rights activists.
Hindu Munnai and Hindu Makkal Katchi even announced black flag protests against Rajnath Singh.
The Hindu outfits were upset as Vairamuthu, in January 2018, had made some controversial remarks about poet-saint Andal, one of the 12 Vaishnavite saints highly reverred in the state.
On the other hand, Vairamuthu’s name had also figured during the #MeToo movement in 2018 when nine women, including playback singer Chinmayi Sripaada, had accused him of harassment. These activists, too, protested against the SRM institute’s decision to give Vairamuthu an honorary doctorate.
While Vairamuthu had tendered an apology for his Andal remarks right after the controversy in 2018, the Hindu organisations appear to be in no mood to let it pass even after nearly two years. And this seems to have given the state BJP a chance to use the situation to its advantage.
In what is being called a decision taken at the insistence of the Tamil Nadu BJP, Rajnath Singh cancelled his trip at the last moment citing “urgent engagements”.
The institute, a deemed university, has now put on hold its decision to confer an honoris causa doctorate on Vairamuthu.
While the institute said Rajnath Singh’s decision had nothing to do with the controversy, CTR Nirmal Kumar, state president of the BJP’s IT wing, claimed the minister acceded to the views of the party’s state unit, reported The Hindu.
‘Space for different voices in democracy shrinking’
Local politicians said Rajnath should not have cancelled his visit.
“The institute had approached Rajnath Singh as the cabinet minister and not as a party leader. He should have not acceded to the view of his party’s state unit,” said CPI(M) leader Kanakaraj.
“This just shows the authoritarian and shrinking space of different voices in the democracy,” he added.
The chancellor of the SRM group and Indhiya Jananayaga Katchi (IJK) party founder T.R. Paarivendhar is a current Lok Sabha MP from Perambalur who contested on the rising sun symbol of the DMK.
“IJK always keeps two doors open. Since they run educational institutions, they need patronage from both the state and the Centre. They know where, when and whom to open the doors for,” said a political observer, who did not wish to be named.
The Brahmin community had been at the forefront of the statewide protests against the Andal controversy last year, and Rajnath Singh’s decision to not attend the convocation is being seen as a Brahmin appeasement policy on the BJP’s part.
In Tamil Nadu, BJP has been often accused of siding with Brahmins, who constitute only 2.5 to 3 per cent of the state’s population, though it is in alliance with parties fighting for the cause of other castes.
This could also be the reason the party has not been able to strike a chord with other communities in the state.
Most of the office-bearers in BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit are Brahmins, with some exceptions like Tamilisai Soundararajan and Vanathi Srinivasan.
“It is more of the anti-Dravidian idea that runs through their veins. They are very shrewd and are trying to get an extra mileage from this controversy,” said political scientist Ramu Manivannan.
The current Dravidian state was built on an anti-Brahmin movement. The Dravidian parties have always stood with non-Brahmin upper and middle castes. Though these Dravidian parties haven’t done anything substantial for the Dalits, they have never shied away from taking a bold stance on Dalit issues.