New Delhi: Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE), P.K. Sekarbabu has been a busy man of late.
Since the DMK government began its first assembly session in this term, Sekarbabu has introduced a slew of measures pertaining to temples, priests and the Hindu religion. Some were brought in even before the session began last month.
Institutes for training temple administration, free prasadams, jewellery given as donation be converted into gold bars, all-caste archakas (priests from all castes), the option for archanais (prayers) in Tamil as well as Sanskrit, cultivating flower gardens in temple premises, monthly incentives to priests in nearly 13,000 temples, deployment of 10,000 security guards in temples across the state — these are among the measures introduced by the new DMK government in its first 100 days.
The government has also announced the construction of a Rs 100-crore commercial complex near the Ekambareswarar temple in Kancheepuram. In the state assembly, Sekarbabu explained that the commercial complex would earn money for the temple.
The dispensation has also leased temple lands on lower rentals, published title documents for temples with more than 3.50 acres of land, and is planning a drone and GPS survey to digitise every inch of temple property in the state.
ThePrint reached Sekarbabu for a comment via calls and texts but there was no response until the publishing of this report.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK as it is commonly referred to, traces its history to the anti-caste social movement Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), which was founded by E.V. Ramasamy (Periyar), who fought against caste inequalities and was a staunch atheist. “He who created god is a fool, he who propagates god is a scoundrel, and he who worships god is a barbarian,” Periyar once said, criticising the concept of religion.
While the DMK broke away from Periyar over ideological differences, Chief Minister and party president M.K. Stalin is a declared atheist, with the party often facing the accusation of being anti-Hindu. His late father and ex-DMK chief M. Karunanidhi was also an atheist.
Now, whether the party is trying a more pragmatic approach or responding to the BJP’s religious politics, the DMK’s “temple politics” has garnered attention from all corners.
Some analysts believe that the party is feeling the need to reassert itself in the Hindu society even as others point to its long history of temple reforms. The Opposition, however, is sticking to its allegation that the DMK is “anti-Hindu”, noting its history of remarks purportedly against the Hindu religion.
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DMK feels need to reassert itself in Hindu society
Ramu Manivannan, head of department of politics and public administration at the University of Madras, said that since the party was founded in 1949, the DMK has always tried to present itself as separate from Periyar’s DK, and as not being hardliner atheists.
“The DMK has a large constituency of believers so they cannot go overboard and reject the role of religion. One had to distinguish between anti-Brahmanism and anti-God, the DMK has always focussed on the former,” said Manivannan.
However, he conceded that in recent times, the DMK has had to make its “relationship with the Hindu religion clear due to political competition”. This competition is from the BJP, which recently called the ruling DMK government “anti-Hindu” for banning processions for Vinayaka Chaturthi (Ganesh Chaturthi).
“This political competition is coming clearly from BJP, which since the past 10 years has abrasively been making its presence felt in the state. The DMK now feels the need to reassert the secular space within Hindu society in contrast to the BJP,” explained Manivannan.
However, A.S. Panneerselvam, a political analyst, author and Karunanidhi’s biographer, said one shouldn’t give the BJP so much credit while analysing these reforms. According to him, temple reforms took place under the old DMK governments as well, but seem more glaring now due to “10 years of inactivity by the AIADMK government”.
Noting reforms in the past, Panneerselvam said the all-caste archakas and Thiruvarur temple chariot function were implemented by Karunanidhi in the 1970s.
“What you are seeing right now is a continuation,” Panneerselvam said, adding that for the DMK, faith was a matter of personal belief and didn’t translate into how the state was governed.
“This was the difference between the DK and DMK. DMK believed in one race, one god (ondre kulam, oruvane devan). For them, inclusive growth is embedded in polity and they believe that social justice means that caste cannot be an entry barrier, including in the area of faith,” he added.
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DMK still anti-Hindu party, says BJP
The opposition, particularly the BJP, doesn’t buy this rhetoric.
Speaking to ThePrint, Tamil Nadu BJP spokesperson Naryanan Thirupathy said many of the measures introduced by the DMK government were already in practice in many temples of the state and were “not a new concept”.
According to him, all these measures still don’t help the DMK’s “anti-Hindu image”. He pointed to examples from the past to justify this remark, including Karunanidhi’s comment that “Hindu means thief” and when he “insulted Lord Rama asking if he was an engineer”.
Pointing to Stalin, Thirupathy recalled a conference in Tiruchirappalli before the elections, where Stalin said he would uproot Sanatana Dharma.
“What is Sanatana Dharma? It is Hinduism,” said Thirupathy.
He also pointed to another instance from Tiruchirapalli in 2018, when Stalin wiped off the manjal kappu (turmeric paste) offered by priests during his visit to a temple in the district.
Reforms no departure, says DMK
Rubbishing these claims, DMK Rajya Sabha MP Tiruchi Siva explained that even when Karunanidhi was alive, he was taking care of temples.
“There is no departure. From renovating temple carts, the holy watering in temples and constitution of the board of pujaris all of this was done by Kalaignar (Karunanidhi). We are only taking this forward and retrieving temple properties,” explained Siva.
Speaking about the present reforms, Siva explained that DMK’s view was to protect the temples and take care of the needs of all sections of the society.
“The DMK is secular in nature and we want to open up temples to all sections of society. Our inclusive governance extends to this too,” the MP added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
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