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How mega Kashi event fits into BJP’s bid to make inroads in Tamil Nadu, shed ‘outsider’ tag

Kashi Tamil Sangamam event in Varanasi aims to evoke ancient cultural connection between Tamil Nadu and Kashi, and weaken ruling DMK's linguistic politics in the southern state.

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New Delhi: From celebrating iconic Tamil poets and scholars to roping in music maestro Ilaiyaraaja for the inauguration of the Kashi Tamil Sangamam in Varanasi Saturday, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is leaving no stone unturned to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, where it is facing stiff resistance on linguistic and ideological grounds.

The BJP has called the month-long mega cultural event, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the central government’s efforts to rediscover cultural linkages between north and south and remove linguistic differences and establish emotional bonding with the people of Tamil Nadu. However, its political agenda is clear — to slowly and steadily penetrate the Dravidian land and create a space for itself.

The event has been perfectly timed to sync with Karthigai, an auspicious Tamil month during which people of the state worship Lord Shiva.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, in the past, evoked the name of revolutionary Tamil poet Subramaniya Bharathiyar on various occasions, including the 2022 budget session and during his visits to Tamil Nadu. Apart from setting up a chair in the name of Bharathiyar at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), the government had also declared that the great poet’s birth anniversary will be celebrated as ‘Bharatiya Bhasha Divas’ every year.

After inaugurating the Kashi Tamil Sangamam, Modi again spoke of the time spent by Bharathiyar in Varanasi. He also took the names of great personalities from Tamil Nadu — such as former President of India S. Radhakrishnan, vedic scholar Rajeshwar Shastri and Pattabhiram Shastri to drive home his point.

The inaugural event also witnessed the release of saint-poet Thiruvalluvar’s classic Tamil text Thirukkural (couplets) translated into 13 languages.

A BJP functionary from the state told ThePrint that, “We are eager to position our party as a strong contender to the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) in the state but using language and cultural differences, the latter is stalling our party. Through this Kashi event, our first aim is to praise Tamil culture and make a bridge between the BJP and Tamil speaking people. Second, we want to establish that Tamil culture is not distinct and aloof but it has links with the north, which the DMK has been trying to negate in the past. However, we can diminish the DMK narrative through regular cultural interaction, student visits and publicity using influencers,” he added.

Also Read: Modi’s Tamil-Varanasi outreach is BJP’s ‘Look South’ strategy. Fort DMK better watch out

DMK and anti-Hindi-imposition agitations

Unlike other southern states, Tamil Nadu is the only state where the BJP is facing language animosity.

For the 2021 assembly election, the DMK had used NEET (a pre-entrance test to secure admission into medical colleges across the country) and language politics as its main pre-poll narrative.

Vanathi Srinivasan, BJP Women’s Wing National President and MLA from Coimbatore South, said, “DMK has used linguistic politics to prevent cultural exchanges between north and south. Dravidian politics was more rooted to create a distinct identity of Tamil culture, we want to end that barrier and give opportunity to people to mix up with their cultural roots which exist from ancient era.”

Now, the DMK has yet again taken the ‘anti-Hindi-imposition’ agitation in its hands to counter the BJP’s growth in the state, which has witnessed anti-Hindi-imposition agitations during both pre-and-post independence periods.

Terming as ‘divisive’ the Parliamentary Committee on Official Languages’ recommendation that Hindi should replace English as medium of instruction in all central Government institutions, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin had asked the Union government not to force another language war.

A senior BJP leader said: “When we entered Bengal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee used the same plot to brand BJP as a North Indian party which wants to destroy Bengali culture. She even opposed Ram Navami yatra organised by the VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) but by establishing Durga linkage, we successfully ended Mamata’s narrative to create roadblock for our party in Bengal.”

“We worshipped freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose, great poet Rabindranath Tagore and even Pranab dada. We are facing similar resistance in Tamil Nadu, so we have to make inroads into cultural space to diminish the DMK’s influence. Among the regional parties, the DMK is the only party giving oxygen to the Congress, it also needs to be looked into,” the BJP leader added.

Kasi of the South

Dr Vinay Kumar, Department of Ancient History, BHU, talking to thePrint, said the cultural link between Kashi and Tamil Nadu can be found in literature, and narrated a legend about Tenkasi (Kashi of the South), a small town in Tamil Nadu.

“King Parakrama Pandiyan who ruled Madurai in the 13th century, wanted to build a temple for Lord Shiva. He travelled to Kashi and brought a Lingam, an iconic representation of Lord Shiva, and installed it in Tenkasi. People who cannot visit Kashi, visit this temple in Tenkasi.”

Kashinath is a popular name in Tamil Nadu with hundreds of temples carrying the name of Kashi in the state, 18 in Chennai alone. “We can’t separate Kashi from Tamil culture,” he added.

The ambitious cultural programme is aimed at evoking the ancient cultural and philosophical connect between Tamil Nadu and Kashi and to spread this message, the BJP has roped in not only celebrities from all walks of life but also young minds. About 2,500 participants, including students, teachers, purohits and artisans, are expected to attend the event from various parts of Tamil Nadu.

They will arrive in batches and spend a total of six days in Uttar Pradesh — two days each in Varanasi, Ayodhya and Prayagraj. The event concludes on December 19.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: Southern states make most use of Modi’s govt’s PMJAY health scheme, Tamil Nadu 1st, data shows


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