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Explained: Why is the BJP cashing in on the Manusmriti row in Tamil Nadu?

Unlike in Kerala where the BJP gets to attack both the ruling CPI(M) and opposition Congress, BJP Tamil Nadu unit has a limited canvas to take up issues as they rule at the Centre while ally AIADMK has been in power in the state for almost a decade.

Several BJP workers were taken into custody by police on Tuesday during a protest against Thirumavalavan. (Twitter/BJP4TamilNadu)

The BJP, which was short of issues before the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections in 2021, is getting some help with the Manusmriti flaring up in the state. In his speech delivered at a small online event titled ‘Periyar and Indian Politics’, Dalit leader and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) chief Thirumavalavan quoting from the Manusmriti said: “What does Sanatana Hindu Dharma say about women? Women are basically created by God as prostitutes. All women are prostitutes, as per Hindu dharma… Manu dharma.”

The objection is to the use of the word “prostitute,” which many argue is an interpretation of the speaker from an ancient text, or possibly from one of the many published translations of Manusmriti.

Soon, BJP leader Khushbu Sundar sought an apology from the leader. After A Ashwathaman, the state secretary of BJP legal cell filed a complaint, the Chennai city police booked Thirumavalavan under Sections 153, 153 (A)(1)(a), 295 A, 298, 505 (1)(b) and 505 (2) of the IPC.

How have Thirumavalavan and the main opposition led by DMK reacted?

Thirumavalavan clarified that his words were being misinterpreted and distorted to portray him as a leader against the interest of women. The VCK chief said his party was fighting for women empowerment and the misinformation campaign was to create a flutter within the DMK-led alliance ahead of the polls. Also, VCK had called for a ban of Manusmriti in India and organised protests, he reminded.

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Ally DMK, however, was more measured in its reaction. Party chief M K Stalin did not touch on Manusmriti but demanded the withdrawal of “false cases” charged against Thirumavalavan. He said the police should have booked religious fanatics and bigots who misinterpreted and distorted, not Thirumavalavan. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Other opposition allies, MDMK leader Vaiko and the CPI(M) too urged Chennai police to withdraw the case against Thirumavalavan and asserted that the leader was quoting from the ancient text and that it has several aspects that demean women and weaker sections in the society.

Why is BJP interested in the topic?

Unlike in Kerala where the BJP gets to attack both the ruling CPI(M) and opposition Congress, BJP Tamil Nadu unit has a limited canvas to take up issues as they rule at the Centre while ally AIADMK has been in power in the state for almost a decade.

In such a scenario, the Manusmriti controversy has been a successful political move in mainstream Tamil politics. A senior BJP leader said they see a chance of consolidating Hindu votes in Tamil Nadu. Thirumavalavan’s problematic speech has presented a golden opportunity.

Moreover, the controversy has emerged ahead of a statewide campaign by the BJP to consolidate Hindu votes through a campaign titled “Vetri Vel,” scheduled to start from November 6. Modelled on Rath Yatras, with a formal permission from the state government, the campaign would be covering the six major temples of Lord Muruga in the state including Palani, Swamimalai and Pazhamudircholai. The Vetri Vel yatra, BJP leadership expects, will help to consolidate Hindu votes.

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Who gains from the Manusmriti controversy?

Khushbu Sundar, the actor-turned-politician who recently joined BJP from the Congress, has used the row to make a quick and very visible entry into the saffron. She was taken into custody by police on Tuesday while on her way to Chidambaram to organise a protest against Thirumavalavan.

For the Dravidian party DMK and its allies including the Dalits, Left and Tamil nationalist parties, who are largely known for their atheist, anti-Brahminic, anti-Hindi positions in electoral politics, the Manusmriti controversy is not an easy to handle before the state elections. While the BJP has been consistently trying to blow it up to the proportions of the Sabarimala issue in Kerala, the DMK has been cautious in its reactions.

The row has also helped the BJP divert attention from a more crucial issue, the alleged delay on part of the state Governor in giving assent to a Bill ensuring 7.5 per cent reservation in medical admissions for government school students who cleared NEET. The Bill was unanimously passed by all political parties in the Assembly but is held up by the Governor. The opposition as well as the state government had been following up on the status of the Bill.

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“Thirumavalavan could have apologised for using the word prostitute. We didn’t make it a controversy, it was their false pride and anti-religious sentiments that made this a controversy. We will continue our protests to expose their anti-Hindu stand,” a BJP said, suggesting the opposition had played into their hands with this new controversy.

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