Having already flustered the Congress with its efforts to appropriate Sardar Patel and B R Ambedkar, the BJP has set out to claim the legacy of yet another historically revered Congress figure, Tamil Nadu’s K Kamaraj.
Keen on spreading its wings and emerging an alternative in Tamil Nadu, the BJP organised a function to commemorate Kamaraj’s 113th birth anniversary on Wednesday in in Viruddhnagar, his birthplace. BJP chief Amit Shah had been expected to attend the programme but could not because he had to meet party chief ministers who were in Delhi.
The BJP has stressed that there is “nothing political” in the party’s decision to honour the former Tamil Nadu chief minister and former Congress president. Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who attended the function on Wednesday, made it clear, however, how keenly the party wants to make Kamaraj its own. He described how upset Kamaraj had been with the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi.
“Kamaraj was so upset with the imposition of Emergency in June 1975 that he is reported to have wept and said, ‘Yellam pochu, yen thappu (everything is lost, it’s my mistake)’,” Naidu told the audience. According to Naidu, Indira’s decision has “upset Kamaraj so much that he died a few months later, in October that year.”
Naidu described the Congress leader, widely known as a kingmaker because of the role attributed to him in the elevation of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi as successive prime ministers, as an “embodiment of morality, integrity and high values besides being a reformer”. Naidu said the present generation of politicians should draw inspiration from his life and works. “It is our collective responsibility to take forward his legacy,” he said.
The BJP’s move to honour Kamaraj comes amid a contest for the legacy of Ambedkar, with both the Congress and the BJP launching separate plans to celebrate the Dalit leader’s birth 125th birth anniversary, apparently targeting his massive following among the Scheduled Castes.
BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, in charge of the party organisation in Tamil Nadu, said the party’s move cannot be seen as vote-bank politics. “Kamaraj is a national icon and his thinking was always of a nationalist. The Congress has not done anything to honour his legacy outside Delhi,” he said. “The Congress cannot claim that he is an asset of the party. We want to appreciate his contribution and it’s not a political fight.”
The Congress sought to make light of the BJP’s effort. “It is good that the BJP has started honouring the contribution of national leaders including Mahatma Gandhi,” Congress spokesperson R P N Singh said.
Even the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP, has initiated efforts to invoke national leaders outside of its pantheon, a move that is considered part of an attempt to help the BJP gain acceptance across all sections of society.