Addressing a diaspora group on Monday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin urged Tamils across the world to unite at a time when “certain” forces are attempting to “split us based on caste and religion”.
Stalin’s message was as much an outreach to the Tamil diaspora – a crucial constituency that is known to even influence host nations’ foreign policy – as a way to underline his status, and that of the DMK, as the upholder of Tamil identity and nationalism.
Since he took over in May 2021, Stalin and his government have had several run-ins with the BJP and the Central government on issues such as the two-language formula, NEET, GST and the National Education Policy.
Virtually addressing the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), one of the largest Tamil diaspora groups, Stalin said Tamils across the world — “a sizeable population in about 30 countries, besides having a presence in another 60-odd countries” – are bound by their “unique identity”.
தமிழுணர்வோடு செயல்படும் #FeTNA-வின் 35-ஆவது தமிழ் விழாவில், தாய்நிலமாம் தமிழ்நாட்டிலிருந்து காணொலி வாயிலாகப் பங்கெடுத்தது இதமான நிகழ்வு! இதயம் முழுதும் மகிழ்ச்சி உணர்வு!
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) July 4, 2022
Hailing Tamils who risked their lives for perilous journeys over the centuries for jobs and trade abroad, Stalin said Tamils worldwide still regard Tamil Nadu as their homeland.
Stalin also took potshots at the BJP-RSS without naming them in his speech. Saying “other people have built their history with fancy tales while ours is scientifically verified”, Stalin said Tamil history is neither lyrical nor glorified fiction.
Reiterating his comments made in the Assembly in September 2021, the CM said India’s history should begin with Tamil Nadu. “I am not here to brag about our history,” he said, before talking about a number of archeological projects commissioned by his administration.
Recent carbon-dating of deposits discovered at the Mayiladumparai excavation site in Krishnagiri district points to evidence of the use of iron in India dating back 4,200 years.
The state Archaeology Department is now investigating findings at Mayiladumparai and Keeladi near Madurai that Tamil Brahmi scripts, once believed to have originated around 300 BCE, may date back to 600 BCE — a critical discovery that has narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley Civilization and Tamilagam/Sangam Age.
Stalin’s strident assertion of Tamil identity has now been a fairly regular feature, with many drawing parallels to his late father, DMK stalwart M Karunanidhi. A couple of months ago, with Narendra Modi on stage, Stalin had urged the Prime Minister to make Tamil an official language of the Union on a par with Hindi, to which Modi had called Tamil an “eternal language” and Tamil culture “global”. He had also quoted his father to say that while the people of the state would extend their hand of friendship, at the same time, they would also raise their voices for their rights.
Yet, while Karunanidhi’s Tamil nationalism had mellowed down towards the latter part of his political career, Stalin has been going the extra mile in taking up Tamil causes – whether it is on the Sri Lankan Tamils or state autonomy.
However, many see Stalin’s assertive statements celebrating Tamil identity and pride as more political than ideological. While there has been speculation on whether Stalin is seeking a national role for himself – he has in the recent past attempted to unite the Opposition on issues such as NEET – the DMK’s primary goal has always been to preserve its pole position in Tamil Nadu; not to capture power in Delhi.
In his speech, Stalin also underlined the DMK’s role in furthering the Tamil cause, including changing the name of Madras to Chennai, the primacy of the two-language policy, making Thiru and Thirumathi prefixes before names instead of Shri/Smt or Mr/Mrs, and the unveiling of a Thiruvalluvar statue in Kanyakumari, among others.
“That is how our Tamil rule has been progressing,” Stalin said, citing a number of welfare programmes launched by the administration for Tamils, including a Rs 317 crore social assistance programme for Lankan Tamils in India. Stalin emphasised that Tamil Nadu is for Tamils across the world.
Saying the Tamil identity is stronger than that of caste or religion, he said, “I will never have a problem with someone’s religion. But using religion to attack the Tamil race should be opposed. Caste cannot be a solution; it is the first enemy for Tamils.”