Updated: May 25, 2022 1:16:52 pm
With the BJP expanding its reach into Tamil Nadu, riding piggyback on the AIADMK, the ruling DMK seems to be mounting a defence not just political but also cultural – tapping into Dravidian sentiments with deep resonance in the state.
Soon after he took charge as Chief Minister in May 2021, M K Stalin had created a stir by adding the words ‘Belongs to Dravidian Stock’ to his Twitter profile. This harked back to a speech made by the legendary C N Annadurai in Parliament 59 years ago, declaring the same.
This month, which marks the completion of the first year of his government, Stalin has been talking about offering a ‘Dravidian model’ of governance. There have been newspaper advertisements by the DMK government in the national capital talking about the same.
On May 15, at a workshop titled ‘Dravidian Model is the National Model’, held for DMK workers in Coimbatore, party leader and former Union minister A Raja directly pitted this model against the BJP’s. The latter’s governance, he said, was an example of the ‘Aryan model’: “regressive and divisive”.
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Even two archaeological digs in Tamil Nadu suggesting human settlements dating back as far as the Indus Valley Civilization or older, find the state and Centre arranged along the touchy Dravidian vs Aryan debate, which has got a new edge under the BJP regime at the Centre.
Talking about the recent carbon-dating of cultural deposits found at the Mayiladumparai excavation site in Krishnagiri district, Stalin said that the history of India be rewritten with the “Tamil land” as the starting point. The carbon-dating of deposits at the site put the use of iron in India to 4,200 years ago, the DMK government said. Before this, the earliest evidence of iron use was 1900-2000 BCE for the country, and 1500 BCE for Tamil Nadu. The latest evidence dates the findings from Tamil Nadu to 2172 BCE.
The DMK government has opened its purse strings to the state Archaeology Department to explore the digs at both Mayiladumparai and Keeladi. A landmark finding in 2019 at sites in the state, including Keeladi near Madurai, had put the origins of the Tamil Brahmi scripts as 600 BCE, compared to around 300 BCE as believed earlier. This dating had narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley Civilization and Tamilagam/South India’s Sangam Age.
The dating of the scripts had become controversial when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) did not go for advanced carbon-dating tests, and an ASI researcher who had initiated the study was transferred out of the state. The 2019 findings came out of the state government’s efforts.
On May 19, Stalin inaugurated an exhibition of the archeological findings and excavations at various sites in the state, including the “riverside culture” of Vaigai and Tamirabharani at Keeladi and Porunai, the Sangam Age industry in Kodumanal, and Mayuladumparai.
As the DMK is identified with the atheism of its founding fathers and leaders, the party is balancing its Dravidian push with ensuring that the Hindu voters (being wooed by the BJP) do not turn away from it. During his speech at the ‘Dravidian Model’ workshop, Raja pointed to Tamil Nadu Power Minister Senthil Balaji sitting on the dais, specifically to the religious threads around his wrist and the religious markers on his forehead. Raja said he once doubted if Balaji, a former AIADMK leader, could work for the DMK. He said he was proved wrong and Balaji could be part of “Dravidian politics” because he was “against the Aryan model”.
“Periyar was a rationalist. He said there is no god… But he invited a priest, Thirupathur Thirupuliyar Adigal, to release his Tamil magazine Kudi Arasu (in 1925) because Adigar stood for Dravidar, not Aryan… Like that, Balaji, despite being a believer, is with the DMK, because he fights Aryan politics,” Raja said.
The senior DMK leader went on to say that the dreams of B R Ambedkar had been defeated by the ‘Aryan model’, but Tamil Nadu’s ‘Dravidian model’ had kept them alive. The ‘Aryan model’ kept people from growing and getting an education based on their caste, he said. The blame, Raja added, fell on the Sanatana Dharma practice of caste, and not Hindu religion.
The DMK government gave another example of this balancing act when a local administration banned a ritual where devotees carried the chief of the Dharmapuram Mutt on a silver palanquin, on grounds of violation of human rights. After several seers criticised the same, the government let the ritual happen and the ban order was withdrawn.
Similarly, massive work on temple development is being touted by the DMK government as one of the major achievements of its first year.
Ramu Manivannan, who earlier taught political science at the University of Madras, says the DMK knows it has to tread with care. “In the 1970s and ’80s, the BJP made an entry into Karnataka politics with mutt politics. It is mutt influence that makes caste and communalism very strong there. The DMK thus has to demarcate clear lines when they engage with the rationalists and the faithful as each have different functions.”
He added that while the DMK was more of a rationalist group when envisaged by its founder C N Annadurai, Periyar’s DK had a more blended and focused interest in both rationalism and atheism. “For rationalists, it is more about reasoning. Their reasoning with life, realities, pain and even faith are balanced adequately well,” Manivannan said.
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