SAFFRONISATION OF THIRUVALLUVAR TRIGGERS POLITICAL ROW IN TAMIL NADU

The political scenario in Tamil Nadu is witnessing new twists and turns. When the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (AIADMK) is struggling to maintain its identity and its survival after the loss of its leader, J. Jayalalithaa, despite implementing lot of welfare measures, the party is facing uphill task to return to power in the next general Assembly Election, thanks to the grassroot level work of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK). What with the consolidation of other new equations such as Actor Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Neethi Mandram  (MNM) and Rajanikant’s yet to be announced political party, the election scenario in Tamil Nadu is going to be even more complex.

BJP Game Plan

The Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP), which is an ally of the AIADMK, contemplating on gaining a foothold in Tamil Nadu has now stirred the hornet’s nest by releasing the poster of the ancient Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar attired in saffron colour in January after the Pongal festival where the Thiruvalluvar Day was celebrated honouring him and trying to portray him as a Hindu. This has certainly irked the Dravidian party, DMK. While the BJP cadre claimed that there was enough evidence in the poet’s seminal work, Thirukkural, where the bard had made several references on many Hindu pantheons, apparently justifying the act of painting saffron on Thiruvalluvar’s attire. In fact, the BJP Tamil Nadu unit had posted the poster of Thiruvalluvar wearing saffron attire, smearing sacred ash on his forehead and wearing Rudraksha beaded garland on the Twitter handle, thus triggering widespread outrage.

Controversy

Immediately after the Twitter post, several ideological debates happened on social media platforms, while both the left and the right-wing political parties sparred against each other. Incidentally, the same day when the post appeared on the BJP Tamil Nadu’s Twitter handle, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi had launched the Thirukural’s Thai translation book at a community function in Bangkok, which the Left camp firmly believed as diabolic plan hatched by the Hindutva party. Apparently, the irked atheists unleashed another campaign by posting the image of Thiruvalluvar attired in black, symbolizing atheism. The Saffron-Black Thiruvalluvar began trending on the online platform for weeks on end, triggering heightened emotions among the Tamil speaking diaspora across the world.

Reactions began pouring in on the social media platform from both sides. The DMK leader, MK Stalin accused the BJP of trying to portray the poet as a Hindu Saint by giving saffron tone and further added that the despicable act was betrayal to the ancient language of Tamil. He also condemned the BJP’s desperate attempt to make inroads in Tamil Nadu by raking up a controversy and project the poet in the saffron cloth thus trying to pull into their saffron clan.

Vandalizing Thiruvalluvar Statue

In between the charges and counter charges, the situation was heading from bad to worse as the statue of the poet at Pillaryatti Village in Thanjavur was pasted with cow dung by unknown miscreants. Again charges and counter charges were hurled. Promptly, Stalin accused the right-wingers were behind the act and condemned the BJP and its allies. Tit for tat, the BJP State leaders pointed fingers at the atheists behind the act of vandalism and desecration of the statue.

The Member of Parliament of DMK, MK Kanimozhi had said in a media statement issued on November 4, stating that the miscreants could only desecrate the statue of Thiruvalluvar but they would never be able to annihilate the poet’s ideology. “Thiruvalluvar’s ideology will remain forever,” she added.

Dispute

Although, none knows for sure what religion Thiruvalluvar belonged to or which faith he followed. As the historians assume that the poet could either be Shaivite or Vaishnavite. Few other historians believed Thiruvalluvar to be a Jain Saint. They also discount the possibility of the poet being an atheist, as Thiruvalluvar has written many couplets mentioning about Gods. Actor Kamal Hassan’s take was different. On November 5, 2019 the actor, who is ambitious of becoming the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, had said that Thiruvalluvar did not belong to any religion and he also asserted that it was wrong to show the bard belonging to any particular religion. So, all the political dispensations in Tamil Nadu had swayed on either sides and began arguments and counter arguments.

As of now, the controversy is not likely to settle anytime soon. With arguments and counter arguments and with the consolidation of various camps such and MNM and Rajani’s group on the one side and DMK and its allies on the other side, whether the act of the right-wing party and its ally, the AIDMK will be to win the next electoral battle, only time can tell.

Icon Of Distinct Culture

When the controversy is raging about the ancient poet’s religous ideology, the common man in Tamil Nadu rever him as an icon, who uphold their distinct culture. Believed to have been born sometime between third and fourth century, there is also belief that Thiruvalluvar would have born in the eight or ninth century. Tamil people consider Thiruvalluvar as a saint scholar who promoted Tamil language and wrote about rightous things without having any religious identity. But, the Dravidian followers too believe the poet as saint with Dravidian roots and not having any religious identity. The Saint had written the Thirukkural replete with 1,330 couplets, known as Kurals, writing about many virtues mankind had to follow in order to be rightous in their lives.

But the BJP’s contention was totally different. Stoking controversy, the National Secretary of the BJP, H. Raja, in an interview given to The Indian Express alleged that the athiest Dravidian party had removed Hindu symbols from depictions of the poet and he also contended that the Kurals was aking to Hindu Shasthra. Not content with that, Raja also alleged that the original poet had vermilion on his forehead and Hindu attire as well. Apparently during the DMK rule, they altered the appearance in order to give different colour simply for their political gains. The last straw was when he said that Thiruvalluvar’s works and life were also akin to Sanatana Dharma.

– Jayashankar Menon

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