The alliance between the ruling AIADMK and the BJP in Tamil Nadu has run into friction over the saffron party’s Vetrivel Yatra with the former insisting that it will not allow any procession that aims to disrupt the peace and the harmony in the state.
“Tamil Nadu will not allow any procession or yatra that seeks to divide people in the name of caste or religion,” stated a column published Monday in the AIADMK’s mouthpiece, Namadhu Amma.
The standoff between the allies comes ahead of the visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to Chennai on November 21 to strategize with BJP’s state unit for the 2021 assembly elections. On Sunday, BJP’s state president L Murugan, announced that Shah will attend government programmes and his maiden visit since taking over as Union minister was expected to boost the morale of the cadre.
The BJP has recently appointed its national general secretary CT Ravi as in-charge of the state. The party has been attempting to make inroads into Tamil Nadu where it is battling a perception of being an outsider. The party which swept the 2014 and 2019 general elections hasn’t been able to recreate its electoral dominance in Tamil Nadu. The DMK won 37 of 38 Lok Sabha seats in 2019 drubbing the AIADMK-BJP combine. But in the assembly bypolls conducted simultaneously, AIADMK won 9 of the 22 seats to retain power. The DMK won 13.
While the AIADMK has been a loyal partner by supporting BJP’s stance at the Centre on issues such as the CAA, triple talaq and the farm bills, it has asserted itself recently in the state’s interests on issues of NEET and NEP. An AIADMK leader who did not wish to be named said that any truck with the BJP will affect their performance. Political observers also say that the BJP wants to be seen as a contender against the DMK.
The month-long Vetrivel yatra was designed to consolidate the Hindu vote bank by invoking Lord Muruga, a popular deity amongst the Tamils. The BJP wants to expose what it views as “anti-Hindu and anti-Tamil propaganda”. The yatra stemmed from a controversy when BJP went up against a Youtube channel Karuppar Kootam which ridiculed Kandha Sashti Kavasam, a devotional hymn dedicated to Lord Muruga.
“It seems like Lord Muruga is being hijacked by the Aryan discourse,” said Ramu Manivannan, head, politics and public administration department, University of Madras. “BJP is bringing in a Hindu narrative which may create some dent but that number will be insignificant. Radicalisation of the Hindus in the north is different. While the Ram mandir issue is a captivating situation in the north, people in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have been marching for Lord Muruga for a long time, so they don’t need BJP to campaign for them now.”
Though BJP leaders say they are hurt with the opinion piece in the AIADMK mouthpiece and feel it was unnecessary, both parties maintain that there is no strain in their ties even while their representatives wrangle over the matter at the Madras high court.
“Both Karuppar Kootam and those holding saffron flags should understand that unity and harmony prevails in Tamil Nadu,” said the AIADMK opinion piece. This was in response to BJP’s newly appointed Mahila Morcha national president, Vanathi Srinivasan’s comments on the yatra. Srinivasan clarmed that the AIADMK misunderstood her comments. “We are alliance partners but that doesn’t mean we will not raise people’s issues,” Srinivasan said. “We want to expose the hypocrisy of political parties in the state who don’t object to those ridiculing Hindu dharma.”
The BJP has accused opposition DMK leader M K Stalin of backing the arrested members of the Youtube group. DMK denied any role in it but has steered clear of commenting on the yatra.
“The BJP is thinking that they will pit the Tamil parties as being against religion. But opposition parties will pitch it as a Dravidian versus Aryan discourse,” said Manivannan. “Tamil Nadu views them as communalising the social environment. They are unlikely to eat into DMK’s Hindu votes.”