‘Sri Rama Sethu’ and Karunanidhi’s existential dilemma!

“A model of development and a haven for mayhem!”

The state is a mix of paradoxes. It is one of India’s most developed states. And yet it is one of her most conservative societies. The state is home to a glorious ancient culture and literary tradition. It has produced great litterateurs and musicians and seers and scientists. The state has the maximum number of temples in any Indian state, many of them built to magnificent scale in size or architectural grandeur. That the temples in the state continue to practice ancient traditions of worship and rigid dress codes is surprising in a state ruled by professed atheists for over half a century.

Most middle class families in the state initiate their girl children into the study of classical music or Bharata Natyam to nurture their artistic sensibilities. The growing crowds every year at Tiruvayyur during the annual Tyagaraja Aradhana festival are proof of this. And lumpen elements find their way into the cadres of political parties to cause murder and mayhem for love or for money. During the anti-Hindi agitation in the sixties its crowds burnt alive, police officers, who in the line of their duty obstructed them from venting their anger by burning public property. The people of the state are very expressive in their emotions. This could be the reason for the Thalaivars or Thalaivis (leaders, male or female) to encourage their cadres to prostrate before them in public, as an expression of reverence. For the same reason, it was no surprise, when some of its citizens were so grieved that they did not hesitate to immolate themselves when their hero MGR passed away. They can make a temple for an actress one day if her anatomy is appealing enough and bring it down when is she is seen to be crossing a conservative Rubicon.

In Tamil Nadu, democracy and freedom of expression, lofty ideals for media men and women, are only to praise the Thalaivars or Thalaivis with encomiums and prefixes like Puratchi (revolutionary) and Kalaignar (litterateur). Even the most virtuous journalists dare not omit prefixing the names of Thalaivars or Thalaivis with the honorary doctorates that the states’ universities routinely confer on them like confetti in a wedding. Governance in the state is in a permanent state of musical chairs with the Thalaivars or Thalaivis of one dynasty alternating the other.

Political parties nurture private armies of goons to do their bidding. When these mobs go on a rampaging spree no body save their masters are safe. We have seen only recently, the internecine warfare within the ruling dynasty spilling out into the streets of many towns causing murder and mayhem. All in the name of social justice and secular ideals, it saw the burning of a newspaper’s offices with some unfortunate employees included. This is not something new to the state. Beating up of journalists for offending the Thalaivars orThalaivis has been such regular a happening that it no longer surprises.

T. N. Seshan the tall Chief Election Commissioner who made mighty political parties cover did not find the five-star Taj Coromondel hotel in Chennai safe, when he uttered something that displeased a Puratchi Thalaivi. Her goons ransacked the hotel guarded by one of the most powerful security companies that money can buy, only to find that the bird has flown the coup. Her private army did not flinch when ordered to kidnap the editor of a national, secular newspaper in the capital of a neighbouring state. She did not hesitate to have a Shankaracharya arrested on trumped up charges when he crossed her path or when she felt that it would serve her political interests.

Anti-Brahmanism as a credo…

The lynching of Alfred Dreyfuss in Paris is said to be an indication of simmering anti-Semitism in Europe, which led David Ben Gurion to seriously contemplate the need for a separate Jewish state. The roots of anti-Brahmanism in Tamil Nadu are not clear but may have something to do with Christian missionary work. In any case it gave Ramaswami Naicker a handle to beat Brahmins with holding them responsible for all ills of the society although they have, if at all, only exceptionally wielded political power.

The Dravidian movement made persecution of Brahmins its ideological plank to seize political power. The tufts that they wore as a religious symbol were pulled causing acute pain, the holy tilak they wore was licked or forcibly erased, their customs ridiculed and their women molested. The situation of Brahmins during most of the twentieth century in the state was similar to that of the Kashmiri Pundits in J & K during the last decades of the century. The cream of them emigrated to other states or nations. Those who remain have to struggle for their existence in a state in which they are overtly not wanted. The reservation policy, an instrument of positive discrimination that gave a handicap to the downtrodden in other states, is an oxymoron in Tamil Nadu as at 69% it is designed to only exclude Brahmins from jobs, educational institutions and parliamentary democracy. There was a time when political persecution was extended to institutions owned by Brahmans as well and The Hindu, it was said, contemplated moving to Bangalore. Indira Gandhi’s infamous emergency was a godsend for Tamil Nadu and more for the paper as she dismissed the Karunanidhi government based on charges of possible secession and corruption. The grateful owners of the paper jumped on to the Samachar News Agency bandwagon shunned by all self-respecting newspapers as it was formed as a handmaiden to sub-serve her majesty’s interests and to control the flow of news and information. The Veeranam project conceived to transport drinking water to Madurai was never completed but the ‘existential dilemma’ of evidence saved Karunanidhi from corruption charges – as all other political leaders in India at whom a ‘needle of suspicion’ pointed. And as the wheel of musical chairs turned to bring his party back into power the charges were totally dropped.

As the Hindu religion and rituals are considered a part of Brahminical culture it was portrayed as a north Indian import and the myth of Aryan north and the Dravidian south was fuelled as a continuous tool to achieve political ends. Although later archaeological and other scientific evidence negated the ‘Aryan-as-an-alien’ theory, originally propounded by Christian missionaries to drive a wedge in the Hindu society, it suits the Dravidian parties to continue with its perpetuation.

The recent remarks of Karunanidhi, the secular chief minister of Tamil Nadu, posing an existential dilemma about Sri Rama whom millions of Indians worship fits into the general scheme of Dravidian politics, exhibiting if not ignorance of advances in scientific knowledge, low animal cunning pandering to a constituency that may be slowly slipping away as the imaginary enemy, the emasculated Brahmin is no longer a perceptible threat.

An apology will only enhance Karunanidhi’s stature…

When his predecessor, for personal or political reasons resorted to having the Shankaracharya of Kanchi arrested, there were no violent protests in the state, mostly because the Hindu pontiff was perceived as an icon of the Brahmin community, known for its stoic forbearance of hardships and not given to violent expressions of anger. While most of the secular media remained a mute spectator, The Statesman of Kolkota was the one newspaper, which exhibited courage, objectivity and balance in questioning it. In an editorial entitled “God, man, law – Is India principled, secular enough?” the paper asked, “Jayendra Saraswati is acknowledged as a pontiff of India’s majority community, and that hasn’t stopped his arrest. But it could be asked, could the law go as far with religious leaders of the minority community – that, too, is a test of secularism.”

Could one ask whether Karunanidhi who wanted to know which engineering college Sri Rama attended for constructing the Sethu, would be bold enough to ask people of other faiths to proffer proofs of their messiahs and their credentials? And by the same token could one ask an atheist to obtain a postgraduate degree in genetics and prove the legitimacy of his birth?

According to the scripture, Sri Rama respected the word of a lowly citizen as more venerable than familial ties. Would the erudite Karunanidhi be gracious enough to respect the sentiments of millions of his own citizens and apologise for hurting their sentiments? It will only enhance his stature as a great leader.