In a state where Hindu social identity continues to remain in the overarching Dravida umbrella, the ‘Hindutva’ political identity does not have the same, or even near-similar electoral purchase, says N Sathiya Moorthy.
Despite repeated proclamations about the inevitable and immediate emergence of a strong and widespread ‘Hindutva vote-bank’ in what is euphemistically called ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu, if there is one, it is yet to see the light of the day.
The reasons are many, at times inter-linked, and are not always far to seek -- though all of it boils down to the state not backing not only a ‘Hindutva’ polity worth the name in electoral terms but also a ‘nationalist’ electoral entity, be it of the 21st century Hindutva variety or the 20th century non/anti-Hindutva Congress variety.
To begin with, even at the height of the Periyar-led ‘anti-Brahmin, anti-god movement’, which Hindutva acolytes want to see as the core of the ‘Dravidian political ideology’, the Justice Party in its time and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in its time were electoral successes, long before the intervening years/decades of the rival Indian National Congress.
If anything, barring a relatively brief period (1937-67, with nine-year break from 1939-46), the ‘Dravidian polity’ in whatever form and content has ruled the present-day Tamil Nadu areas with a rigour and continuity unmatched in the history of Gandhian and post-Gandhian India, since the twenties of the previous century.
This became possible because -- and only because -- ‘believers’ across all religions and communities voted the Dravidian parties despite their perceived socio-political agendas, especially against gods and Brahmins, that too especially of Periyar’s Dravidar Kazhagam, first, and its politico-electoral offshoot in the DMK later on.
This was also the reason why god-fearing leaders like Rajaji with his Swatantra Party, Qaid-e-Milleth Mohammed Ismail, leader of the Indian Union Muslim League, which openly identified with a religious faith, could happily do electoral business with the ‘anti-god, anti-Brahmin’ DMK, which was also perceived ‘anti-national’ until then, in elections 67.
It is now Dravidian folklore, how the DMK came to power in that elections, uprooting the ruling Congress and how the party’s national president K Kamaraj, chief minister M Bhaktavatsalam and most of his ministers lost their assembly seats -- and how the ‘Dravidian twins’ in the DMK parent and the breakaway AIADMK have continued to be in power alternatively.
It is not as if the non-Dravidian, or anti-Dravidian polity to be more precise, section of the state’s polity did not have the occasion to avenge the defeat of ‘nationalist’ forces, again of the Hindutva or non-Hindutva variety in their time. But political priorities took precedence over social realities, if the latter were any, and electoral entities other than those carrying the Dravidian name-tag, have refused to make a mark.
In the ’70s, soon after the split in the monolith ruling DMK and the formation of the breakaway AIADMK under popular film-star M G Ramachandran was expected to help their common Congress rival to return to power -- riding on its stronger poll-figures from the immediate past. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had led a vertical split in the Indian National Congress in 1969, was ready to make up with Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu, if not with all party rivals.
However, the intervening Emergency and the death of Kamaraj, meant that traditional Congress voters who might have despised the DMK still for its anti-god, anti-religion past political stance, would move away to the AIADMK, instead. Cutting across religions, castes and communities, they had stayed with the Congress even in what was otherwise an ‘anti-Congress mandate’ in 1967.
The wholesale migration of the god-fearing erstwhile Congress voters to MGR’s side, putting ‘DMK’s corruption and lawlessness’ ahead of the latter’s still suspected religious beliefs, meant that the AIADMK won the 1977 assembly polls and became chief minister.
In turn, this imposed a condition on MGR to constantly come out n the open, wearing his hidden religious beliefs from the Dravidian past, as if to disprove his critics and suspects alike. After a time, MGR would do so, to retain his ‘non-Dravidian voters’ alongside his sworn fans and ‘Dravidian electoral converts’ with the result his political heir Jayalalithaa could do so even more openly, at times forcefully, too.
Yet, at some point or the other, either MGR or Jayalalithaa in their time or their self-appointed post-death guardian angels would find ‘Dravidian ways’ to inter their physical self and erect a memorial on the burial site, though as born Hindus they should have been cremated. In comparison, the DMK government of Karunanidhi permitted the families of Rajaji and Kamaraj to cremate their bodies and still erect official memorials on the same site.
If the Tamil voters were not confused about distinguishing personal beliefs of the god and priestly Brahmin kind from political administration and electoral democracy, it is the so-called Hindutva and/or nationalist polity that was overly confused about their own priorities as far as ‘Dravidian’ Tamil Nadu was/is concerned. First, after MGR’s death in 1987, the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi first let the late G K Moopanar-centric state Congress to contest the 1989 assembly poll on its own -- but changed tack, and aligned with the re-unified AIADMK, now under Jayalalithaa for the Lok Sabha polls of 1991.
The BJP, first under Vajpayee-Advani duo, and more so recently after the successive deaths of Jayalalithaa and DMK’s Karunanidhi, was talking about going it alone and big, and capture Tamil Nadu as if it were waiting to be taken. When push came to shove, the ‘Modi magic’ wilted in Tamil Nadu, and has since scrambled for more allies than in most other states.
It’s all a clear indication that ‘national compulsions’ weigh more for the leaderships of national parties than state-wise priorities and claims to the revival of a non-existent ‘identity vote-bank’ -- Hindutva and/or ‘Hindu nationalist’ vote-bank, in this case. It also flowed from a belated yet meaningful realisation that it was there only on paper earlier -- and on the social media, now.
What is now seen and heard more vociferously as a Hindutva vote-bank in Dravidian Tamil Nadu in the last couple of decades is only that section of the ‘anti-Dravidian ideology’ votes that the Congress had obtained/retained in the elections since 1957, when alone the unified DMK entered the poll fray directly -- full eight years after formation, in 1949.
If anything, in a new generation where the compulsions that had haunted MGR to display his religious beliefs occasionally at the very least is upon DMK’s Stalin, too, the first-time voters and their immediate previous ones have no real use for the social media memes and messages that taunt the party for association with DK’s K Veeramani or the past pronouncements of Stalin and Kanimozhi, or those of VCK’s Thol Thirumavalavan, all of them with anti-god, anti-Hindu overtones.
Among these pro-Hindu/pro-Hindutva memes and other social media messages, those with an anti-Brahmin overtone/overdose does not sell to non-Brahmin audiences, who are numerically stronger -- with their own caste-based interests, be it in admissions to institutions of higher education or government jobs, where history has taught them what is good for their community, one way or the other.
What more, the Google-niks among them also know that even under the Justice Party regimes, and until after the advent of the nation’s Constitution and the Supreme Court of India’s verdict in the ‘Champakam Dorairajan case’ (1951), the Brahmin community too continued to enjoy 16 per cent reservations -- which according to them, was anyway disproportionately high, compared to the community’s share in the state’s population, then and now.
There is no denying the advent of what is perceived as a ‘Hindutva vote-bank’ in southern Kanyakumari district after the ‘Mandaikadu riots’ (1982), in neighbouring Tirunvelveli district post-‘Meenakshipuram conversions’ (1981) and in western Coimbatore in the aftermath of the ‘Coimbatore serial blasts’ of 1998. Looking deeper, it is still discernible that these were ‘nationalist votes’ of the Congress kind that looked at possible alternatives to the Dravidian polity in a limited way -- and settled for the BJP in its place. This also meant that the BJP would win the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat (only) in multi-cornered contests even while the two Dravidian majors fared poorly, with the Congress still above them -- in multi-cornered contests.
In a generation where Periyar’s ‘black attire’ for his cadres -- which was a mark of protest -- has acquired respect when worn a thousand times more by bhakts of Lord Ayyappa in the hill-abode of Sabarimala in neighbouring Kerala, and DMK’s Stalin is more open about his wife Durga’s religious beliefs than possibly MGR about his own, Hindu social identity continue to remain, but ‘Hindutva’ political identity does not have the same, or even near-similar electoral purchase!
It was thus when the ‘Vajpayee promise’ and ‘Modi magic’ did bring in an additional 5-6 per cent extra votes to the BJP alliance in the 1998/99 and the 2014 LS polls, respectively, the party share reverted to the customary 2-3 per cent without a ‘Dravidian ally’ -- clearly indicating that the extra votes came from the pool of ‘undecided/swing voters’, who were willing to try out a different recipe but not when its chances of victory in the state were unclear and unsure all the same.
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and political analyst, is director, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai chapter.