Tamil nationalism has always been seen as a controversial political ideology by Indian nationalists, especially from Northern parts of India. The ruling Dravidian parties were once Tamil nationalists against the ideology of India during their inception. Dravidian stalwarts Periyar E.V.Ramasamy and C.N.Annadurai lead anti-Hindi agitations in Tamilnadu during the late 1930s and again during 1965, against the compulsory impulsion of Hindi as the official language in non-Hindi regions.
State autonomy is one of the central issues addressed by the Dravidian parties, to provide balanced powers to individual states across the subcontinent. Tamil Nadu, being one of the highest revenue earning states in India, has always perceived that the hard-earned money by the Tamils is being spent on the development of Hindi speaking regions in Northern and Central India, by the Union Government.
During the Indo Sino War in 1962, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader C.N.Annadurai announced that the demand for Dravidian Nadu, which roughly translates into Dravidian Nation, was dropped and his party would stand for the integrity and unity of India. Yet, Periyar E.V.Ramasamy never dropped his demand which was `Tamil Nadu, Thamizharukke!’ (Tamil Nadu for Tamils). While dropping his demand for a Dravidian nation, C.N.Annadurai said `The demands for Dravida Nadu are being dropped, but the reasons for a separate country still exist’.
While Tamil Nationalism or Dravidian Nationalism is still seen as a separatist ideology against the sovereignty and integrity of the Indian nation, this political ideology has remained the base for generations in Tamil Nadu. Separatism has not always been the motto of Tamil Nationalism, but the dissent against the hegemony of `Hindu – Hindi – India’ nationalism has been.
This has been the backdrop with which the political arena of Tamil Nadu has been built up. While there was a period when Dravidian nationalism and Tamil nationalism were seen as roughly close ideologies, now certain groups of Tamil nationalists have risen to claim their `rightful’ share against their Dravidian counterparts. The forerunners for this movement is Seeman, the leader of Naam Thamizhar Katchi (translated to, `We the Tamils’ party) and Pe. Maniyarasan, the leader of Thamizh Desiya Periyakkam (translated to `The Grand movement for Tamil Nationalism’). Though Pe. Maniyarasan lacks the charming oratory skills unlike Seeman, his dogma on Tamil nationalism is seen as a significant one.
Seeman and Pe. Maniyarasan were seen together recently in an event organised in Chennai by Naam Thamizhar Party. Along with these both leaders, there were representatives from Sikhs, Nagas, and Borok ethnic groups, who all stood together to protect the diversities of the ethnic minorities living within the framework of India.
Pe. Maniyarasan, who is a staunch opponent of Dravidian nationalism and conveys very often that the term `Dravidian’ is alienate to Tamils, recently announced that the Tamils should join together under the banner of `Hindu’ religion and collectively termed as `Hindu Tamils’. After his announcement on the new rhetoric on `Hindu Tamils’ received flak all over the progressive left and secular movements in Tamil Nadu, Maniyarasan evaded a question on this argument during the event, citing the presence of representatives from other ethnic minorities.
While Pe. Maniyarasan introduced the question of `Hindu Tamil’ in his Tamil nationalist ideology, Seeman recently called out for Christians and Muslims, who speak Tamil, to return to their `mother religion’. Although Seeman says that he considers the present homogenous structure of Hindu religion has been imposed upon various sects across the Indian subcontinent, he considers Saivism and Vaishnavism are the true `mother religions’ of Tamils and the major religious minorities who imported their religion from Europe and Arabia must revert to their roots.
Seeman rose to prominence, since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009. The civil war in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese majoritarian state and the LTTE, Tamil national militants, ended up with a large scale genocide against the minority Tamils living in Sri Lanka. Since 2009, Tamil Nadu has seen notable protests against the Sri Lankan Government and particularly, the Indian Government under UPA rule, for its assistance in ending the war. This was a time when DMK ruled Tamil Nadu and played a major role in the then UPA alliance. In 2009, DMK under M. Karunanidhi crushed protests by Tamil movements against the Union Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka, with an iron fist. As the war ended, the sentiments of Tamils were evoked across the globe, into a collective demise of their ethnic counterparts. Seeman capitalised on these sentiments and rose to power, invoking rivalry against M.Karunanidhi and his party DMK, which thereby lead to his agenda which was completely anti-Dravidian.
Seeman and his Naam Thamizhar party has openly advocated for Hitler and has given the Fuhrer a special place in its list of idealogues. If one attends a rally in which Seeman presides, there is a possibility that they could listen to Seeman’s fantasy tales of expeditions with LTTE chief Prabhakaran or his blatant quotes on Hitler on a positive note or to both. Seeman has been seen plenty of times, quoting Hitler and there has been an incident in which the German Nazi leader was given a special place among the ideologues of the Naam Thamizhar Party. Surprisingly, there is a State level speaker belonging to the Naam Thamizhar party, who has been named Himmler, in memory of Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany. While Adolf Hitler pointed out Jews as the major plague among the `pure’ breed of the Aryan race in Germany, Seeman calls out the immigrant Non-Tamil castes as the cause of the problem among the Native Tamil castes.
The Dravidian movement was anti-caste and put forward an egalitarian utopia, which resulted in the removal of surnames and caste names from the people of Tamil Nadu. The Tamils boast for not carrying the burden of caste along with their name due to the prolonged struggle of the Dravidian movement as a symbol of self-respect against the Casteist Brahmanism. Now caste lines are reappearing, thanks to Naam Thamizhar Party, for making friends and foes in the political spaces.
Seeman and his circle of Tamil nationalists have been against Dravidian ideology, because of these Nazi-inspired reasons. They have carved a way of politics, which has rejected Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, C.N.Annadurai and M.Karunanidhi for their roots belonging to the immigrant non-Tamil castes, despite the latter’s lifelong achievements for Tamil language and Tamil culture. Naam Thamizhar party has rejected Periyar despite his struggles against Brahmanism and the Indian establishment. The only other major political ideology that rejects Periyar in Tamil Nadu politics, other than the Naam Thamizhar party, is none other than the ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Tamil Nadu BJP has always criticised Periyar E.V.Ramasamy, for his beliefs and movement against the Brahmanical religion. Periyar is also considered a separatist by the BJP, for his ideas on Tamil Nadu and the emancipation of the Tamils from the clutches of Brahmanical slavery. While RSS has engulfed several atheist leaders, Periyar remains a hindrance to the growth of BJP in Tamil Nadu. Soon, BJP could easily remove Periyar from the heart of Tamil Nadu politics, due to what the ruling DMK has been doing ever since BJP tagged them as an Anti-Hindu party.
DMK, under M.Karunanidhi, was a slight replica of the old Dravidian movement, despite its ties with the NDA alliance during the 2001 polls. M.Karunanidhi made all efforts on not compromising on the development of Non-Brahmin OBCs within the state and even passed state-run programmes for their upliftment. After the General Elections in 2014 and after the demise of the Dravidian stalwart M.Karunanidhi in 2018, DMK began playing a defendant to BJP’s game. BJP has announced DMK as an Anti-Hindu party, so that religious consciousness could be kindled across the state.
Despite defeating the BJP-AIADMK alliance in both Parliament and Assembly elections, DMK has stuck to play accordingly with the rhetorics of the BJP. There have been various incidents in which DMK leaders have spoken to the press that DMK is a party comprising cadres who majorly belong to the Hindu religion. Tamil Nadu state Ministers belonging to DMK were seen together praying Bharat Mata diety along with Tamil Nadu RSS leaders. One Minister inaugurated a memorial for Bharat Mata which was built using public funds. DMK Government arrested Fr. George Ponnaiyah, a Christian pastor, for raising his dissent against the pseudo-secularism by DMK ruled State Government and the Hindutva politics of the BJP ruled Union Government.
After gaining the power to Assembly, DMK Government announced schemes and programmes under the Ministry of Hindu Rituals and Charity Endowments. Various properties, belonging to Hindu temples, under encroachment were confiscated. In addition to Sanskrit, Tamil has been announced as the additional language of Archana in Hindu temples. The major reformation in the Hindu religion, by providing Priesthood for all castes was announced by the DMK Government. Placing Tamil and people belonging to Backward communities within the sanctum sanctorum of the Hindu temples is a bold and welcoming move. These important reformations were put forward as rebellious activities by the Dravidian predecessors.
In an era of Hindu consolidation by the Sangh Parivar, the reformation within the Hindu religion to provide more theological power to Non-Brahmins will certainly benefit the Sangh Parivar’s ultimate goal, Hindu consolidation. On the other hand, Sangh Parivar removes Backward classes from the Legislative wing, the introduction of Economic based reservations to the General category and eroding of OBC reservations. DMK has no plans against the Hindu consolidation strategy by the Sangh Parivar, but it plans to cultivate the votes from the consolidated Hindu community. Hindu consolidation, in this context, is not a journey towards an egalitarian society, but to create the `othering’ of the minorities.
Arulmigu Kapaleeswarar Arts and Science College, an educational institution managed by the Ministry of Hindu Rituals and Charity Endowments, has posted a job advertisement in major newspapers seeking Assistant Professors. This advertisement mentions `Only Hindus can apply’, thereby questioning the very secular fabric of the Dravidian ideology which was put forward by the predecessors. This incident can show us where DMK’s way of Hindu consolidation is going.
Moreover, DMK also has a new way of reducing Periyar, just to a Saviour of Social Justice. Although Periyar can be rightfully termed the `Saviour of Social Justice’, his vision is beyond social justice. The term `Social Justice’ has now been reduced to providing reservations to socially backward communities in Education and Employment. This reduction is moreover delinking Periyar from his crusade towards the annihilation of caste, towards the emancipation of women freedom and his vision for an egalitarian Tamil Nadu. Even Tamil Nadu BJP, the staunch critics of Periyar, welcomes DMK’s announcement to celebrate Periyar’s birthday as the `Social Justice Day.’ Yet, it is notable that Seeman’s Naam Thamizhar Party rejected this announcement.
Tamil Nationalism is a controversial and separatist subject, from the Indian viewpoint. Moreover, it is a long road to achieve, as C.N.Annadurai said, the reasons for a separate nation exist and it is the reasons which need to be addressed. If Tamil nationalism or Dravidian politics is to be practised during the contemporary Modi – Yogi era, both Tamil nationalists and Dravidian parties need Periyar by their side; The former rejects Periyar based on their racist philosophy and the latter selectively presents Periyar as a commodity to suit their present needs.
On Dravidian nation, Periyar said, `Muslims, Adi Dravida (Dalits), Christians, Buddhists and all other minorities are Dravidians and they will have their liberty to profess their faith, like the rest of the others.’ Unfortunately, the secular Indian nationalism by the Congress, the Hindu nationalism by the RSS, the Tamil Nationalism as put by Seeman and his circle and the Dravidian parties with bound with Indian Nationalism failed to deliver what Periyar promised. Yet Periyar will always carry the tag of being a `separatist’.
Ilyas R Muhammed is a Chennai based independent journalist and writer.