Tamil Nadu has remained safe from religious tensions and clashes, owing to the strong Dravidian identity prevailing among all the religious groups. The attempts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar outfits led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to consolidate the Hindu votes, remains largely unsuccessful.
The attempts of the Sangh Parivar to invoke religious sentiments on multiple occasions have ended up in vain, the Vetrivel yatra being a recent example. But, the BJP and the sangh parivar have made inroads in certain areas in the state, with its influence growing in Kanyakumari district.
The minorities, wary of the lurking danger of the growth of the BJP and other right wing groups, have a history of voting against the party and its alliance on several previous instances.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) have only alienated the minorities further from the BJP and its allies, including the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
BJP AND ITS FAILED POLARISATION
Chiristians and Muslims account for 12% of Tamil Nadu’s population. Muslims account for 5.86% while Christians have a slightly higher population of 6.12% according to the 2011 Census. Considering the district wise break up, Christian population is higher than the state average in nine districts while the Muslim population is higher in 13 districts of the total 32 districts (the number of districts have increased to 38 now).
The BJP has been desperately testing its successful model of invoking religious sentiments in the state, but has so far failed. The lower percentage of minorities in the districts have not helped the right wing forces.
“The Dravidian movements have prevented religious polarisation by successfully constructing a Dravidian identity among all the religions”, said Arun Kumar, assistant professor in Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru.
“The efforts of the party in projecting the issues like the alleged derogatory comments against Andal and Kandha Shasti Kavacham failed to yield the result the party might have wanted. This is purely due to the consolidation of non-Brahmins, including the minorities as Dravidians by the Dravidian parties”, Arun added.
The right wing groups are also highly active and getting involved in the conduct of Ganesh Chaturthi procession being their primary focus. The idol immersion process has a history of violence against the members of minority communities and their places of worship.
DRAVIDIAN IDENTITY AND MINORITIES
The involvement of the minorities in mainstream politics have also played a role in keeping the right wing forces away. The religious conflicts have hardly found a place in the state as the Dravidian movements has built their foundation on anti-brahmanical struggle from the pre-independence period.
“The minorities have always been part of the DMK and AIADMK for long. Even the minor Muslim parties continue to have a good rapport with these parties. The Dravidian parties have not identified themselves as the representatives of any particular religion so far, which is another factor to consider,” said writer and translator E P Chinthan.
The BJP’s formula of consolidating the Hindu votes could take longer than other states, as the caste fabric also remains strong in Tamil Nadu. The Dravidian parties have managed to keep away religious polarisation, but they have kept the caste equations in balance.
“It will be tough for the BJP to create a vote bank of its own. But, similar to many other states, the party is capturing the AIADMK slowly, thanks to the absence of a charismatic leadership”, Chinthan added.
Mob violence remained a stranger in Tamil Nadu until recently as the BJP and other right wing forces, including the Hindu Munnani and Indhu Makkal Katchi, have introduced it in recent years. Looting of shops, pelting stones to damage public property have happened in Coimbatore and Tirupur districts, where the organisations wield some influence, purely for their political gains.
THE KANYAKUMARI MODEL
Contrary to other parts of the state, Kanyakumari has become a successful laboratory of the right wing forces. The population and historical background of the district has contributed to the growth of the BJP here. The district has 51% minority population (Muslims 4.2% and Christians 46.85%).
From the dispute over the construction of the Vivekananda Memorial under the aegis of the Vivekananda Kendra in 1963 to the violence in Mandaikadu in 1983, the Sangh Parivar has played a role in polarising the district.
“The district was a part of the Travancore princely state till the linguistic states were formed. The dravidian politics had little say in the region and hence, the district is unique compared to other parts of the state. This background coupled with the higher minority population played in favour of the right wing forces,” said Arun.
The right wing forces have ensured their presence in temple committees and caste organisations and have their say in decision making in Kanyakumari.
“The right wing forces are conducting ‘religious classes’ for young kids in around 800 places, predominantly places close to or controlled by temple administrations in the district. The classes mainly focus on glorifying Hinduism and degrading other religions. Another major thing the BJP and RSS carried out in the district was the demand for scholarship for students of Hinduism. This helped in erosion of the strong Left vote base in the district as well”, added Arun.
Incidentally, the BJP is contesting from three of the six assembly constituencies and in the Kanyakumari Lok Sabha bypoll. The party has won twice in the Lok Sabha elections from here, while it had tasted success in one assembly constituency for two terms in 1984 and 1996.
IMPACT OF CAA, NRC, NPR
The minority vote consolidation is expected to intensify, given the introduction of the CAA, and the expected NRC and NPR. A similar pattern was also visible during the 2019 general elections, which dealt a severe blow to the AIADMK-BJP front that won a lone seat out of the 39 constituencies.
The BJP has been projecting the abrogation of Article 370 and introduction of the Triple Talak bill as its success, claiming the actions to be echoing the majority sentiments. The AIADMK is set to face the backlash for this.
Soon after the COVID-19 outbreak in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK government dubbed ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ participants as the major source of spread in the state. This hurt the minorities further since the AIADMK government had extended its support in the parliament for the CAA.
The peaceful protests by the Muslim organisations were targeted by the right wing forces, which received little attention from the AIADMK government, and instead it initiated police action against the protests.
The Christian population had their bitter experience in the protest against the Sterlite Plant in Thoothukudi and the protest against the proposed transhipment port in Kanyakumari. When the fisherfolk led the protest against the port citing livelihood issues, the BJP accused them of functioning at the behest of the missionaries from abroad. The AIADMK remained silent during the protest, much to the dismay of the community.
The minority community has by and large stood with the DMK for long. The policies and positions taken by the AIADMK has in no way attracted the minorities into its fold. The BJP on the other hand is desperately trying to woo the ‘hindu votes’ for its survival, but it seems like a distant dream.