‘Vetrivel Veeravel’, chanted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the election campaign meeting in Madurai on April 2. The chant, which could be translated as ‘Victorious Spear, Courageous Spear’ is closely associated with Lord Murugan and was used during wars.
It is rare for the people of Tamil Nadu to be an audience to religious chants in an election campaign, that, too, from the PM himself. Though the intentions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political progeny, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have never been a secret, their desperation seems to have reached new heights in the state.
The sangh parivar organisations have been trying to portray the elections as a fight between the believers and atheists, particularly targeting the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the communist parties in their campaigns.
With a long term plan to attract women towards right wing politics using religious beliefs, the organisations have been rolling several programs and campaigns to win their confidence.
FOCUS ON WOMEN
The women voters outnumber men by around 9.5 lakh in Tamil Nadu, which has a total of 6,29,43,512 electors. Women voters have always been under the radar of multiple political parties, which are evident from women friendly promises in their election manifestos. But, the right wing organisations have a different calculation altogether.
Also read: BJP’s Religious Polarisation: A Distant Dream in Tamil Nadu
The sangh parivar organisations have been working out different plans to lure women into their fold. The involvement of a considerable population of women in worshipping places is being explored and exploited by the right wing organisations.
“The religious beliefs among women is high in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. The RSS and other sangh parivar organisations are trying to utilise the emotions attached to the beliefs for electoral gains. They try to further propagate religious politics and politics of hate,” said Prof K Arunan, a writer and researcher, while speaking to NewsClick.
“One major program that the sangh parivar conducts for women is the ‘Thiruvilakku Pooja’ (Lakhsmi Pooja), during full moon days and other special events. The organisations establish and maintain contacts with women through such events. During elections they appeal to the women not to vote for those who hurt Hindu sentiments,” he added.
MISINFORMATION AND FAKE PROPAGANDA
As part of their polarising campaign, the sangh parivar organisations reportedly made a mountain out of a molehill and exaggerated the interpretation given to Kandhashasti Kavacham (a Hindu devotional song in Tamil Nadu) by a YouTube channel, Karuppar Kootam as a weapon to attack DMK and the left parties. A very strong campaign was carried out by individuals and organisations, against the parties by manipulating facts.
Beyond creating an uproar among the believers, the video published by right wing YouTuber Maridhas accused several journalists of being attached to the Dravidian Kazhagam (DK) and Karuppar Kootam channel. Surendra Natarajan, who sported a beard in the video was alleged of being a Muslim working in another channel.
“Such allegations appeal to the common people, particularly women devotees. The DMK and left parties have always refrained from degrading religious beliefs, but the BJP and other organisations try to portray them as anti-Hindus,” said Arunan.
The allegations led to sacking of employees from reputed news channels, while the Karuppar Kootam team was arrested and their videos removed.
This event led to the conduct of Vetrivel Yatra by the BJP, when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging in the state during November 2020. Though the program failed to garner the attention that BJP had longed for, it did help to make inroads in certain pockets, as per reports.
FUNDING TEMPLES AND INTRUDING IN COMMITTEES
In several places, the sangh parivar reportedly relies on women to spread their propaganda of hate through religious events. The temples, both run by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) of the government of Tamil Nadu and owned by trusts of different caste groups, appear to have become a feeding ground for the sangh parivar organisations.
Commenting on this, Samsudeen Heera, a writer based in Tirupur while speaking to NewsClick said, “The sangh parivar organisations identify temples longing for funds and take control of the activities. Soon after, a long list of fasts and poojas would be released, targeting women. Slowly women are fed with right wing propaganda.”
The role of businessmen from Gujarat and Rajasthan in funding the sangh parivar organisations have also reportedly increased in the recent decade in Coimbatore and Tirupur districts. Several women from North India were seen actively campaigning for BJP candidate Vanathi Srinivasan in Coimbatore (South) constituency.
Also read: TN Elections: Left Wields Pockets of Influence, Thanks to History of Leading People’s Struggles
“These business persons, who have a right wing mindset in general, fund the sangh parivar groups for their security, which are in turn being used for funding religious activities,” Heera further alleged.
Temples under HR&CE are also being used to conduct the Thiruvilakku Pooja and other festivals, which were hardly celebrated a few years ago.
"The right wing members form temple committees to decide on the day to day activities and traditional festivals. They take over the total control of the temples and inject communal venom amongst the followers, particularly women,” he said.
Ganesh Chathurthi and Krishna Jayanthi are the best examples of festivals being hijacked by sangh parivar organisations. Sporadic violence during Ganesh idol immersion procession are common in areas of minority population, while Krishna Jayanti organised by Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) primarily targets children.
‘DOUBLE STANDARD ON WOMENS’ RIGHTS’
In certain districts, women are entrusted with larger roles in propagating religious beliefs among children as well.
“The RSS does not provide membership to any women, but they are trying to utilise women for electoral gains. The organisations praise women for being equivalent to God, but denies every single right of women. The RSS which follows the principles of Manusmriti wants women to remain subordinates of men and deprive them of their rights,” Arunan said, highlighting the organisation’s dual standards.
The RSS reportedly organises religious classes in the temple premises for women and children on a regular basis to further expand their base. VHP, Hindu Munnani, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, Hindu Makkal Katchi are a few of the outfits entrusted with carrying out the works.
Giving details about these sessions, Arun Kumar, assistant professor of political science at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru, told NewsClick, "The classes are held on Sundays in which women are trained to teach children about religion and their beliefs. Women and children are certified a ‘Vidhya Shree’ and ‘Vidhya Jyoti’ for attending classes and passing examinations held by Matts.”
The ‘Hindu Dharma Vidya Peedam’ located in Vellimalai in Kanyakumari district is reportedly entrusted with such activities. Schools run by Hindu managements are also involved in conducting such festivals and classes.
Also read: Why BJP’s Hindutva Runs Into the Tamil Wall
The conduct of 'Samaya Vaguppu Manadu' (Religious Conference) along with temple festivals have also increased across the state. Leaders of the right wing groups including that of BJP and RSS are invited for these programs which are reportedly used to spread hate against other religious beliefs.
“The right wing organisations have made it a habit to degrade other religions to incite religious sentiments. They have tasted little success, since they failed miserably in the 2019 elections. But the impending danger must be handled by the political parties, like DMK and the left,” warned Arunan.
The BJP making a poll plank, focussing only on religious beliefs and sentiments have evoked a lukewarm response in Tamil Nadu so far, but their persistence is certainly posing a danger in the longer run. It now remains upto the Dravidian and left parties, with their campaign on scientific temper to expose the double standards of the sangh parivar in using religious beliefs to gain political mileage.