Over the past few months in Tamil Nadu, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been desperately trying to seek attention in the political theatre of the state. With a negligible percentage of votes to its credit, the party is leaving no stone unturned to resort to petty political gains. From roping in caste organisations to admitting history-sheeters and actors into its fold, the party is trying everything to capture votes.
In Tamil Nadu, the party has been unable to take up people's issues which would project it as an alternative. Adverse impacts of the policies pursued by the Centre have also been a hindrance to the party.
The party is resorting to its tried and tested model of inciting religious tensions, with a yatra being planned from November 6 which will traverse through the six abodes of Lord Muruga across Tamil Nadu. It will conclude on December 6, the day on which the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.
The Manusmriti Row
The party has been inducting a long list of history sheeters, actors, including Kushbhu, and former civil servants known for their proximity with the sangh parivar organisations. Such moves have hardly brought it any positive press, with most of the inductees being controversial given their track record.
The party saw a new opening when the controversy over the Manusmriti broke out last week. It proceeded to make a mountain out of a mole hill by accusing Thol Thirumavalavan, the Chief of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) of demeaning women. Thirumavalavan quoted from the Manusmriti to show how the script was demeaning to women and marginalised communities in an event called 'Periyar and Indian Politics', which was organised by Periyarist organisations.
The BJP was selective in using an edited version of the speech and accused the VCK chief of demeaning women. The BJP went on to file a complaint, following which the VCK chief, who represents the Chidambaram Lok Sabha constituency, was booked by the police.
A public debate on the Manusmriti further gave the VCK and many women rights organisations a chance to lay bare the contents of the document.
The BJP was left defenseless as many of its Hindutva siblings' earlier positions, including opposing the Indian Constitution after Independence, came back to haunt the party. V.D. Savarkar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue, claimed that the book was as important as the Vedas.
He added that the book “has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice”. In turn, the book preaches untouchability and caste discrimination.
Portions of the book, including screenshots from the website, www.indianculture.gov.in and that of the BJP was widely circulated. BJP representatives had a tough time defending the script, with the book available even on the website managed by the Centre’s culture ministry. BJP spokespersons went on to claim that the book was not in existence and that a debate was unwarranted.
BJP’s Double Standards
The BJP’s women’s morcha protested against Thirumavalavan for quoting from the Manusmriti. However, the womens’ wing remained tight-lipped on the controversy surrounding Dr. Subbiah Shanmugam, national president of ABVP, who harassed a 62-year-old neighbour. As of now he is the head of department of Oncological Surgery, Kilpauk Medical College, in Chennai.
Dr. Shanmugam was accused of urinating and throwing garbage at the doorstep of his neighbor, an act that was caught on camera. The complaint was later withdrawn by the family of the woman. The controversial leader is now being appointed as a member of the board of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Madurai. He is also one of the board of directors of the Indian Institute of Technology, Palakkad.
Major political parties and members of parliament have raised objections over the appointment and have demanded that it be cancelled. The tried and tested procedure of nominating a member of parliament from the region where the hospital exists has not been followed.
ABVP leaders held a press conference on Friday and claimed that since the complaint was withdrawn and no case was pending against him, there was no need for action against its national president. The organisation claimed that it conducted an internal inquiry. Neither the state leadership of the party or the Mahila Morcha leadership has commented on the controversy.
What Next for the Party?
The Vetri Vel Yatra is set to begin on November 6, led by the BJP state president L. Murugan. The party plans on tapping the six abodes of Lord Muruga. The concluding date of the yatra has already stirred a controversy, as it is the same day the Babri Masjid was demolished, 28 years ago. Political parties have demanded that the state government denies permission for the yatra.
The party has nothing to show for in the state, as policies of the Narendra Modi-led union government have adversely affected it. The state government, led by the AIADMK, a trusted ally of the BJP, flayed the Centre on non-payment of Goods and Sales Tax dues. Other issues, including the implementation of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), the imposition of Hindi and the Farm Laws have played against the party.
The BJP can only criticise the AIADMK so much, since it largely depends on the ruling party for an entry into the next assembly. The BJP had four members in the twelfth assembly between 2001 and 2006, at a time when there was an alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Since then, the party has failed to send a member to the house.
The party seems to rely on star power, with many film stars flocking to it alongside history-sheeters who are wanted by the police. Using muscle power and invoking religious sentiments, the party is up to its usual tricks. A state which is far from large communal and religious clashes faces a threat on the horizon.