The BJP’s attempt to ascertain itself in Tamil Nadu suffered another setback when the state government denied permission to the month-long ‘Vetri Vel Yatra’, which was to take off on November 6.
The state government, in response to a public interest litigation filed in the Madras High Court against holding the procession, said it cannot grant permission to the Yatra because of the fear of second and third waves of COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the AIADMK government has successfully thwarted every attempt of the state BJP to consolidate its Hindu vote bank.
Earlier, BJP’s confidence got a boost after Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) became the chief minister of the state in 2017. During the initial months, EPS acted in accordance with BJP. In March 2018, the right wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad organised a nationwide ‘Ram Rajya Rath Yatra’. The procession passed without any opposition in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and even Left-dominated Kerala. But it met with fierce resistance in Tamil Nadu. DMK, VCK, MMK and some pro-Tamil organisations staged protests, but EPS defended the decision of allowing the yatra saying, “all religions must be treated equally”.
In 2019, the BJP joined hands with AIADMK in the Lok Sabha elections and the ruling government came to be seen as a ‘Team B’ of BJP. After Narendra Modi came to power for the second time at the Centre, the local BJP leaders decided to take on the Tamil pride head on. In a first such attempt, they tried to give a Hindu image to the statue of ‘Tamil Annai’ (Mother Tamil) and tried to appropriate Thiruvalluvar by giving him a saffron colour. The AIADMK leadership was in the know of things.
The year 2020 started with a clamour over superstar Rajinikanth’s speech during the 50th anniversary of the magazine ‘Thuglak’. In his speech, Rajinikanth made references to Periyar and alleged that in 1971, at an event organised by the reformer at Salem, the idols of Rama and Sita were paraded without clothes and garlanded with footwear. In April, the BJP raised the Tablighi Jamaat incident in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic. By this time, the relationship between AIADMK and state BJP leaders started to sour and the former came forward to contain the right wing groups’ “hate campaigns” against Muslims over a single-source incident.
In July, BJP picked up an old YouTube video (Karuppar Koottam) to claim the channel has misinterpreted Kanda Shasti Kavacham. Before the situation could spiral out of control, the state government detained the channel members and got the objectionable videos deleted.
Later in the month, the statues of Periyar and MGR, the founder of AIADMK, were defaced allegedly by BJP members. This incident deepened the divide between AIADMK and BJP. In response, the state denied Hindu Munnani the permission to carry out an idol procession on the occasion of Vinayaka Chathurthi in August. In Madras High Court, the state contended that the permission was denied because of Covid lockdown.
The denial of permission angered the BJP and one of its IT wing coordinators made sexist remarks against AIADMK supremo late J Jayalalithaa. It seemed like the final nail in the coffin. Later during a press briefing, BJP state president L Murugan, however, said they would continue the alliance with AIADMK in 2021 assembly elections. On the contrary, the party’s senior leader and former MP Pon Radhakrishnan said they will forge a new alliance and said “the party which joins hands with them only can form a government”.
The ‘Manusmriti’ row is the latest to stir controversy. An allegedly old video of VCK founder Thol Thirumavalavan has been circulated on social media in which he criticized the contents of ‘Manusmriti’ – an ancient Hindu scripture. The BJP decided to milk the situation by bringing women to the centrestage.
Ironically, actor turned politician Khushbu Sundar, who recently shifted her loyalties from Congress to BJP, had earlier been attacked by the BJP for her comments on premarital sex. Now, Khushbu is campaigning against Thirumavalavan, saying “he disrespects women”.
The ‘Vetri Vel Yatra’ was the latest attempt of the state BJP to mobilize the people of Tamil Nadu to its way of thinking. The inability of state BJP leaders to secure permission from the state government for the procession has got the BJP’s top leadership upset. The impact was evident when none of the party leaders from Tamil Nadu got any position in the recently appointed new team of BJP office-bearers.
BJP state general secretary Prof R Srinivasan sounded upset over the state’s refusal to grant permission to the Vetri Vel Yatra. “We were talking about conducting Vel Yatra for the past one month. We gave written proposals to the government asking for its permission, but the government did not grant or reject the permission in a written form. We tried to have discussion with the state government officials. We want to know why the government officials are not ready to have a discussion with us. What prevents them?” said R Srinivasan.
When asked if the differences with the state government on a variety of issues will affect BJP’s relationship with the AIADMK, Srinivasan said, “The alliance dynamics are different.”