Tamil Nadu is fast turning into a cauldron of religious bigotry, with Periyarists and the BJP at loggerheads. In recent months, there has been a running battle between supporters of the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) and forces of Hindutva, represented by the RSS and some of its frontal organisations.
The recent campaign by Karuppar Koottam (Black Group), which runs a YouTube channel with the apparent aim of exposing Hindutva beliefs, against Kanda Sashti Kavacham, a hymn extolling the protection provided by Lord Muruga, led to a massive outrage not just from Hindutva forces but the public at large.
Kanda Sashti Kavacham, a hymn by Devaraya Swamigal in the 19th century, was composed to music by Soolamangalam Sisters — Rajalakshmi and Jayalakshmi — and was a phenomenal success even as a private, devotional album, breaking records.
Like the Vaishnavites would listen to Suprabatham rendered by MS Subbulakshmi, the Shaivites use the Kanda Sashti Kavacham on a regular basis, almost every morning. The soulful rendering by the Soolamangalam Sisters has moved millions of Hindus across the world, including the vast Tamil diaspora.
The Karuppar Kootam YouTube diatribe against the Kanda Sashti Kavacham, calling it an obscene hymn, has enraged not just Hindus but also right-thinking sections of society, who want peace and amity. It was part of the Aabaasa Puraanam (Vulgar Epics) series that it was running on the channel.
Petitions were filed by the BJP and various sections of the administration, including the Coimbatore collector and the police, demanding action against Surendra Natarajan, the perpetrator of the show. With the heat on him, Natarajan surrendered before Puducherry police after cops arrested his associate Senthivasan. While Natarajan claims to be an atheist, it is clear that his group targets Hinduism.
The public outrage over the Karuppar Koottam video has led to the group withdrawing the offensive video, and also clarifying that it was merely following the path of rationalist leader late ‘Periyar’ EV Ramaswami.
The DMK too has been quick to condemn the video. Its senior leader KN Nehru said the party did not believe in hurting the sentiments and beliefs of any religious community or religion and asked followers to identify such elements and maintain distance from them. In earlier times, the DMK would have stood by such Periyarists, but in this case, there is a realisation that the public ire could turn against parties which supported the Karuppar Koottam.
DMK president MK Stalin has been keen to avoid giving any impression that the party is against Hinduism and Hindus. Another DMK spokesman RS Bharathi has also condemned the vilification of Lord Muruga by the Karuppar Koottam.
As expected, the Karuppar Koottam video has been cited by BJP activists to smear a Periyar statue in Coimbatore with saffron paint, which too has been condemned by various political parties. With tit-for-tat and retaliatory tactics prevailing, the controversy will continue to rage for some time.
BJP’s efforts to polarise unsuccessful
The BJP hasn’t had much success in its efforts to polarise the society in Tamil Nadu on religious lines as it has been able to do in northern and western parts of the country. The party’s poor performance in the state in successive elections has caused the party’s national leadership concern.
Tamil Nadu remains one of its biggest weaknesses, with the DMK, in alliance with the Congress and the Left, having won 38 of the 39 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019 Lok Sabha election. It has been looking at ways and means for upping the ante, and whipping up a religious frenzy.
Nothing could have come to the rescue of the BJP more than the vicious attacks of the Karuppar Koottam. If the BJP wanted a God-sent opportunity to help the party promote Hindutva consciousness and try to polarise society on religious lines, the Karuppar Koottam has been an act of God as far as the BJP is concerned. What the BJP functionaries have not been able to do, the Karuppar Koottam has achieved for it overnight.
Left-wing fundamentalists and extremist-minority groups claim to fight the RSS, but they end up as pillars of support for the RSS, which thrives on organisations like the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, which, in turn, thrive on the RSS. They support each other and grow because of each other.
Both have an agenda of neutralising moderates, peace-lovers, and pushing more and more people to take to extremist views. While the two sides occupy space at the end of the spectrum, the moderates and the mainstream parties are pushed out of the equation. The BJP does not mind the growth of extremist leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, as they fan so much hatred that there is a Hindu backlash.
Similarly, Left parties and the Congress are pushed towards irrelevance as polarisation reaches higher levels. The society gets divided on religious lines rather than political or social lines. So far, this strategy of the BJP has not worked well in Tamil Nadu.
But the party now hopes that the revulsion against acts of organisations like the Karuppar Koottam will hasten the process of polarisation. With enemies like the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind and Karuppar Koottam, the BJP doesn’t need allies.