Atheists unite in TN after Rajini says focus on ‘spiritual politics’

The emergence of the atheists’ “coalition” comes about a week before the actor’s scheduled announcement of his party on December 31

Earlier this month, Rajinikanth had announced he will launch his political party in January, regarding which he will make an announcement on December 31 | File Photo: PTI

Several atheists’ groups in Tamil Nadu have formed a “coalition against spiritual politics” after superstar Rajinikanth said his to-be-launched party would focus on “spiritual politics”.

The emergence of the atheists’ “coalition” comes about a week before the actor’s scheduled announcement of his party on December 31. They said they’ll begin their campaigning from December 24, the death anniversary of reformer Periyar.

Over the last two months, the state has witnessed several religion-centric issues, including demonising of Muslims as “single source” of infection for the Covid-19 spread, outrage over the misinterpretation of Kandha Sashti Kavacham, and the BJP’s differences with ally AIADMK over permissions for Vinayaka Chaturthi procession and Vetri Vel Yatra. These were alleged to be done by the BJP to polarise the state on communal basis ahead of the 2021 assembly elections.

In this backdrop, Rajinikanth’s statement on focussing on “spiritual politics” had triggered a lot of discussions and speculations that he would tread on the BJP’s path. Rajinikanth has, however, clarified his party would follow “secular spiritual politics”.

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On this, KS Nagarajan, coordinator, Tamil Nadu Dravidar Kazhagam, one of members of the atheists’ coalition, accused the BJP of trying to change the foundation of polity of the state through a popular face like Rajinikanth, justifying the need for forming their coalition.

“Tamil Nadu is a land of social justice and its politics is based on that. But the BJP, through a mass actor like Rajinikanth, is trying to change the very foundation of polity here. It’s trying to convert the state to those of north India where religion comes before everything. To counter the religion-based political narrative, we have formed this coalition,” he said.

So far, about 10 organisations have joined the coalition that has planned to campaign through handbills and seminars. When elections are around the corner, it has planned to organise public meetings across Tamil Nadu.

Nagarajan explained the rationale behind forming the coalition: “Though I am a follower of Dravidian beliefs, I still set up a makeshift ‘Neer Mor Pandal’ and serve buttermilk to the devotees who take ‘padayatra’ to Palani. I believe that the religion I practice is personal and I would not bring it into politics. But BJP tries to mix both and we are here to stop it.”

Funds for pilgrimage 

After the Modi government had stopped giving subsidy for Haj pilgrimage to Indian muslims in 2018, the Tamil Nadu government has been providing the subsidy. Similarly, Christians in the state have been receiving subsidies for pilgrimage to Jerusalem; Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce such a scheme. On December 20, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami raised the subsidy amount to ₹37,000 from ₹20,000 ahead of Christmas, leading to criticism that he was trying to woo Christian votes before the elections.

With the state government providing subsidies to minority communities for taking pilgrimage tours, there has been a long-pending demand by Hindus that the state should also provide subsidy to the devotees going to Palani, one of the famous pilgrimage sites of Lord Murugan. However, the AIADMK government has not done anything in this regard. This at a time when the party is being criticised as another version of BJP.

So how does the coalition see this disparity? When does it oppose ‘spiritual politics’? Will they oppose such subsidies too?

Suba Veerapandian, chief coordinator of the atheists’ coalition, said they’ll welcome it if the government provides pilgrimage subsidies to the Hindus. “This is because the government should treat all religions equally. Even DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi took many welfare measures for the Hindu temples. We never criticised those religious subsidies but the government itself should not be a religious one. The government and politics are different,” said Veerapandian, who’s also the founder of Dravidar Iyakka Tamilar Peravai, an atheist outfit.

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“The coalition is not against any religion or spirituality. We are not here to play politics in people’s beliefs. But we oppose efforts that give a political colour to one’s religion, he added. “The term ‘spiritual politics’ did not come from Rajini. It is the voice of BJP that came through Rajini. In the name of ‘spiritual politics’, the BJP is trying to pit communal politics against social justice politics.”

Whenever the DMK criticises the BJP’s activities to polarise the state on communal lines, rightwing groups allege that DMK is against the Hindus. When other Dravidian movements criticise BJP, the right-wingers try to relate it with DMK. At this junction, will the coalition’s efforts strengthen the BJP’s claim that DMK is against Hindus?

“Definitely not. Yes, we are supporting the DMK and we are working for its success. But we are not going to stop the campaign just as an election focused only. We will bring the discussions against ‘spiritual politics’ at the ideological level too, before the people,” Veerapandian added.