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Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers his speech during the convocation of IIT Madras, in Chennai on Monday (PTI)

Winning them softly: Modi’s Tamil references keeps protests at bay

With references to Tamil language and the Tamil culture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have struck a chord with the masses in the state. For, on his latest visit to Chennai on Monday for the Singapore-India Hackathon and the 56th convocation of IIT Madras, there were no protests or black flag demonstrations against him, something that had become a routine for opposition parties and Tamil activist groups.

Though social media was trending with the hashtag ‘GoBackModi’, the lack of demonstrations on Chennai’s streets seemed to offer him a warm welcome — besides the one he received from BJP and AIADMK leaders as he landed at the airport.

This might have something to do with the PM’s frequent references to Tamil recently. At the Howdy Modi event in Houston, US, Modi had spoken a few words in Tamil and again at the United Nations, he had done the same.

And on Monday, he moved away from the usual “Vanakkam (greetings)” and said, “Chennai makkaley santhippathil magizhchi (Happy to meet you, people of Chennai),” in Tamil. All to a loud round of cheer and applause.

After he shifted to Hindi — which was translated into Tamil by H Raja, BJP national secretary — he said following his speech in Tamil in the United Nations last week, the language was still reverberating in the US. “It is evident that there is a change in the air,” he added.

While concluding his speech at the Singapore-India Hackathon ceremony, Modi praised Chennai’s ‘special breakfast’. “The sense of satisfaction comes also from Chennai’s special breakfast, idly, dosa, vada, sambar. The hospitality offered by the city of Chennai is extraordinary in its warmth,” he said.

Later, speaking at the convocation at IIT Madras, he focused on the language, saying “We are in the state of Tamil Nadu, which has a special distinction. It is home to the one of the oldest languages in the world, Tamil.”

All this may be seen in the light of his upcoming grand show with Chinese President Xi Jinping which is scheduled at the UNESCO heritage site at Mahabalipuram, but comes in spite of his party’s not being able to win a single seat from Tamil Nadu in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.

Political observers believe while Modi uses Tamil as a trump card time and again, this time, he was more effective in the wake of the state’s opposition to Home Minister Amit Shah’s pitch for ‘One Nation, One Language’ and the call for using Hindi as the uniting language.

A Kumaresan, a well-known political commentator, said that Modi uses Tamil to pacify the people of the state.

“It is true that there were no major protests staged against him, similar to in his first term. However, on social media, particularly on Twitter, ‘GoBackModi’ hashtag was trending,” he said.

Kumaresan also pointed out that in his speech at IIT Madras, he spoke greatly about Tamil language, but he didn’t speak a word about “Sanskritisation in Anna University”. “It is an irony and it shows his duality on language pluralism.”

Congress spokesperson Americai V Narayanan said that Modi’s efforts to speak in Tamil, shows “he is quintessentially a politician”.

“Modi is a great politician. We can appreciate his effort to speak in Tamil. But action speaks louder than words. If he truly loves the language, he must show it in action. However, his government acts exactly opposite, by printing public service examination question papers only in English and Hindi,” he stressed.

Criticising the opposition, BJP senior leader Narayanan Tirupathy told The Federal that “those who do business using language politics have no right to criticise a leader who respects one’s language more than his soul”.

“Earlier, those who had protested during Modi’s Chennai visits thought that BJP is an anti-Tamil Nadu party. But now, the same protesters have realised that the party is not anti-Tamil. That’s why today, there were no protests,” he said.

When asked about Modi’s usage of Tamil during his visits to Chennai, he said, “This itself a proof that Hindi imposition is a myth.”

Meanwhile, BJP supporters in the state questioned the motive behind DD Podhigai (Tamil channel of Doordarshan) for not telecasting the Prime Minister’s IIT convocation speech live.

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