The DMK’s Assembly poll manifesto promises a lot for Hindus. Some of them are: giving village temple priests a raise in their salary and pensions; providing them with a Pongal bonus, allocating ₹ 1,000 crore for renovating temples; setting up an international centre in Vadalur (in Cuddalore district) in memory of Vallalar (a rationalist saint who lived in 19th century).
The manifesto also promises introducing cable car facilities in major hill temples; concretizing Girivala path in the Tiruvannamalai temple and making part-time and contract workers hired under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) into permanent staff and raising the financial aid to devotees to carry on with pilgrimage.
The party has not given up its founding principle: social justice. It has also made promises that blend religion with social justice. For instance, it promises to make immediate appointments for 205 candidates who completed the temple priest course that was conducted under ‘Priests from all castes’, extending the practice of doing ‘archana’ in Tamil to every temple and creating a high level statutory committee for better performance of temples’ administration.
The party introduced ‘priests from all castes’ in 2006. Similarly, the HR & CE was set up by as a separate ministerial portfolio in 1971.
Yet, the DMK continues to receive brickbats from the BJP and other Hindu organizations who dub the party as anti-Hindu. Though party leaders have repeatedly contested the allegation, a section still claims that the DMK has done little for the Hindus.
“In Kanyakumari, BJP’s Lok Sabha by-poll candidate and senior leader Pon Radhakrishnan in the 2019 election campaigning had said if he came to power, he would take measures for the welfare of Hindus. I don’t know what he means by Hindu. It is the Hindus who are getting the 65.5 per cent reservations out of 69 per cent (the rest 3.5 per cent is given to Muslims). Besides, they are receiving scholarships, besides a waiver on their education loans,” says writer Meeran Mitheen. “If they are not Hindus, then who, according to Radhakrishnan, is a Hindu?” asked the writer.
Many observers say it is the first time that the DMK has included words like ‘Hindus’ in their campaign. They emphasize that shifting the party’s rhetoric of ‘welfare of Tamils’ to ‘welfare of Hindus’ is itself a battle half-won for the BJP in Tamil Nadu.
Rajaparthiban Ravichandran, who authored a booklet ‘Deiveega Dravidam’ refutes such claims. The booklet is an attempt to counter the BJP narrative that the DMK is anti-Hindu. He says the Dravidian party has included such promises in their manifesto in at least four previous elections.
“The DMK has spoken about these promises earlier too. But they are being noticed only now in the backdrop of BJP’s attempts to defame the party. Similarly, the DMK is having a long-term association with non-Brahmin Saivite mutts such as Kundrakkudi Adheenam, Tiruvavaduthurai Adheenam,” he said.
It is true that the saffron party is growing in the state and the DMK’s denial of the anti-Hindu allegation is getting much traction, partly because the religious oratory is under attack now, says Ravichandran.
“Earlier religious orators such as Desa Mangayarkarasi spoke in DMK’s functions. Suki Sivam, another well-known orator, speaks highly of Dravidian ideology and criticizes the Hindu mutts in the same breath. Other orators, including Nellai Kannan, while coming down heavily on the Dravidian ideology, also hit out at religious misconceptions and practices. That kind of freedom is now curtailed by the Hindutva groups,” says Ravichandran, adding that current DMK leaders such as PTR Thiaga Rajan are now evolving against false claims and narratives such as Jaggi Vasudev’s ‘Campaign to Free Tamil Nadu Temples’.
Interestingly, the manifesto released by the BJP on March 22 has only one promise with regard to temples or for that matter, the Hindus. It says that “the administration of Hindu temples will be handed over to a separate board comprising Hindu scholars and saints”.
Talking to The Federal, Prof P Kanagasabapathi, state vice president of BJP and a member of the party’s manifesto committee, said DMK promises are meant only to attract the Hindu votes.
“There is a change in DMK over the Hindu population in the state. But we cannot say for sure that it is a whole-hearted change. Yet, the attempt is to consolidate the Hindu votes. Where is justice when a majority population’s temples are under the control of the government and the worshipping places of minorities are not falling in line?” he said.
On BJP’s promise on temples, Kanagasabapathi said the state government has filed a petition in the Madras High Court alleging that many temple lands are missing and idols have disappeared. “It is for this reason that we wanted to free the temples from the government control and give them to Hindu scholars and saints. This has been our demand for years. This shows who really cares about Hindus,” Kanagasabapathi said.
M Senthil, state president, Tamil Nadu Hindu Temple Federation, said though the establishment of HR & CE by the DMK in the past was praise-worthy, it is doubtful if the party’s current leadership will follow the path of party patriarch M Karunanidhi.
“Years ago rowdy elements damaged temples and burglary incidents were many. To prevent those anti-elements, Karunanidhi had created such a department. He also initiated welfare measures for the temples. But we don’t know if his son Stalin would take those things forward,” he said.
About DMK’s promise on appointing non-Brahmin priests in the temples, Senthil said whoever is Hindu and has knowledge of the Vedas can become a priest. The caste is a no bar, he said.