Why Congress, BJP are harping on Tamil language ahead of polls

The national parties, which had accused their regional counterparts of politicising language, are now doing the same
Last Updated : 03 March 2021, 05:58 IST

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Extolling virtues of the Tamil language, its rich literature, and the state’s vibrant culture have been an integral part of Tamil Nadu’s political discourse for over half-a-century. The Dravidian parties have not just projected themselves as “saviours of the race” but also take pride in stonewalling efforts by successive central governments to “impose Hindi”.

As the April 6 election to the Tamil Nadu Assembly nears, the milking of the Tamil language and its culture for political gains is back. But there is a distinct difference this time. The national parties — the Congress and BJP — which had accused their regional counterparts and Dravidian majors DMK and AIADMK of politicising language, are now doing the same.

After it was thrown out of power in 1967 at the height of the anti-Hindi movement, the Congress was not able to come anywhere close to power in Tamil Nadu. The BJP, currently in power at the Centre, is accused of “imposing” Hindi and Sanskrit on the state “through the back door.” Yet, Tamil flows free in the public meetings of the two national parties.

The political compulsion brought in the change to invoke Tamil, as both the Congress and BJP sense a chance to emerge as the third force in Tamil Nadu following the exit of veterans M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa.

The parties would stop at greeting people and thanking them (Vanakkam and Nandri) in Tamil during public meetings until a few years ago. Today, no rally of a national party leader is complete without elaborate references to the “unique language” and its culture.

It is the hostile attitude of the Tamil audience towards “imposition” of other languages that forced the BJP, whose DNA is according primacy to Hindi, to harp onto Tamil sentiments. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who used to deliver his speeches in Hindi, switched to English ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election in his bid to endear himself and his party to the Tamil people.

And the Congress has also come around to publicly acknowledge that it respects the Tamil language and its people. Party leader Rahul Gandhi now wants to learn Tamil and read Thirukkural, which offers a remedy or a piece of advice to every issue that the modern world encounters. Tamil language, culture, and the “onslaught” it faces from the BJP are the essence of his tours in the state that have enthusiastic Congress workers.

To his credit, Modi was one of the first contemporary politicians to take Tamil to the global stage by quoting verses from some of the finest pieces of literature. He did not stop at that. Modi, to date, continues to talk about his love for the language and has even said that he repents not learning Tamil.

“All of them have understood that Tamil is more powerful than any other identity in Tamil Nadu. It is the finest tool that helped them to assert themselves and made them aware of their social, political, and cultural identities. Moreover, Tamil literature and the day-to-day life is inter-oven and inseparable,” political analyst P Ramajayam told DH.

The BJP has been making serious efforts to woo the people of the state through its “love” for Tamil and has promised to ensure that all flights in and out of Tamil Nadu will have in-flight announcements in the language. However, the outreach has been going for a toss with frequent incidents of Union Ministers replying in Hindi to letters written to them by MPs from the state.

Symbolism apart, it depends on how the Congress and BJP take forward their politics in Tamil Nadu that would determine their future in the politically crucial state.

Published 02 March 2021, 15:49 IST

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