Is PM's Tamil pick a political weapon to woo Tamilians?

Chennai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 56th annual convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras in Chennai, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. (PTI Photo/R Senthil Kumar) (PTI9_30_2019_000105A)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not just been lavish in his praise for Tamil which he acknowledges as “oldest language of the world” but has been quoting extensively from the rich repository of Tamil literature that some of the outstanding poets and saints produced thousands of years ago. 
 
From the fourth-century BCE saint-poet Thiruvalluvar to Kaniyan Pungundranar of the legendary Sangam Era, Modi, of late, has been borrowing verses from Tamil literature to drive home his message on universal brotherhood and the urgent need to conserve water. Thirukkural, penned by Thiruvalluvar, offers a remedy or a piece of advice for every issue that the modern world encounters.
 
While Modi looked up to Thiruvalluvar in his Independence Day speech by quoting his line neer indri amaiyathu ulagu (the world can’t survive without water), it was Pungundranar’s yaadhum oore, yaavarum kelir (To us all towns are one, and all people our kin) that he made part of his UNGA speech to stress that the world was indeed a global village.

READ: Tamil became a talking point in US: PM Modi

On the face of it, Modi’s speeches may sound completely apolitical and his way of “professing” love for the language, but they have a deeper political meaning. The BJP and the prime minister appear to have decided to “unleash” the last political weapon in their armour, Tamil, to build bridges with the people of Tamil Nadu.
 
It is this Tamil constituency that has been quite hostile to Modi and BJP even in the last general elections which saw him retaining power with a bigger majority than the 2014 elections. Not just Modi, his colleague Nirmala Sitharaman, who hails from Tamil Nadu, had quoted a verse from Sangam literature Purananooru in her maiden budget speech in July.
 
Language as a weapon seems to be a much-thought out strategy as BJP’s numerous ‘master plans’ drafted in the drawing rooms in New Delhi after the death of charismatic J Jayalalithaa not just fell flat but back-fired at every stage.
 
With nowhere to go, the party sought refuge in AIADMK and stitched a rainbow alliance for the April general elections, only to lose all 39 seats save one. And now the party is struggling to find its feet on the ground and thinks language card might work. The BJP views DMK as its principal challenger and the Dravidian major uses the language card often to keep its vote base intact, but the saffron party has to shed its pro-Hindi even to think of striking a chord with Tamils.
 
“When you fail to take on your enemy, you finally use the same weapon used by the enemy. In this case, the BJP has decided to use the strongest political weapon, the language, as its final assault to make inroads into Tamil Nadu.
 
“Language has been the weapon of the Dravidian majors, especially the DMK, for long. Using Tamil as a political weapon is a necessity in my opinion and not out of love for the language,” Prof Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration with the University of Madras, told DH.

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But the BJP’s over-obsession with Hindi often reiterated in statements by senior ministers and draft reports that are viewed by political leaders as a clear way of imposing the language, would be the biggest stumbling block in the saffron party cutting the ice with the Tamil constituency that has so far been hostile.
 
Manivannan says the BJP if it wants to make inroads into the state, should announce Tamil as one of the official languages of the country if its “love for the language” is real.  
 
“Else it would only be construed only as double-standards of the BJP. As yet another attempt by the party. If the PM really loves Tamil, why is that the Centre tries to impose Hindi and Sanskrit on states like Tamil Nadu?” he asked.

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