New Delhi: Tamil Nadu is witnessing a battle of ideologies play out between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Dravidian outfits, with the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) coming out with copies of Manusmriti to highlight the varna system that it alleges is part of the Sangh ideology.
On Sunday, the VCK distributed 1 lakh copies of Manusmriti highlighting the scripture’s views on Dalits and women. An ally of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led government, the Dalit outfit printed copies of pages and chapters from Manusmriti and distributed those among people as a part of its special campaign against the RSS.
Thol. Thirumavalavan’s party claimed to have “exposed” the ideas of Sangh, which is said to have drawn its inspiration from Hindu scriptures including Manusmriti, saying the ancient Hindu texts list the duties and rights of women in a regressive way and called the status of Dalits in a society as “outcasts”.
In Tamil Nadu, the RSS has intensified its activities, as part of which it planned to organise 50 route marches on November 6 across various districts. It was denied permission by the DMK government following which the matter reached the Madras High Court.
Though the Sangh was allowed to hold marches in 44 places, the high court denied permission in six communally sensitive places, including Coimbatore where a blast killed a suspected terror operative last month. On Sunday, RSS carried out marches and public meetings in Kallakurichi, Perambalur, and Cuddalore.
Senior RSS functionaries claimed that the route marches were organised to mark their centenary programmes and Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
“They [the ruling parties] are portraying us as the enemy of the people. This is really uncalled for. The RSS route marches are not unruly as other political parties. These are disciplined cadres and they conduct marches in a disciplined way. But the political party [DMK] in Tamil Nadu always tries to stop us, and they put forward different fronts. This time, they [DMK] are using another front [VCK] to fire,” an RSS central committee member said.
VCK general secretary and MP D. Ravikumar told ThePrint that the party took up some counter programmes as “we do not want the RSS to impose its Hindutva ideology on the people”.
“They said that they are organising the route marches to mark Gandhi’s birth centenary. Isn’t it ridiculous for the Gandhi killers to organise programmes to celebrate his birth anniversary?
“In many places, the Sangh functionaries abused Gandhi and Ambedkar. They are the worst divisive force India has. They just want to polarise in the name of religion and caste. And everytime, just to establish the BJP, they want to exploit Dalits and tribals,” he alleged.
But, RSS publicity in-charge Sunil Ambekar asserted that the Sangh was a law-abiding organisation. “We are connecting with people. We will continue with our social work in the service of the nation,” he told ThePrint.
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Renewed push by RSS
Though the RSS has been active in Tamil Nadu since the 1990s, it existed in the state for the past 60 years. Its ideological protege, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has remained on the political margins. The party won only four assembly seats in 2021.
“RSS has always been there for the past five to six decades, but it largely invested in social work. However, the situation has changed now. The DMK and the Periyarist parties are generally anti-Tamil and anti-Hindu. They are spreading lies about the nation, and damaging national interest. Terrorist activities are being noticed and the terror groups are being sheltered. This is why the RSS needs to come at the fore, and mobilise its cadres. people have realised it now and we are getting good responses,” Tamil Nadu BJP vice-president P. Kanagasabapathi claimed.
“VCK is playing a very negative role. They are defaming Hindutva and the ancient culture of Tamil Nadu,” he told ThePrint.
Political observers highlighted that the Sangh has started a renewed push in Tamil Nadu by organising programmes and mobilising cadres through route marches to present the BJP-RSS combination as a force to reckon with.
The saffron brigade wants to occupy the opposition space in the absence of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), averred Ramu Manivannan, Head of the Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Madras.
It is in this backdrop that a DMK ally has started this Manusmriti movement to make people aware of the Sangh ideology and to “restrict radicalisation”, he said.
Drawing its influence from social reformer Periyar who fought against caste discrimination and stood for women’s rights, Dravidian politics has revolved around anti-Brahminism.
“That’s how the RSS, despite its presence in Tamil Nadu for the past six decades, has remained confined to areas like Modakurichi, Coimbatore, Nagercoil and Tirunelveli. In the past five to six years, the RSS and affiliates had tried to bring the form of Hindutva politics in the state by introducing Vinayak Chaturthi and other similar events, but they are yet to get a positive response from the people,” Manivannan added.
This comes at a time when the Sangh is attacking the DMK, calling it an “ally of PFI [Popular Front of India] and other Islamist militant groups”. After the Coimbatore blast, the RSS has become more aggressive with its activities, including organising route marches.
With the RSS-DMK tussle going on in Tamil Nadu, political observer Ramu Manivannan feels that the BJP “systematically dismantled and ruined AIADMK” and now the party is trying to be “politically visible” through the Sangh.
“The BJP-RSS combination is trying very hard to be visible in the state as an alternative to the AIADMK and the primary opposition to the DMK. They finished the AIADMK systematically by bringing factionalism, putting one leader against another. Currently, the Governor is playing the role of the opposition in the state,” Manivannan said.
“The party in power at centre has a deep penetration in terms of strategic information. They are playing with that and the RSS is trying to bring Maharashtra and north India-kind of politics. The state is primarily Hindu dominated, but it never had a history of communal politics. It has secular fabric all across. RSS’ activities are socio-cultural-political movements.”
The VCK’s counter attack can be seen as a resistance, the academic said. “The state has already been rationalist, and they voted for their political choices. But, they never encouraged any communal ideology here.”
The M. K. Stalin-led ruling party is strong in Tamil Nadu because of the unprecedented fall of the Opposition parties, Kanagasabapathi, also an expert of India-centric studies, said, regarding the DMK’s electoral gains and marginal space for saffron politics. “But, DMK is a party that only thrives on coalition. It never got a majority on its own in the past 30 years,” he added.
From 1992 onwards, the DMK has won in 1996, 2006 and 2021 in Tamil Nadu. It has formed coalition alliances with parties ranging from the Tamil Maanila Congress, the CPI to the Congress, the VCK.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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