For years now, the BJP in Tamil Nadu has been tilling the political land to plant narratives that have worked in the past: of a god with a hurt pride. After months and months of scouting, the national party appears to have hit upon a plank of political leverage against the DMK—a Vel Yatra for Lord Murugan.
In Tamil Nadu, even the gods are a divided lot. While phrases such as Ram Rajya and Ram Leela are distinctly alien and regarded with suspicion in the Dravidian narrative, Lord Murugan is positioned as an indigenous, son-of-the-soil god. Even in true-blue god-denying platforms that project Periyarism [EV Ramaswamy’s brand of vicious attacks on gods as a method to promote rationalism], Lord Murugan is a no-go target. To top it, Tamil nationalists like Seeman have identified the god as their forefather. Clearly, Lord Murugan was not to be trifled with.
It was Lord Murugan that a Periyarist group called Karuppar Koottam took aim at, in its usual discourse filled with diatribes at gods to drive home its ‘rationalist’ thought. In a pandemic-struck world, the highly critical videos launched by the group a few months ago, and the provocative language used by Surendran Natarajan, a self-proclaimed Periyarist who was later arrested under the Goondas Act, attracted a sharp backlash from believers—most of it was online, and from film personalities and known characters in the online world. But, that was enough for the BJP to launch a Vel Pooja, a celebration of the weapon in the hands of Lord Murugan, and a not-so-obvious staking claim of the deity’s image and popularity to ride into the thick of things in Tamil Nadu’s politics.
The Vel Yatra, a bold and somewhat rash attempt in the middle of a raging pandemic, is an extension of the Vel Pooja, to ride upon the hurt sentiments of believers.
In Tiruttani on Friday, BJP state president L Murugan braved crowds of policemen to keep walking with a ‘Vel’ in hand. He was arrested and whisked off in a van. A smiling, victorious BJP state unit chief waving to a crowd of people, being arrested for trying to conduct a campaign for Lord Murugan, is the kind of politics the national party has tried so hard to conduct in Tamil Nadu—for a long time.
The Vel Yatra cannot be termed as course-altering for the BJP, but definitely a start for a party meandering in political wilderness for years now in the state. It has locked horns with Thol. Thirumavalavan on the Manusmriti, roped in high-decibel campaigners such as Khushbu, and railroaded an on-ground campaign in the middle of a pandemic. A video campaign à la cutaways seen for MK Stalin and Edappadi Palaniswami is being circulated by the BJP. There are not-so-subtle comparisons with legendary actor, politician and AIADMK founder MG Ramachandran. It is clear that the BJP is going the whole hog for the forthcoming elections.
All said, whether or not the BJP will find favour among the general public is tough to gauge at the moment. Even in the Vel Yatra, there is a subtext: many voices, particularly subscribing to the Tamil Nationalism brand of politics, do not like Lord Murugan being appropriated as a ‘Hindu god’. They continue to maintain that Murugan was, and continues to be, a Tamil god.
The DMK has been uniform in its approach about all things god. It follows the Anna [CN Annadurai] method of live and let live, popularised by his pithy saying: “Let’s not break coconuts as offerings to God, and let’s not break God’s statues too.” The AIADMK, in fact, finds itself in no-man’s land as the BJP has chosen the DMK as its arch-enemy. If the political battle lines get drawn along such spiritual lines, the AIADMK would find itself in the realm of irrelevance.