‘DMK is unlikely to tone down its assertions on the emotive issue due to its compulsions of state politics’.
After an initial guarded response on the “eradicate Sanatan Dharma” call given by a DMK leader, some constituents of the I.N.D.I.A bloc appear to be making concerted efforts to assert their faith in Sanatan Dharma in a bid to impress their supporters who might have been offended by the controversial remarks. Though leaders of these parties have not yet gone to the extent of threatening to leave the alliance, they have condemned the DMK leader’s remark.
The AAP, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress, at least in Madhya Pradesh, seem to be veering toward the conclusion that the DMK is unlikely to tone down its assertions on the emotive issue due to its compulsions of state politics and it is for them to take evasive action to avoid losing support among voters.
Raghav Chadha, AAP MP and member of the 14-member coordination committee of the bloc, went to the extent of calling DMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s son Udhayanidhi Stalin, who made the controversial remark, a “small” leader, claiming statements from such small leaders did not reflect the official stand of the Opposition bloc. He also reaffirmed his faith in Sanatan Dharma at a time when his party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal flagged off the 76th batch of free pilgrimage for Sanatan Dharam followers to Rameswaram-Madurai under Mukhyamantri Teerth-Yatra Yojna. Just days before Durga Puja festivities in West Bengal, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, too, distanced her party from Udhayanidhi’s comments, saying he was a junior and he must not use words that may hurt people. She repeated her earlier claim that she respects Sanatan Dharma and highlighted how her government offers pensions to priests who preach Sanatan Dharma.
Madhya Pradesh Congress chief and party’s chief ministerial candidate Kamal Nath, too, realises the damage Udhayanidhi’s anti-Sanatan Dharma comments could cause to the party in the coming Assembly polls. In a visible attempt to distance himself from the DMK leader’s comments, he said, “The remarks were his (Udhayanidhi’s) personal views. I don’t agree with him.”
Not just Stalin, his party colleague A. Raja also made controversial remarks against Sanatan Dharma. Earlier, at the same event where Udhayanidhi Stalin had made the controversial statement on 2 September, Tamil Nadu minister for higher education K. Ponmudi had said that everyone in the I.N.D.I.A bloc “stands against Sanatan Dharma…”
The BJP hit back at the bloc by accusing it of pursuing a hidden agenda to target Sanatan Dharma for votes. Breaking his silence over the issue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked the Opposition bloc during his election rallies in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and said, “People need to remain alert against them. They want to eradicate Bharat’s Sanatan culture. They want to wipe out India’s culture that is thousands of years old. They want to eradicate Bharat.”
President of Tamil Nadu BJP K. Annamalai said in a social media post, “Eradicating Hinduism seems to be the primary agenda of the parties in the I.N.D.I.A bloc. This reveals the true intentions of I.N.D.I.A.”
Senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s silence on the remarks made by Ponmudi shows that she endorses his views. “It seems opposing Sanatan Dharma is part of the I.N.D.I.A bloc’s common minimum programme.”
The Opposition bloc comprises over two dozen parties that want to present themselves as an alternative to the BJP-led NDA at the Centre. However, regional compulsions and pressure from state units of some parties in the alliance have forced them to retain their state-level agenda and priorities even after sharing the stage with rivals in the bloc. DMK leaders’ controversial remarks against Sanatan Dharma are being seen an attempt to retain the party’s sway among Periyar followers. Political analyst Ritwick Srivastav said, “I do not find Stalin’s statement surprising. Both the leading parties in Tamil Nadu—DMK & AIADMK—have their roots in Periyar’s Self-Respect Movement which opposed the Sanatan idea of caste and religion. Many writings of B.R. Ambedkar would also echo the same sentiment.”