In the past few months, the right-wing forces have desecrated a number of Periyar E V Ramasamy’s statues at different places across Tamil Nadu. However, they are yet to know that these acts would be politically perilous to their Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.
The latest such incident took place at a village in Trichy district on September 27 where a bust of Periyar kept at the entrance of a Periyar Memorial Samathuvapuram (equality village) settlement was garlanded with slippers and splashed with saffron-colour paint. Earlier, on September 3, a bust of Periyar at another Samathuvapuram in Ariyalur district was found smeared with tar.
Samathuvapuram is a housing scheme that was started in 1997 by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government when M Karunanidhi was the chief minister. People from different communities were identified and allotted houses as the idea was to have the people from various communities settle at one place. Karunanidhi aptly named the scheme in the memory of the revolutionary leader Periyar who strove for a casteless society all his life.
In July this year, a functionary of a Hindu outfit was arrested for defacing a statue of Periyar in Coimbatore using saffron paint. There have been several such incidents in recent times. When Periyar was alive, he was repeatedly attacked, abused and thrown slippers at. Sometimes, delinquents threw human excreta and eggs at him in public meetings. But ignoring the attacks, he would continue to sit on the stage and address the gatherings.
In Cuddalore in 1944, the cadre of his Dravidar Kazhagam was escorting him to the railway station in a rickshaw after a public meeting. It was pitch dark. Periyar suddenly asked the cadre to stop the vehicle and return on the same path. Surprised, the cadre followed his instructions. After some distance, he again asked the cadre to turn back and go to the railway station.
When the cadre enquired him about it, Periyar said, “When I was in the rickshaw, somebody hurled a slipper at me. As it was dark, you did not notice. When I returned on the same path, he threw one more slipper at me. Now I have got a pair of slippers which would be useful.” This incident was shown in the biographical film Periyar released in 2007.
Decades later at the same place in Cuddalore where the slippers were thrown at him, a statue was installed and unveiled. However, 45 years after his death the attacks on him still continue as miscreants vandalize and desecrate his statues.
The recent acts of desecration have followed the remark of the BJP’s former national secretary and the party’s leader in Tamil Nadu H Raja in March 2018. After the communist leader Lenin’s statue was brought down in Tripura, Raja wrote on Facebook that Periyar’s statues would face the same fate in Tamil Nadu. Almost all political parties and the supporters of Periyar condemned Raja’s comments. There was uproar across the state which forced the BJP leader to delete the post. The fact that many staunch believers of god also stood for the atheist leader Periyar really surprised the BJP. After this controversy, more people, especially youngsters, celebrated Periyar with greater enthusiasm. Consequently, in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the birth anniversary of Periyar saw jubilant celebrations on social media.
The cadre of BJP in Tamil Nadu has been continuously in the state of frustration as all their campaigns, schemes and propaganda have failed to evoke desired response. Perhaps, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi might not have felt more unwelcome in any other state than Tamil Nadu as whenever he visited the Tamil soil, he faced stiff opposition both on social media with #GoBackModi trending and also on the ground.
In the 2019 parliamentary elections, Tamil Nadu showed the BJP the door with all of its candidates facing defeat. After this debacle, BJP’s former Tamil Nadu president Tamilisai Soundararajan was made the governor of Telangana. The party’s state unit was left in limbo by the high command without appointing a leader for six months. It would be astonishing to know that the mighty national party, which is ruling the country, was unable to identify and appoint a leader for its Tamil Nadu unit.
The cadre started to feel that the continuous setbacks in the state were because of the phenomenon that is Periyar. It is also to be noted that the BJP could not appoint a hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh fellow as a leader for its Tamil Nadu unit though many were available. Instead, it had to bring in a Dalit face to the post just to show that the party was inclusive. The BJP is actually at the crossroads in the state because its ideology does not resonate with the state’s pulse on any of the issues. The new state leader of the party, L Murugan, himself openly praised Periyar on the latter’s birth anniversary.
However, the reality is that the ideas put forth by the Dravidian movement stand as a roadblock to the BJP’s growth in Tamil Nadu. Be it the two-language policy, social justice, campaigns against NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), secularism, strong sub-nationalism and the Tamils’ tolerance towards atheism, all these issues have been dealing blows to the BJP’s endeavours.
The perpetual stalemate that the BJP and other Hindu outfits find themselves in, is manifesting in the form of desecrations and attacks on Periyar’s statues. The miscreants dare to indulge in such acts because they feel confident that the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) government in the state, which is remote-controlled by the BJP, would not take stringent measures against them.
The developments in the state indicate how relevant the Dravidian leader is even after 45 years of his death in resisting the right-wing forces. K Veeramani, the president of Dravidar Kazhagam, put the vandalisation of Periyar’s statues and people’s reactions to it this way: “They are sowing winds and harvesting hurricanes to their debacles.”
Thol. Thirumavalavan, Member of Parliament and chief of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), while condemning the recent desecration, termed the perpetrators as “casteist, communal, orthodox, racist, purist, and superstitious fanatic groups”. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M K Stalin also condemned the acts by saying, “They have to understand that by making the same mistakes repeatedly, they are only getting rejected.”
Following the series of acts of vandalism and desecration, the police have been taking measures to erect cages around Periyar’s statues in volatile places. But the fact remains that, it is Periyar who had caged the right-wing forces from making inroads into Tamil Nadu.