Hindi is becoming a rallying point in Tamil Nadu politics again

The DMK seems to have zeroed in on the Tamil template.

 |  5-minute read |   04-02-2018
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Tamil has been on MK Stalin's mind this week. At a marriage function in Chennai, Stalin asked parents to name their children with “beautiful Tamil names”. He cited the example of his own family, where everyone except him, was given a Tamil name. 

“My father wanted to name me Ayyadurai, because social reformer Periyar was referred to as Ayya and Durai was the name of DMK founder CN Annadurai. But the day I was born, my father was attending a condolence meeting of Russian leader Joseph Stalin. When he was informed of my birth while on stage, he instantly announced he was naming me after Stalin,” revealed the DMK working president.  

Stalin wasn't merely regaling the audience with a story. The attempt is to subtly contrast it with Delhi's lack of enthusiasm for Tamil. This comes at a time, when the Centre, in a reply to a question in Parliament, reiterated the position of the Supreme Court that had ruled in 2012 that Tamil cannot be the official language of the Madras High Court. It may be noted that in 2006, when Karunanidhi was the CM, the Tamil Nadu Assembly assed a resolution, urging the Centre to get Presidential assent to make Tamil the official language in the high court. 

stalin_020418010531.jpgStalin would be committing a mistake if he makes anti-Hindi agitation the cornerstone of his campaign

In the last 24 hours, members of the judiciary, too, have pitched in, arguing that making Tamil the language of the courtrooms would make it easy for litigants, especially those from rural areas. 

On the face of it, one can look at the question asked in the Rajya Sabha as one pertaining only to the judiciary. But that would be missing the point. The political context is the renewed attempt by the DMK to invoke pride in Tamil language. Stalin has, on more than one occasion in the past four years, spoken against moves to promote Hindi at the cost of Tamil in Tamil Nadu.

Strangely, the DMK glosses over its failure to get the then UPA government, in which it was a partner, to get its way in 2006. Matters have only got more difficult now with the Centre citing the SC order and the NDA government's own emphasis on Hindi. 

The language card has become a rallying point for a Dravidian party, like the DMK, against the BJP, which is seen as a Hindi and Hindutva party in the state.

The BJP, too, has given enough opportunities. The provocation came soon after the party came to power in May, 2014. According to a report of The Economic Times, the Union home ministry issued an order on May 27 that year asking government employees and officials of all ministries, departments, corporations and banks to use “Hindi or both Hindi and English” on their social media accounts, but “give priority to Hindi”.

vellore_020418010507.jpgPhoto: Twitter

Recently, when milestones on the National Highways in different parts of Tamil Nadu, like Krishnagiri and Vellore, were painted with names in Hindi, Stalin accused the BJP government of Hindi hegemony. It took an uproar with threats of reviving the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s to force the authorities to pull back. 

Even on the day the Budget was presented in Parliament, social media users from Tamil Nadu criticised finance minister Arun Jaitley for frequently switching into Hindi during his speech. 

sidda_020418010544.jpgKarnataka CM Siddaramaiah is harping on Kannadiga pride

What is the game plan behind the renewed focus on Tamil? With elections in 2019 and the possibility of Assembly polls taking place anytime, if the fragile AIADMK government collapses, the DMK seems to have zeroed in on the Tamil template. The intention, it would seem, is to combat the nationalistic slogan of the BJP with its own brand of Tamil sub-nationalism. In a sense, it is similar to how Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah is harping on Kannadiga pride, with emphasis on Kannada language and Karnataka flag, to offset the brand of nationalism the BJP espouses. 

But while it may galvanise a few, Stalin would be committing a mistake if he makes it the cornerstone of his campaign. 2018 is not 1965 and a large section of Tamil Nadu sees merit in learning Hindi as a means of communication. After the anti-Hindi agitation, India has followed a three-language formula with English, Hindi and the regional language at the school level.

It seems that just like the DMK under Annadurai rode on the anti-Hindi agitation to come to power, Stalin is borrowing the template in a post-Jayalalithaa era. But if the DMK tries to make Tamil Nadu into a parochial island, harping solely on the Tamil identity, it faces the risk of boomeranging. 

What Stalin and team seem to be doing is to mark out a new rival as it fears the rise of BJP in Tamil Nadu, where the AIADMK has been systematically weakened over the last year. And Stalin, it would seem, wants to fight that battle in chaste Tamil. 

This anecdote, however, gives an interesting spin to DMK's anti-Hindi position. The story goes that Karunanidhi was asked why he nominated a young Dayanidhi Maran to the UPA Cabinet in 2004 when there were senior DMK MPs available. Karunanidhi is believed to have said Dayanidhi knew Hindi. 

Also read: BJP vs Congress: Who will get the beef recipe right in Karnataka polls?


TS Sudhir TS Sudhir @iamtssudhir

The writer is a journalist.

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