In most states including in formerly Left-ruled West Bengal, Hindutva as a political ideology has struck roots. In Tamil Nadu, however, the same success has been hard to achieve for the BJP despite campaigns such as the Vel Yatra undertaken before Assembly elections.
This raises the question whether the Hinduism practiced in Tamil Nadu is different from the Hinduism in other states. Some say that the DMK giving up on virulent atheism and critique of Hindu religious practices coupled with its announcement that the party is not anti-Hindu has also contributed to stalling the BJP’s attempt to build a Hindu vote for itself. But the overriding factor is that Tamils identify themselves more as Tamils rather than as Hindus. Religious identity has little appeal in a state where linguistic identity dominates politics.
The gamechanger in TN politics remains the anti-Hindi agitations which last rocked the state in a big way in the 1960s. One can say that those protests were orchestrated by the DMK and, in any case, they happened 50 years ago. But even as late as 2017 the state saw a massive mobilization and protests in the name of Tamil identity. The jallikattu agitations were largely organic and were not orchestrated by political parties. The Supreme Court had to take note of the strength of the protests and reverse its ruling.
Students and young people who had little or no memory of the anti-Hindi protests participated in the jallikattu agitations purely based on their Tamil identity. Times may change but Tamils unite to fight for political causes only on the basis of their identity as Tamils. They refuse to get mobilized on the basis of a religious identity.
Many Tamil youths set themselves on fire in protest against what had happened in Sri Lanka in 2009. Later, in 2013, students in Tamil Nadu rose in protest against the killings and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Barring Tamil identity, nothing else moves Tamils emotionally and spurs an upsurge here.
If Tamils do not accept religious identity then are Tamils not religious? Don’t they consider themselves Hindus? Does Hinduism in Tamil Nadu have a different identity then? “There is no religion called Hinduism. That term was coined only by the British,” says MP Sathyavel Muruganar, a Saivite scholar. He adds that Tamils followed Saivism in the past and the norms that Saivism prescribes transcends all religions.
Sathyavel Muruganar asks how a religion could be taken to have formed without answering questions, “when, how and who formed the religion”. In none of the 17 puranas is it said that Siva or Vishnu created Hinduism, he said.
Citing the book, “Deivathin Kural” (Voice of the Lord) written by the Late pontiff of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, Chandrasekarendra Swamigal, he says there is no such religion as Hinduism and that it helped that the British grouped us as Hindus. “We opposed the British in many respects. But we accept it when they called us Hindus. The British noted that those who worshipped Jesus were Christians and those who worshipped Allah were Muslims. But they did not know whom the others worshipped. So they grouped all of them and called them Hindus,” he says, adding that the Indian Constitution helps us understand that the term Hindu superscribes many religions.
Historical evidence tells us that the elements that constitute Hindu religion, as held by the BJP, were not part of the life of ancient Tamils. Early Sangam literature that portrays the life of ancient Tamils and the findings of the recent archaeological excavations in Keeladi have no link to Hinduism and its symbols, as presented by Hindutva forces. The five deities governing the five types of land forms are not part of Vedic Hinduism. Pathirrupathu of the early Sangam literature talks about Seyon, or Murugan, as a warrior. It says Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, a Chera King, was as brave as Murugan.
Parippaadal, a late Sangam work, describes Murugan as a warrior who wields a spear and rides an elephant, not a peacock. The elephant’s name is given as Pinimugam. Aganaanooru talks about sacrifices to Murugan and blood being smeared on him. Today’s Murugan is worshipped by offering him Panchamirtham. This raises the question if Subramanian of today is the same as Murugan of ancient times.
Deities described in Sangam period have little to do with the deities of Hindutva forces. Scholars such as Devaneya Pavanar and Maraimalai Adigal have said that the religion of Tamils is entirely different from the rest of India.
In the October 30, 1943 edition of Kudiyarasu, Periyar wrote that Dravidians are not Hindus. On this basis, the Justice Party conference held in Tiruvarur passed a resolution that in the Census, Dravidians should identify themselves as Dravidians, not Hindus.
What sustains in Tamil psyche is the feeling that he or she is Tamil, not Hindu.
In Dravida Nadu, DMK founder CN Annadurai wrote a series of seven articles in 1942. In this he said Hindu religion is not the religion of Tamils. Tamils had led a civilized life for several thousands of years and Aryans inserted Hindu religion into them, he said.
Just because law and government classification describe the Tamil as Hindu doesn’t mean Hindutva politics can take roots here. What sustains in Tamil psyche is the feeling that he or she is Tamil. Dravidian movement politics is fundamentally Tamil nationalist politics.
If BJP were to succeed in Tamil Nadu, it has to give up Hindutva. Otherwise it will have to give up its dream of succeeding in Tamil Nadu. It is clear that BJP leaders in the state have already chosen the second option.