When national secretary of the BJP, H Raja — or one of the admins of his Facebook page, as he would like the world to believe — posted "Today Lenin's statue, tomorrow Tamil Nadu's EV Ramasamy's statue", he was giving vent to the anti-Periyar sentiment in many a right-winger. Ramasamy alias Periyar was a rationalist, social reformer and an atheist who famously said, "There is no god, there is no god, there is no god at all.''
Periyar did not stop with that. He ridiculed believers saying, "He who invented god is a fool. He who propagates god is a scoundrel. He who worships god is a barbarian.'' Interestingly, among other places in Tamil Nadu, a bust of Periyar expressing some of these thoughts is also erected right outside the Kanchi Mutt in Kanchipuram, a defiance of sorts against the Hindu brahminical order.
Periyar's idea of a nation also is completely opposite that of the BJP's idea of nationalism. Periyar was seen as an enfant terrible, often clashing with Mahatma Gandhi on the idea of a nation. In Periyar's world view, a society where religious and caste discrimination thrives, cannot be a progressive nation. Wearing his irreverence on his sleeve, he believed that nationalism was just another deceptive name for political Brahminism, with the power structure dominated by the Brahmin and baniya castes. He therefore even supported the idea of a separate nation called Dravida Nadu. It is no surprise then that many in the BJP have a hate-hate equation with Periyar and Periyarism.
Raja was playing with fire and he realised it when the sharp reactions scorched him. DMK leader MK Stalin asked for Raja to be booked under the Goondas Act, Vaiko and Khushbu dared him to touch one Periyar statue. But Raja was not the only offender. SG Suryah, the vice-president of the BJP Youth Wing also tweeted: "BJP successfully completed the fall of Lenin in Tripura! Can't wait for the fall of EV Ramasamy statues in Tamil Nadu.''
By late evening, Raja and Suryah's provocative comments translated into reality when a couple of drunk men, one of them a BJP activist, vandalised a bust of Periyar in Vellore. In retaliation, in the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday, a petrol bomb was thrown at a BJP office in Coimbatore.
With the BJP distancing itself from the comments, Raja took down his post and apologised. Suryah made a quick exit from the microblogging site, deactivating his Twitter account.
But was it indeed a case of overreach by the duo or is there more than what meets the eye? At a Tamil Nadu BJP level, this seems to be a case of intra-BJP rivalry between Raja and those who preside over the state unit — an attempt to score brownie points. But at a macro level, this could well be an effort to test the waters — to see if Periyarism is relevant and has currency in 2018.
The two parties that swear by Periyar's ideology are the DMK and AIADMK, apart from a host of smaller Dravidian outfits. But the late Jayalalithaa visited temples, participated in religious prayers and offerings, even though this was completely against what Periyar propagated. But even while practising her religious beliefs, Jayalalithaa never spoke against Periyar. Those in the present-day AIADMK are known to be extremely religious and superstitious. Even the family members of some DMK leaders are known to privately participate in religious rituals. Would they accept Periyar's definition of being "scoundrels" and "barbarians"?
The reaction of the ruling AIADMK also suggests a reluctance to offend the God-fearing Tamilian. The fisheries minister D Jayakumar ruled out any action against Raja because he had apologised for his anti-Periyar remarks.
The BJP obviously has no hope of getting any part of the hardcore Dravidian follower vote. This seems like Raja's attempt to tap into the religiously inclined non-brahmin Hindu, who is not wedded to the rather iron-cast school of atheism propagated by Periyar. The problem with the BJP however, is its approach. It believes vandalising or defacing a statue is good enough to annihilate an idea that has held roots for decades. The reaction to its hope of seeing Periyar's statues brought down, would have given the BJP a harsh reality check.
While the BJP has given Raja a rap on the knuckles this time, it should have done it much earlier. Raja is a repeat offender. He is to the BJP in Tamil Nadu what Mani Shankar Aiyar was to the Congress in 2014 and during the Gujarat elections. In October last year, he took on Tamil superstar Vijay whose movie Mersal contained one dialogue that was critical of the GST. In a pathetic attempt at divisive politics, Raja brought in Vijay's religion into it, insinuating that he is anti-BJP because his full name is Joseph Vijay.
What this episode has done is to further damage the BJP's image in Tamil Nadu. The party is already under fire for not acting on the Supreme Court's 16 February order on constituting the Cauvery Management Board within six weeks. The BJP fears doing so will harm its electoral prospects in Karnataka that goes to polls in May as the upper riparian state has always opposed such an authority.
At the BJP parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday, Narendra Modi told his MPs that the match was going fine. "Just don't bowl a no-ball," he said. Raja has done precisely that, giving the Opposition in Tamil Nadu a much-needed free hit.
Updated Date: Mar 07, 2018 16:27 PM