Tamil Nadu Elections 2016: Is the Church the biggest winner of Dravidian discourse and voter the biggest loser?
The voting percentage in Tamil Nadu has crossed 40 as I write this and no matter whether the DMK or the AIADMK wins, the state will return to the now, sickeningly familiar phenomenon of welfarism run riot, on a scale unimaginable anywhere in the world at any point in history. A respected scholar and academic I know summarised this sort of welfarism thus: “Tamil Nadu’s Dravidian politics has created at least two generations of youth unfit for employment in any area of human activity.” This harsh assessment does have more than a grain of truth to it.
And this unique brand of welfarism would be impossible to implement over decades but for the separatist ideology that underpins it: Dravidianism.
Church power in Tamil Nadu politics
The journey of the Dravidian ideology is a journey of progressive descent as we shall see. In general, what began as linguistic identity-separateness morphed into racial separateness, and eventually, today into Christian religious separateness. The scholar Aravindan Neelakandan sums this up well:
"The Church, cutting across denominations, has constantly tried to create and propagate a false history that combines Dravidian racism with evangelical Christianity. In this narrative, Abraham was a Dravidian. St.Thomas brought this Dravidian monotheism back to Tamil Nadu which was then besieged by Brahmins… Thirukural was the result of the teachings of St.Thomas! Saivism and Vaishnavism were branches of Christianity brought by St.Thomas. Cunning Brahmins corrupted them into present Hinduism."
Both the 2011 and 2016 elections are good indicators to assess the extent of influence the Church wields in Tamil Nadu.
In 2011, Jayalalithaa’s pre-poll carrot to the Christians included state-funded pilgrimages to Bethlehem, according to Electionnow.tv.
This time, Karunanidhi has outdone her. On 3 May, he announced that his party would accede to the demands made by the Tamil Nadu Bishops' Council, according to The Times Of India. The demands?
1. To include Dalit Christians in the Scheduled Castes classification
2. To pass a Government order to include people who converted into Christianity from MBC communities in their respective castes
3. To revoke property tax levied on minority institutions
4. An immediate ban on alcohol, a la Kerala
As is the practice, the media, intelligentsia and our commentariat instead of being alarmed, simply glossed over this shameful concession to such brazen communal demands.
The TN Bishops’ Council promptly announced their support to the DMK-Congress combine and issued orders to each parish to instruct the faithful to vote for this combine because, this combine would “safeguard secular and democratic values."
Of course, we wonder on what moral or other grounds the Church bodies speak about secularism when they advise the faithful to vote as Christians.
The DMK’s meek surrender could also be interpreted as atonement for its wooing of the Hindu vote. The Church didn’t take kindly to—for example—MK Stalin’s overtures in say, Kumbakonam in October 2015. According to The Hindu, he declared:
"There is a well-planned campaign to project that the DMK is anti-Hindu. But the family members of party leaders and cadre have faith in god. Even my wife is visiting all temples across the State and I never once asked her not to go."
In any case, the Bishops’ Council has now brought the DMK to its knees.
This startling power of the Church is truly the victory of the missionary Bishop Robert Caldwell.
The father of Dravidianism
Gloating about his successes in Bengal, Macaulay wrote thus to his father in 1836:
"Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully… The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion… It is my firm belief that, if our plans of education are followed up, there will not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal thirty years hence…"
Twenty years later, Bishop Robert Caldwell would publish his A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South-Indian family of Languages in which he held:
"The [Tamil] language being probably the earliest cultivated on the Dravidian idioms, the most copious and that which contains the largest portion and the richest variety of indubitably ancient forms…"
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to claim that this, among other glowing lines about the language in his book on Tamil grammar, formed the bedrock of Tamil linguistic separatism, and gave the much-needed manure for the racist theories of Dravidian separatism to fully flower and to eventually capture political power.
In the realm of Dravidian ideology, Robert Caldwell is a demi-god who has numerous busts and statues to his credit across Tamil Nadu. A postage stamp too, was issued in his honour by the Indian government in 2010. In short, thou shalt not subject Caldwell to critical scrutiny in Tamil Nadu.
However, Caldwell’s same book also contained these lines:
"We seem to be justified in drawing the conclusion that the Dravidian languages have remained almost unaltered for the last two thousand years, but probably also that the principal dialects that now prevail had a separate existence at the commencement of the Christian era… [Emphasis added]"
And he further traces the beginnings of Tamil literature to not earlier than the 10th Century.
Now, this posed an enormous problem for the Dravidian champions back then because among other factors, the ideology rests on the antiquity of the Tamil language.
For instance, the Dravidian ideological scholar, MS Purnalingam Pillai dates the Third Sangam to a period between 1750 BCE and 100 CE while M Srinivasa Aiyangar places it between 5th Century BCE and 6th Century CE. Still others date it variously from the 2nd Century BCE and the 1st Century CE.
The art of making things disappear
Dr BGL Swamy who was professor of Botany (and later principal) in Madras Presidency College from 1953 till 1978 was a scholar of the highest order in numerous fields including Tamil linguistics, grammar, literature, history and culture.
More importantly, he was an eyewitness to the era of the ascent of Dravidian ideological and political supremacy.
His Kannada essay, Mangamaaya Kale (The Art of Making Things Disappear) narrates what happened when the latter portion of Caldwell’s “justified conclusion” was unearthed. The following passage is my (translated) paraphrase of the original.
"Caldwell’s book was first published in 1856. Its second edition saw light in 1857. It contained an elaborate preface (154 pages) in a book totalling 608 pages. In 1936, the Madras University published an abridged version of this book in which the preface was chopped off in several places. The Dravidianists are smart. If someone shows them evidence that goes against their current train of opinion, they ensure that such evidence vanishes completely. They have ensured that the first and second editions of Caldwell’s book have similarly vanished in order to protect the current and future generations of innocent Tamils from being corrupted. After the abridged editions were published, all copies of Caldwell’s original have disappeared from our libraries. In the rare case that someone actually finds a copy of the original, pages of the (original) preface in that copy have disappeared. In some libraries, the “unnecessary” pages of the said preface have been blackened with ink. I ordered a copy of the microfilm of Caldwell’s [first and second] editions from the British Museum library and showed the relevant portions to some Dravidian scholars. They claimed I had doctored the pages. Neither did I leave it at that. I wrote to the Museum officials and asked them to post the enlarged photos of the relevant pages directly to these scholars. Their response: 'You’re very tough! You have managed to fool even the officials of the Museum!' "
There’s an even deeper reason why Caldwell’s observations propelled latter-day Dravidian champions into such panic.
P Sundaram Pillai in his 1897 book, The Basic Element in Hindu Civilization, claims that from a cultural standpoint, Tamil was “self-born” and never borrowed nor was influenced by other cultures and languages. It was most definitely not influenced either by the Sanskrit language or its art or culture. Everything in Tamil Nadu that people today claim as being influenced by Sanskrit is an ignorant claim. Vedanta and Aryan culture are actually of Tamil or Dravidian origin, later appropriated by the Aryans.
Equally, in 1904, V Kanakasabhai wrote in his The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago that he had a “revelation” that the most ancient works in Tamil must have been composed more than 2,000 years ago but failed to mention the evidence or the source of his revelation.
The commonality underscoring hosts of such ideologically motivated scholars is the foundation provided by Robert Caldwell.
Real-life consequences of Dravidianism
aIndeed, the Justice Party formed in 1917 accepted this foundation and built its superstructure upon it.
The Dravidian identity, defined as all those people who were non-Brahmins, was another key element that emerged from the said foundation.
Key Dravidian luminaries that propagated hostility against Brahmins included MS Purnalingam Pillai, N Subba Rao, Swami Vedachalam (who later Tamilised his name as Maraimalai Adigal) and others.
As the ideology gained momentum, achieved mass following, and eventually attained political power, almost every aspect of the state was “pure” Tamilised (or Dravidised if you will).
Here is a small sample of the kind of topics for which PhDs were awarded at the university level:
Boys in the Sangam Age
Girls in the Sangam Age
Children in the Sangam Age
Infants in the Sangam Age
If the Tamil language department published a thesis titled, Tamils in the Sangam Age, the history department’s counterpart thesis would be titled, The Sangam Age: Tamils.
Twenty-two PhDs were awarded for the same topic, all of them reaching the same conclusion of fixing the date for Silappadikaram at the 2nd Century CE.
Dr BGL Swamy narrates how a university official once approached him with a request to write an essay on “Tamil” plant life. This was to form part of the government’s 10-volume series depicting the “authentic” account of Tamil history. The first volume published in 1975 is entitled Tamizh Nadu Varalaru.
In response to Swamy’s claim that there’s no such thing as a “Telugu plant life,” “Kannada plant life” and “Tamil plant life,” the official replied, “So you mean to say there’s no unique Tamil plant life like there’s a unique, independent Tamil identity?”
One can find hundreds of such real life instances in Dr Swamy’s body of work (Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan’s Breaking India is also a seminal work that sheds detailed light on this phenomenon) that illustrate the causes and consequences of an identity-centric ideology that captures political power.
Church as the biggest beneficiary of Dravidianism
Eighty percent of Tamil Nadu’s population is under the reservation umbrella, reports Rediff.com. This fact is the direct outcome of the Dravidian ideology. This umbrella will only expand vide the current demand from the TN Bishops’ Council.
Indeed, the biggest beneficiary of the Dravidian discourse has been the Church. Over the years, it has shrewdly used the Aryan versus Dravidian, the Tamil versus non-Tamil, the Brahmin versus the non-Brahmin strands to steadily gain converts.
According to the 2011 Census, Christians form 46.85 percent of the population in Kanyakumari, the highest in the state. Vast tracts of coastal Tamil Nadu are now Christian. Tamil Nadu also receives massive amounts of foreign funding via FCRA for Christian evangelical activity as Prof R Vaidyanathan shows in a painstaking study published on IBTL.in.
The Church’s alarming power over Tamil Nadu politics—and in some cases, national politics—can also be observed in its destructive role in fuelling the Kudankulam protests in early 2012 by using its vast and impenetrable global networks and front-NGOs. This Firstpost piece explores the frightening phenomenon very well.
Robert Caldwell would have been a happy man had he been alive today.
It’s nobody’s argument that today, elections in Tamil Nadu are fought ostensibly on the plank of Dravidianism: it’s a free-for-all tussle in the game of competitive freebies and caste divisions. Needless, the ultimate loser is always the voter.
Yet, the forces that Dravidianism has unleashed over so many decades have made it impossible for any candidate to appeal to the electorate to move away from the ideology, which has inflicted much harm but given so little good in return.
Whatever the social or other injustices suffered by sections of the Tamil society in the past, embracing Dravidianism has proven to be like using an axe to get rid of the boil on your palm.
Equally, the quest for an illusory “pure” Dravidian or whatever other identity is akin to peeling layer after layer of an onion. At the end, one is left with nothing but tears.
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