in focus: tamil issues Lok Sabha Election 2019

The enduring relevance of Tamil nationalism

For the first time since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, the political discourse in the State has been subsumed by the simple narrative of ‘Hindutva vs secular parties’ for the upcoming Lok Sabha election, pushing aside the Tamil nationalist demands (and criticisms) that were raised during the last few elections.

The unified call for the release of seven Tamils convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case may still be heard in the State, but ‘core’ demands like holding a referendum for the formation of a separate Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka and opposing Sri Lanka in the United Nations have been subdued.

But some argue that the scope of ‘Tamil issues’ has vastly expanded since 2009 to encompass a wider variety of problems.

Packiarajan Sethuramalingam, spokesperson of the Naam Tamilar Katchi, said his party would continue to seek votes on its primary plank of opposing both the Congress and the BJP. “As far as the NTK is concerned, we will continue to speak about Congress’ role in the Eelam war that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka in 2009. We don’t want the Congress or the BJP and will oppose both,” he said.

On the criticism that the NTK had adopted a narrow definition of what it means to be a Tamil, he said, “The NTK feels that T.N. should be headed by a committed Tamil nationalist to protect the rights of the State. There is an inescapable feeling in the minds of the people that their rights are being ceded only because the State is not headed by a committed Tamil leader.”

Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi leader T. Velmurugan said his party identifies with ‘practical’ Tamil nationalism that doesn’t seek to alienate non-Tamils and works within the framework of the Constitution. “I agree that the demands related to the Sri Lankan Tamils issue may not have takers in electoral politics, but please don’t assume that Tamil society will forget those demands. Tamil nationalist politics also comprises issues relating to Tamil sovereignty, Tamil livelihood, protecting the environment and a good chunk of jobs in T.N. being taken by North Indians….all these issues are being addressed by Tamil nationalist parties today,” he said.

“Dravidian politics has addressed issues such as caste discrimination, social justice etc. I take these points. I am not against a Bihari, or someone from U.P. But we cannot accept the fact that someone from Maharashtra or Kerala or Punjab can rule in Tamil Nadu in the name of Dravidian politics,” he added.

Arguing that Tamil nationalism had expanded in scope, VCK general secretary D. Ravikumar felt that the demands for Tamils’ rights in Sri Lanka had transformed into a politics that spoke of autonomy for States and federalism in India. “The primary demands may not revolve around the issue of Tamil Eelam. We are talking about increased share of taxes, bringing back ‘Education’ into the State List and the need for a strong federal structure. In that context, bigger parties have brought the Tamil nationalist agenda into the mainstream,” he said, adding, “The BJP’s attempt to centralise power and erode the powers of the State in the last five years was instrumental in rekindling these demands."

Progressive politics

Notwithstanding the criticism of Tamil nationalist parties, some have pointed out that parties like the NTK have promoted progressive politics by fielding an equal number of men and women, transgenders, those with physical disabilities and Dalit candidates in general constituencies.

P. Maniarasan, president, Tamil Desiya Periyakkam, said that the people of Tamil Nadu had begun seeing how the State was being discriminated against by the Centre on crucial issues such as the Cauvery river water sharing dispute, the release of the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the imposition of NEET, etc. “Dravidian parties are the ones who are ceding away the State’s rights for political power. They are aligning themselves with Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, who are like identical twins, politically…as far as Tamil rights are concerned,” he said.

Karthick Ram Manoharan, assistant professor, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, contended that Tamil nationalist parties had emerged as ‘true’ anti-establishment parties after the demise of Dravidian greats Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.

“Though a number of political outfits are emerging to take their place, only Tamil nationalist formations pose a possible ideological challenge in the near future,” said Karthick. “While the Tamil nationalists are anti-establishment in a sense, they still have not found a single anti-establishment cause around which they can rally the vast majority of the Tamil population.”

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2020 4:25:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/the-enduring-relevance-of-tamil-nationalism/article26556954.ece

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