I have been reading and watching Dravidian politics since long. Though one can make some sense of what the Tamil politicians are upto, one does not have a chance to read about Tamil Nadu politics, its roots; and its problematic approach to social and political issues in a systematic way. “Why TN is forbidden land – The State of its state of affairs explained” by T R Jawahar is book with very large foot print in Tamil Nadu and Dravidian politics.
The massive win of BJP in 2019 everywhere except Tamil Nadu made him think hard – Why is Tamil Nadu so isolated? Why does this state vote differently from other states of India? Where is this disconnect between Tamil Nadu and India? Does the problem lie with TN people, its politicos or north Indian netas? Are national parties clueless about TN?
The premise of the book may have been built around BJP’s inability to decode the Tamil mind, but his series doesn’t just talk about BJP, Hindutva or immediate issues. It takes you through Tamil history, its rich language, culture and religious heritage, the politics of Dravidian parties, decodes the farcical games they play on Tamils and their decay. He doesn’t spare BJP or Hindutva movement. Though, I must say, some of his observations about RSS are out of lack of knowledge about it and lack of interest in reading its literature or talking to RSS people to check out his understanding.
Jawahar boldly states, “A civilization generally includes a specific land, language and literature, the life and times of its people, their culture, tradition, religion, rituals and rules governing the commune. By this definition, Thamizhagam qualifies as a unique civilization. He questions the efforts of Northerners to talk of a unified Bharathiya culture Sanskrit as the foundation, bringing in its arc the whole of India including the Dravidian.
He surmises that for India to have been inhabited by a single human stock wholly off the local soil, it must have been a substantially Dravidian, driven north by rising seas in the south. He is strong critic of the Aryan Invasion Theory and believes that it was concocted to create a rift between Aryans and Dravidians. He asserts that Thamizhagam is a civilisation in its own right and not a sub-culture of Sanskritic one, and that it is a predecessor civilization. This, according to him, should be the starting point for any political strategy.
Jawahar is sour that the historians of freedom struggle too did not give due importance to pioneer freedom fighters from South. He bemoans of horribly poor coverage, rather, lack of coverage in NCERT books about Dravidian contribution to Indian freedom struggle.
He believes that BJP too has done nothing in this regard, which is true as BJP hasn’t even made any move in that direction. He charges that RSS too only invokes Thiruvallur along with other savants across India daily. This, however, is not true. RSS not just invokes large number of great kings, queens, freedom fighters from the South but talks about them in its intellectual discourses too. This, however, is a very minor oversight in the overall argument that he builds. He accuses BJP leaders of not knowing enough about Tamil culture and history and coming to Tamil Nadu with a typical north Indian mindset.
Jawahar lists an impressive array of achievements of Tamil kings from Sangam period onwards in every field from science & technology, to agriculture and spiritualism. While talking of Keezhadi, he again slips a little about ASI trying to maintain the findings a secret. While the truth is that the samples found there have even been sent out of India for scientific investigation by interested parties, totally against the norms set by the government of India and ASI since long. It is a virtual free for all there at this time, endangering the scientific findings and clouding them.
His most educative and wonderful essays are about Dravidian movement in last 100 years from Justice Party to Dravid Kazhagam to formation of DMK, role of Congress as the preferred national party in Tamilnadu, its decline and bipolar nature of Tamil politics with both poles controlled by Dravidian parties. It is fascinating read, specially for people who fail to understand the intricacies of Tamil politics.
He makes some important submissions. He says that Hindutva is a northern construct, a product of the experiences of the Hindus there who suffered from repeated invasions and atrocities from Muslims of various hues which was the case with regions south of Vindhyas. So, Hindutva is a form of militant Hinduism while Tamil Nadu is a land of Bhakthi Hinduism. He rightly claims that Vaishanvism, Saivism and Shakthism (worship of Durga as personification of Shakti) rejuvenated and repackaged as Hinduism spread to the entire north, inspiring and producing some of the most profound saints there. The slim peninsular India propped up the broad upper regions vis-à-vis Hinduism.
He criticizes BJP and Hindutva of not giving due place to great religious figures from South India out of ignorance or arrogance. He tells u how Robert Nobili to Robert Caldwell learnt and appropriated Tamil to spread the gospel. But, there is no effort on part of BJP to undertake a similar exercise.
He goes on to show us that Tamil Nadu is a Templenadu, that is, a land of temples. He tells us how the deadliest blow to Tamil Hindus came from duplicitous ‘The Madras Religious and Charitable Endowments Act 1925” which was rechristened Madras Hindu Religious and Ednowments Act 1927. This was exploited by Justice Party from 1930 to take over any temple on simple grounds of ‘mismangagement or corruption. Thus, began the political abuse of the law. He claims that hardly 30% of the Hundi collection (or donations by devotees) is used for upkeep of temple or dharmic activities while the rest is appropriated by the governments; and shows how major chunks of temple lands have been grabbed illegally by people, including governments. He asserts that this urge to exploit temples has risen sharply under Dravidian parties.
Expressing his pain at lack of focus on Tamil Nadu in religious matter, he tells us how Kumbhmela was showcased and marketed so well, but Athi Vardaar festival that happens once in 40 years with unprecedented crowds has been neglected and organized poorly. Here he makes a telling comment, “People in the North voted BJP because they ‘bowed to Ram’s will. But, given the party’s distance from TN’s Gods, small wonder the odds are stacked against it.” The sense one gets from his analysis is that if BJP wishes to make inroads into Tamil Nadu, it can happen only if BJP espouses the cause of Hinduism of Bhakthi that is close to Hindus in Tamil Nadu.
He criticizes Dravidian politics and Periyar unsparingly. He ascribes the decline in Tamil Nadu in every sphere to them. He clearly sees that only BJP enjoys the ideological conviction and power to challenge the rampaging Dravidians. He feels that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah must visit Tamil Nadu more frequently as it is a critical land and is as isolated from the mainstream as Jammu and Kashmir.
Jawahar believes that common man in Tamil Nadu has been marooned in isolation due to Dravidian politics while leaders of these parties have very cleverly built profitable bridges to mainland India. He believes it is the duty of BJP to salvage the situation and take the people of Tamil Nadu out of this isolation. Tamil Nadu has great potential and a wonderful history. BJP just needs to connect with Tamil people in an idiom they understand.
Jawahar is provocative, writes with a flourish and an exaggerated sense of pride but with deep insights. He is not an intellectual who tries to make balanced statements and hides his bias by hedging his views. At the same time, he is Tamil journalist who is a proud Tamil and a proud Indian, too. Overall, he delivers an enriching concoction that is easy to read, for people who wish to understand why Tamil Nadu is different and for political parties like BJP who wish to make inroads into this difficult state.