With the BJP expanding its reach into Tamil Nadu, and riding its back on AIADMK, the ruling DMK appears to be building a defense not only political but cultural as well – tapping into Dravidian sentiment with a deep resonance in the state.
Shortly after becoming prime minister in May 2021, MK Stalin caused an uproar by adding the phrase “belongs to the Dravidian Stock” to his Twitter profile. This goes back to a speech given by the legendary CN Annadurai in Parliament 59 years ago, in which he declared the same.
This month, which marks the completion of the first year of his government, Stalin was talking about introducing a “Dravidian model of governance.” There have been press advertisements by the DMK government in the national capital talking about the same thing.
On May 15, at a workshop titled “The Dravidian Model is the National Model”, which was held for DMK workers in Coimbatore, the party leader and former Union Minister A Raja put this model outright against the BJP. He said the latter’s ruling was an example of the “Aryan model”: “reactionary and divisive.”
Even two archaeological excavations in Tamil Nadu indicate human settlements dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization or older, find the state and center arranged along the delicate Dravidian and Aryan debate, which has acquired a new edge under the BJP system in the center.
Speaking of the recent carbon dating of the cultural deposits found at the Mayiladumparai excavation site in the Krishnagiri region, Stalin said that India’s history is being rewritten with “Tamil Land” as the starting point. The DMK government said the carbon dating of the sediments at the site made the use of iron in India 4,200 years ago. Prior to this, the first evidence of iron use was 1900-2000 BC for the country, and 1500 BC for Tamil Nadu. Latest evidence dating findings from Tamil Nadu to 2172 BC.
The DMK government has opened its portfolio chains to the state’s Department of Archeology to explore excavations at both Mayiladumparai and Keeladi. A historical discovery in 2019 at sites in the state, including Keladi near Madurai, put the origins of the Tamil Brahmi texts as 600 BC, compared to around 300 BC as previously thought. This dating narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley Civilization and the Sangam Tamilagam/South India era.
The dating of the texts became controversial when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) did not undergo advanced carbon dating tests, and the ASI researcher who started the study was moved out of the state. The results for 2019 came from the efforts of the state government.
On May 19, Stalin inaugurated an exhibition of archaeological finds and excavations at various sites in the state, including the “Riverside Culture” of Vijay and Tamirabharani in Kiladi and Burunai, Sangam Edge Industry in Kodumanal, and Mayuladumbari.
As the DMK is associated with the atheism of its fathers and founding leaders, the party balances its Dravidian push with ensuring that Hindu voters (whom the BJP is being wooed) do not turn away from it. During his speech at the Dravidian Model workshop, Raja referred to Tamil Nadu Energy Minister Senthil Balaji sitting on the podium, specifically to the religious threads around his wrist and the religious markings on his forehead. Raja said he once doubted whether Balaji, a former leader of AIADMK, could work for the DMK. He said he was proven wrong and Balaji could be part of “Dravidian politics” because he is “against the Aryan model”.
Periyar was rational. He said there is no god… but he called a priest, Therupator Thirupulyaar Adigal, to issue his Tamil magazine Kodi Arasu (in 1925) because Adegar sided with Dravidar, not Aryan… So, Balaji, though a believer, with Raja DMK said, Because he fights Aryan politics.
The great DMK leader went on to say that the dreams of BR Ambedkar were defeated by the “Aryan model”, but the “Dravidian model” of Tamil Nadu had kept them alive. He said that the “Aryan model” prevented people from growing up and getting an education based on their social class. Raja added that the blame lies with Sanatana Dharma’s practice of the sect, not Hinduism.
The DMK government gave another example of this balance when a local administration banned a ritual in which devotees would transport the Dharmapuram chief Mutt on a silver ship, on the grounds of violating human rights. After several fortune-tellers criticized the same, the government allowed the ritual to be carried out and the ban order was withdrawn.
Similarly, the DMK government touted the massive work in developing the temple as one of the major achievements in its first year.
Ramu Manivanan, who previously taught political science at the University of Madras, says the DMK knows it has to tread carefully. “In the 1970’s and 1980’s the BJP entered Karnataka politics with a fool’s politics. It is the fool influence that makes caste and caste so powerful there. Thus the DMK has to draw clear boundaries when it deals with rationalists and believers because they each have different functions” .
He added that while the DMK was more of a rationalist group when its founder CN Annadurai envisioned it, Periyar’s DK was more focused and focused on both rationalism and atheism. For rationalists, it is more about logic. “Their reflections on life, facts, pain and even faith are adequately balanced,” said Manivanan.