The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Winds of change in Tamil politics

Chennai/New Delhi, Oct. 24: Politics prevailed over old hostilities today when BJP ally M. Karunanidhi shared a dais with Congress leaders to denounce Tamil Nadu’s controversial Ordinance banning conversions.

The DMK chief, who was joined by the PMK’s S. Ramadoss, another ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, surprised a huge gathering of fasting protesters, mainly Christians and Muslims, at St Andrews Kirk in Chennai this evening when he slammed Jayalalithaa’s Ordinance as “anti-minorities and fascist”.

The fast, held on a day thousands of minority educational institutions in the state remained closed as a mark of protest, was organised by churches of all denominations in Tamil Nadu and the All India Pastors/Evangelists Fellowship. It also brought within its fold other minority groups.

Karunanidhi stopped short of commenting on the DMK’s future ties, but observers said his appearance on the dais with AICC secretary G.K. Vasan and state Congress leaders S. Balakrishnan and E.V.K.S. Elangovan completes his party’s alienation from the BJP in Tamil Nadu. He had earlier said the NDA had ceased to exist in the state. Among the others who attended the meeting were the CPM’s N. Varadarajan, the CPI’s R. Nallakannu and Dalit leader Krishnasamy.

The former chief minister’s presence at the rally follows recent efforts at rapprochement between the Congress and the DMK. On Monday, under Sonia Gandhi’s instructions, AICC secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu Ramesh Chennithala had visited ailing DMK leader and Union minister Murasoli Maran in hospital and presented a bouquet to his wife.

Chennithala was accompanied by Balakrishnan and Elangovan. The overtures come at a time when ADMK chief Jayalalithaa is inching closer to the NDA.

At the meeting, Karunanidhi quoted from a letter Jayalalithaa had written to the church fathers in March 2001 before the Assembly elections seeking support for the “secular alliance” led by her party. She had said the DMK’s participation in a BJP-led coalition at the Centre bode ill for the security and interests of the minorities.

“What Ms Jayalalithaa is doing now is just the opposite,” Karunanidhi said to thunderous applause. And the hastily promulgated Ordinance, to be soon made into a law, was to “show that she was a true representative of Hindutva here”.

The DMK leader pointed out that the Ordinance had come at the end of a series of “yagnas and pujas” besides the donation of an elephant to the Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple.

He drew from the speech of the late Union minister, T.T. Krishnamachariyar, in the Constitutent Assembly in 1948 to underline that Christian educational institutions did not resort to forcible conversions and that many who embraced Christianity had done so to escape from the humiliation of being untouchables. Karunanidhi also cited figures to show that the percentage of Christian and Muslim population in India had declined over the years.

He said Jayalalithaa, through this Ordinance, was doing her best to espouse the Hindutva cause and defended an entire village of Dalits in Tirunelveli district for converting to Islam in the early 1980s. More than economic benefit, it was the inner need to uphold “one’s self-respect” that made Dalits embrace other religions, Karunanidhi argued.

Karunanidhi vowed to fight for the interests of Dalits and minorities. “Till my last breath I will live up to the faith reposed in me by the late elder statesman, C. Subramaniam, that there can be no place for religious fundamentalism in any alliance of which Karunanidhi was a part,” he declared.

Peter Alphonse, of the Tamil Maanila Congress, which has since merged with its parent party, saw in the fast-cum-rally a “new opportunity for political change”. He wanted Karunanidhi to come to the rescue of Tamils and save them from the “impending onslaught of the Sanskrit authoritarianism of the Hindutva forces”.

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