The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Language twist to Hindutva

Chennai, Aug. 20: The arena is politics, but the combat is over language and religion.

Tamil Nadu politics is waking up to a tussle between the advocates of the Tamil language and culture and the new votaries of “soft Hindutva”.

The divide, which cuts across party lines, came into focus during the no-trust motion in Parliament yesterday. The DMK’s nominee T.R. Baalu, while speaking during the debate, said it was high time Tamil is declared a classical language.

Baalu’s plea came close on the heels of a similar demand by a group of Tamil scholars who even went on hunger strike in Delhi and later met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Tamil Nadu BJP leaders also met Vajpayee to press for the same demand. Vajpayee has assured he would consider it.

On the other hand, the ruling ADMK, which has been vocal about Tamil, is now being attacked for practising its brand of “soft Hindutva”. This is where the irony lies. And so does the root of the ongoing tussle.

The DMK, which claims to be the “true inheritor” of the Dravidian movement, has launched a tirade against the Jayalalithaa-led ADMK for “stealing a march” over even the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to grab the “Hindutva constituency”. At an election fundraiser last night, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said the ADMK was “speedily racing ahead” of even the Sangh to spread religious fundamentalism and marginalise the minorities.

The DMK chief questioned how Jayalalithaa could openly support the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and pursue policies that amounted to “propagating Hindu fundamentalism” and “crushing” minority sentiments.

“Should not the ADMK government, which strikes at the very roots of the long-nourished Dravidian movement, be thrown out of power'” Karunanidhi thundered.

The tussle acquired a new dimension today, when senior ADMK leader . Pulamaipitthan, in an attempt to counter the soft-Hindutva image, regretted that Tamil scholars had to still “keep knocking on New Delhi’s doors” to get ‘Tamil’ declared a classical language.

Pulamaipitthan, who was delivering the first “Dr J. Jayalalithaa Trust Lecture” at the International Institute of Tamil Studies here, said Indira Gandhi, during her visit to Moscow, quoted from a Tamil poem from the classical ‘Sangam’ age which says “every place on earth is my native place and everybody my relative”.

It was not Sanskrit or Hindi which came to the former Prime Minister’s aid, but only Tamil, Pulamaipitthan pointed out. The culture spawned by the Tamil language embodies unique values like hospitality, even to strangers, and a sense of religious pluralism, he said. Jainism and Buddhism also find a place in Tamil society, he added.

“I consider myself fortunate to have worked with MGR, the founder of the ADMK, for 22 years, who dined with at least 25 people daily in the best traditions of Tamil hospitality,” Pulamaipitthan said to dispel the impression that the ADMK has settled for soft-Hindutva.

Sources say this tug-of-war over language would put the state BJP in a dilemma, as it has to speak up for Hindutva, too, in the same breath.

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