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Saffron-clad photo of Thiruvalluvar sparks row in Tamil Nadu: Who was he and what was the controversy?

Thiruvalluvar, popularly known as Valluvar, was an ancient Tamil philosopher known for his wisdom, expressed in 1,330 couplets, on topics ranging from ethics to economics.

Edited By: Sheenu Sharma @20sheenu Chennai Updated on: May 24, 2024 14:30 IST
Thiruvalluvar, Thiruvalluvar news, tamil nadu, poet thiruvallauvar, Thiruvalluvar statue, Thiruvallu
Image Source : MK STALIN (X) Poet-saint and philosopher Thiruvalluvar.

Thiruvalluvar controversy: In the midst of the heated debate surrounding the event invitation extended by the Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi, which depicted Tamil poet-saint Thiruvalluvar wearing saffron robes, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko expressed strong disapproval emphasising that Thiruvalluvar transcends caste and religion.

"This is condemnable. Poet-saint Thiruvalluvar is above caste and religion. He (Governor) is making Raj Bhavan a laughing stock," Vaiko said.

What's the matter all about?

The saffronisation of the ancient poet-philosopher has triggered a fresh controversy among political leaders. Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi recently stirred controversy by posting a picture on social media depicting Thiruvalluvar dressed in a saffron robe with ashes on his forehead.

MK Stalin on Thiruvalluvar controversy

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin posted a picture of the poet in white attire and shared an image of the Valluvar statue at Kanniyakumari. "It was Valluvar who pioneered the social justice theory of procreating all life- the self-reliance that only effort brings success- the concept of virtue as life. No one can taint Valluvar in Kurallovian Tamil Nadu, which has a 133-foot statue and a Kottam in the capital," Stalin wrote in a post on X. 

Who was Thiruvalluvar?

Thiruvalluvar, commonly known as Valluvar, was an ancient Tamil philosopher known for his wisdom, expressed in 1,330 couplets, on topics ranging from ethics to economics. 

BJP poll manifesto for Tamil Nadu

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in its poll manifesto for Lok Sabha Elections 2024, released on April 14 promised to establish Thiruvalluvar Cultural Centres across the world if elected to power for the third term.

The BJP, which is desperately trying to break into Tamil Nadu politics and increase its seat tally in the Lok Sabha Elections 2024, has used several methods to get into the social and political firmament of the state. BJP is also trying to embrace Tamil cultural identities in order to piggy ride on the popularity of these icons to gain political mileage ahead of the general elections It remains to be seen whether these aggressive measures will help the BJP raise its seat tally in the forthcoming polls.

Seeking to connect with the people of Tamil Nadu where the BJP is trying to gain a foothold, the party, in its manifesto said, "We will establish Thiruvalluvar Cultural Centres across the globe to showcase Bharat's rich culture and offer training in yoga, ayurveda, Bharatiya languages, classical music etc. We will promote Bharat's rich democratic traditions going back millennia as the mother of democracy."

"We will build Thiruvalluvar cultural centres all over the world. The world's oldest Tamil language is our pride. BJP will undertake every effort to enhance the global reputation of the Tamil language," PM Modi said while releasing the BJP's manifesto. 

Thiruvalluvar saffron controversy 

However, the BJP’s moves to embrace Thiruvalluvar, Subramania Bharathi and political leaders like K Kamaraj and MGR may not yield the fruits it expects as these Tamil icons are etched in the minds of Tamilians as doyens of the Dravidian movement.

R Raghunath, Retired Professor of Sociology and Director of Institute of Social Research, Tiruchi while speaking to a news agency said, “The BJP should never have draped Thiruvalluvar in saffron. It has not gone down well with the people of Tamil Nadu as the great saint was always depicted as wearing white. Why to paint him saffron? This will have a negative impact on the fortunes of the BJP and whoever has given this advice, will repent in a post-poll scenario.”

The BJP trying to usurp the identity of former Chief Minister and Congress leader, K Kamaraj has also not gone down well with the masses as everyone knows what Kamaraj represented in his political carrier.

There were mass protests by the Congress cadre on this move by the BJP and the local media also strongly took up the issue. The AIADMK is also not happy with the BJP trying to use the legacy of former Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) and in the 2024 elections this could also go against the saffron party.

However the Kashi-Tamil Sangamam, the Saurashtra-Tamil Sangamam and increasing the importance of Ayothyapatinam, where a Sree Rama temple is situated are some moves that could give the BJP a semblance of respect among the people of the state.

In the days to come there will be serious discussions and confabulations but if the BJP does not stitch up a strong alliance, then the possibility of the saffron party winning even a single seat is difficult.

Politics of Tamil Nadu 

After the AIADMK broke its alliance with the BJP due to the utterances of an immature leader like K Annamalai, the BJP has lost major support that it could have banked upon in the 2024 polls.

In the 2021 Assembly elections, the BJP could win four seats including that of Coimbatore South, wherein the Mahila Morcha National President, Vanathi Srinivasan defeated Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan who is also the president of the Makkal Needhi Maiam party.

This and the other three wins in the Assembly elections were purely due to the BJP-AIADMK alliance and with that alliance snapped, the possibility of BJP extending influence in these seats is remote. Plus, the BJP embracing Thiruvalluvar, a Tamil cultural icon by draping him in saffron instead of his usual white robes has not gone down well with the Tamil populace.

Draping Thiruvalluvar in saffron tops list of BJP's cultural slip-ups in Tamil Nadu

BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman and other senior leaders are in and out of Tamil Nadu at regular intervals and announcing new projects for the state ever so often.

The BJP is also trying to embrace Tamil cultural identities in order to piggy ride on the popularity of these icons to gain political mileage ahead of the general elections It remains to be seen whether these aggressive measures will help the BJP raise its seat tally in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP drew a blank in the 2019 general elections and could garner only 3.66 per cent of the total votes polled. Its alliance partners AIADMK got 19.39 per cent votes, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) received 5.36 per cent and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) got 2.16 per cent of the vote share. Interestingly, the DMK bagged 33.52 per cent of the vote share.

This shows that the BJP, on its own, will not be able to make a mark in the state unless it works out new permutations and combinations. It should be noted that the BJP is not in a political alliance with the AIADMK and fighting a Lok Sabha election on its own will not help the saffron party achieve the desired results.

However, the BJP is trying to get the support of the dissident wing of the AIADMK led by former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam, former interim general secretary of the party, VK Sasikala and her nephew and former MLA, TTV Dhinakaran.

VK Sasikala, who was the close aide of late Chief Minister and AIADMK leader, J Jayalalithaa, has several contacts in the AIADMK at the grass root levels and the new political outfit floated by her nephew, Dhinakaran, Amma Makkal Munnettra Kazagam (AMMK) has its own share of voters in southern Tamil Nadu.

The BJP is trying to ride piggyback on the influence of OPS, Sasikala and Dhinakaran in the powerful Thevar community and convert this into support for itself in the Lok Sabha elections.

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