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Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Emergence of New Tamil Identity


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Tamil language and culture is one of the oldest thriving tradition in the world, as far as oral tradition it dates it back to 6000BCE and archeological evidence has touched 1200BCE so far . Tamil language has shared vocabulary from Sanskrit so as many other Indian languages.

The oldest Tamil literary texts is “tholkappiyum “ from pre 300 BCE, etymologically thol- kapiyam means ancient work of literature it means so in Sanskrit as well. The Tamil identity has its uniqueness and yet many commonalities with Sanskrit same as with most other Indian languages.

The chola kings along with Pandiya and cheras of Tamil Nadu are the torch bearers of Tamil culture, during their period between 3rd century BCE and 13th century CE Tamil literature, temples , vedic philosophy especially the bhakti tradition and social morality was the foundation of Tamil culture, over centuries it became a great tradition , well documented spread globally and made eternal during this period called the golden era of tamils.

After 1200 years of Mughal and European colonialism, post 1947 the Dravidian movement started as a political tool to seize power. An impoverished nation depleted of its wealth and suppressed Intellectual property on its philosophy won self rule in 1947. The society was in disarray as the congress party which became the sole inheritor of power under self rule of india dominated the power share at both the centre and the sates. This gave raise to a new Dravidian cult which build a new narrative of Tamil identity against the congress party to gain political accession.

Dravidian movement gained rapid acceptance as it stood for anything that is against congress. Congress pitched for national development Dravidian movement said Tamil self rule and anti Hindi rhetoric. Congress pushed secular theism Dravidian idea peddled atheism. Their raise to power was metamorphic as the DMK the Dravida munnatra Kazhagam came to power in 1967 , ever since till today no national party could ever come to power in Tamil Nadu.

They say power corrupts but more importantly power disrupts the society as it makes strange allies. The Sri Lankan Tamils fight for self rule reaching a boiling point in the 80s the Dravidian parties saw a great opportunity to whip up Tamil sentiment among their voter base started hosting Tamil refugees and provide them logistics support for their armed struggle in Sri Lanka. Thus Tamil nationalism of Sri Lanka became a bed fella of the Dravidian movement.

In the 90s As the congress party got weakened by socialists of Janata party on one side and nationalism of BJP the other side The Dravidian movement added social justice movement as an ally. By then the Dravidian parties became so strong in the state that congress and the socialists became allies of the Dravidian parties a quid pro quo to stay relevant in Tamil Nadu in return the Dravidian parties shared some influence in central government . The state of Tamil Nadu has a 12-15% minority population, their minority institutions in order to have political influence joined hands with the Dravidian parties in the 90s thereby starting a new beginning of appeasement politics . Atheism , Tamil nationalism ( anti Hindi and Sri Lankan Tamil rights ) social justice and minority appeasement became a strong combination dominating 50 years of Tamil politics. however this concoction pushed the Dravidian parties so far away from its original Tamil culture, it has now become too alien to the Tamils true identity. It was a bubble destined to break.

Come 2014 the BJP’s ascent to power at the centre the Modi government starts their version of nationalism, gaining acceptance among many states in india .. Though twice back in power in centre bjp never had its answer set in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu required a distinctly new narrative beyond just development n neo nationalism of the Modi government.

After 6 years of BJP at the centre and dominating power in many states, in Tamil Nadu bjp was still a small fringe player. however come 2020 suddenly larger than life leaders like Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha passing away created a leadership vacuum. The Dravidian parties were more focused on control of the parties succession while the gaping hole on the narrative was being ignored. Till 2020 BJP too used Jayalalitha tactically as an alliance to stay afloat in the state saw a new scope to rethink their position.

Among the unspoken achievements of Modi government in last eight years is a sense of pride for being Indian, it is rarely spoken about in electoral politics, improved respect for Indians abroad, sense of worth for Indians as a meaningful citizen of this world are true soft power seeping through the discourse in public domain, though palpable this sense of pride being Indian, it is not qualifiable and surely not usable in electoral rhetoric.

Tamil Nadu is one of the most affluent states of india with a huge middle class population which has never been swept by welfare schemes is being silently swept with this unspoken phenomena. Being indian is suddenly is not so bad , The Tamil nationalism is quietly being replaced by neo nationalism of india. Dravidian politics apart from anti Hindi and imaginary self rule could never bring about a sense of pride in the state. The nationalism fever of Modi government brought in exactly that. The first ally of Dravidian politics the Tamil nationalism is in icu today. The new “being Indian “ connects to Tamils across Sri Lanka malaysia Singapore North America and rest of world in a higher level of oneness like never seen before in this generation. It recreates the Tamil identity of the cholas of the past.

The political crisis in Sri Lanka in 2022 was a tipping point for the Tamil identity. While in the past the Dravidian parties used to cross swords with congress on issue of Sri Lankan Tamils for support of armed insurgency, the Tamils of Sri Lanka now are part of the mainstream, when crisis erupted in Sri Lanka in April this year the bjp government moved in swiftly lend economic as well as political support decisively, the dmk govt in the state of Tamil Nadu went quiet as they did not have any issue to add against the BJP at the centre. This broke the ally no 2, clearly Sri Lankan Tamil issue the game is over for Tamil Nadu politics.

Post Covid in india as the movement restrictions are lifted and the temples opened fully in Tamil Nadu, crowds never seen before thronged the temples ,temple festivals witnessed unprecedented pilgrims. Tamil Nadu has one of highest per capita temples in the country, post pandemic the newly found reverence to the divine , it looked as if they went to the gods as thanksgiving for surviving Covid. This timing also coincided with assembly elections in Tamil Nadu as DMK swept power and Karunanidhi son Stalin became a first time chief minister.
DMK mistook this resurgence of temple visits by large population and felt insecure after years of preaching atheism. One of the first things they did was to shut temples on weekends and restrict crowd in temples while there were no such restrictions in churches and mosques. This was a strategic blunder a self goal to their own agenda. All it took for BJP’s new state leader Annamalai was to bring it to public narrative , the third ally atheism is supposedly dead right now. Tami Nadu today is witnessing revival of its bhakti tradition as if it’s been unlocked from the chains for 50 years.

In July 2022 BJP announced Draupadi Murmu as a presidential candidate , she represents a tribal community and a woman of great learning. This time cleverly BJP used her campaign to shoot down social justice of the DMK. DMK being an ally of opposition voted against Draupadi Murmu. The main Dravidian party was caught on the wrong foot further as BJP used the fact that social justice never existed in their own party hierarchy as dmk stood clearly exposed. The last ally of social justice is on ventilator as I write this article

Many new initiatives have sprung up recently , the revival of Tamil philosophical works of Thiruvalluvar “The Thirukural “ has started between Tamils in Tamil Nadu, Sri lanka, malaysia and south east Asia is gaining a brotherhood of true identity among the Tamils. Kadhirgramam temple in Sri lanka saw many visitors from India this year and next year in June 2023 it is expected to achieve a world event status when Sri lanka stabilises politically.

This is a renaissance moment for Tamils as a civilisation and Tamil politics being main streamed in India, the Dravidian narrative is being broken.

Tamil Nadu will witness in months and years to come a new cultural revolution way beyond what we see in rest of India. This would also be the time a true Tamil identity submerged in dravdianism would get unlocked. BJP is clearly the sole gainer politically right now how other parties realign to this reality is to be seen.

Soundarajan Narendran
Soundarajan Narendran
Data Analyst, public policy expert & international relations

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