Manifesting Tamil sub-nationalism

Manifesting Tamil sub-nationalism
Since the Narendra Modi government wears patriotism on its sleeves and had recently threatened to shut down a TV channel for a day for its coverage of the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase, it had to take the Sri Lankan minister for mass media to call upon the media houses to stop promoting nationalism by saying that such news becomes "part of the conflict".

Since the "market value" for nationalism is "very high", the "politically and commercially driven media have to be replaced by good ethical and public interest-driven media," says Gayantha Karunathilaka.

In India, the hype about loyalty to the motherland was "very high" during the recent agitations in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Hyderabad central university. The activities of the Left-Liberal students of the two groves of academe led to a student leader of the JNU being arrested on charges of sedition and beaten up in the court premises by lawyers loyal to the BJP.

In Hyderabad, a student activist committed suicide following a clash with the BJP's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, at a time when a Union minister described the university as a den of anti-nationals.

If these were instances of the BJP-led centre targeting suspected unpatriotic elements, there have also been examples of provincial sub-nationalism running amok as the mealy-mouthed governments looked on helplessly.

The most well-known examples of such lawlessness have been in Maharashtra where parochial parties like the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have been terrorising the people from other states by accusing them of stealing the livelihood of the locals. At the root of their antics is a willful disregard for the law of the land. There is also a sense of hauteur and pride over standing up for the state's rights.

The essence of such an attitude is an undifferentiated black-and-white view of the world. The absence of nuances is akin to the angry outpourings of trolls in the social media. These denizens of cyberspace live in a closed room where only their opinions are seen as the right ones. All else is either fake or the handiwork of evil conspirators.

The blinkered outlook of the social media has begun to infect the mainstream media as well. This degeneration was apparent during the one-sided discussions a few months ago on a TV channel which carried a fiery montage to denote the intensity of the debate. Now, the Tamil anchor of another English channel airing his views from among the Jallikattu supporters on Chennai's Merina beach shed all pretensions of being impartial as he lectured the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on what it should do to win over the protesters.

The bull-taming "sport" of Jallikattu is not the only example of Tamil sub-nationalism coming to the fore. An early example was when the DMK's C.N. Annadurai told the Rajya Sabha in 1962 that he came from "a country, a part of India now, but which I think is of a different stock, not necessarily antagonistic … I say that I belong to the Dravidian stock and that is only because I consider that the Dravidians have got something concrete, something distinct, something different to offer to the nation at large. Therefore it is that we want self-determination". Three years later, the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu was yet another instance of Tamil sub-nationalism.

Yet, not all displays of parochialism are condemnable. Since the anti-Hindi agitation ensured the continuation of English, it kept India's window open to the world to the distress of Hindi chauvinists like Ram Manohar Lohia and their regressive intellectual progenies like Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Jan Sanghis of yore and the Rajnath Singhs of today who say that English is responsible for the "loss of our language and culture" as few speak in Sanskrit now.

If the anti-Hindi agitation proved to be beneficial to the country as a whole, the uproar over Jallikattu is of little interest to the rest of India. However, it can raise concerns, first, about the show of disrespect for the Supreme Court; secondly, about the dilution of legal safeguards for animal rights; thirdly, about the inordinate primacy of culture and tradition over the law; and, lastly, over the silence of the dissenters.

It is noteworthy that none of the Tamil stalwarts who support Jallikattu ranging from film stars to chess players to cricketers had a word about the "cruelty and the risks to life posed by the sport", as the Chennai-based newspaper, The Hindu, said. The risks were highlighted by the deaths of two people participating in the "sport" in Pudukottai on the day the game was reintroduced.

The references to culture and tradition cannot but recall what happened during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s when the saffron enthusiasts of cultural nationalism insisted that the judiciary could have no say in a matter of faith and the then U.P. Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh of the BJP, proudly went to jail for a day on the Supreme Court's order for having failed to save the protected 16th century monument of the Babri Masjid from the Hindutva storm-troopers.

(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)


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