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Sanatana Dharma Row: How Udhayanidhi Stalin's Remark Reflects On 'INDIA' Bloc

Experts said the political slugfest is a case of "local politics being conflated for national purposes".

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In his first public remarks on the on-going Sanatana Dharma row, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, 13 September, accused the Opposition's Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) coalition of seeking to destroy it, and urged people to be cautious against “attacks on us across the country."

“By wiping off Sanatana they want to push the country towards one thousand years of slavery once again. But we have to join forces to stop such powers. With our organisational might and our unity in every corner of the country, we have to foil their plans,” Modi said while addressing a rally in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.

Chief Minister MK Stalin's son Udayanidhi Stalin's controversial statement – calling for the 'abolition of Sanatana Dharma', equating it with diseases like “dengue, malaria and COVID-19," has not only received a sharp reaction from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but also a few of their alliance members.

With the DMK being a key member of the 'INDIA' bloc, The Quint asked political analysts how the remark reflects on the alliance's "inclusive" narrative ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Sanatana Dharma Row: How Udhayanidhi Stalin's Remark Reflects On 'INDIA' Bloc

  1. 1. Why Is This A Political Trigger? Experts Weigh In

    The DMK has had its roots in the Self-Respect Movement begun by EV Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’, positioning itself as a rationalist movement, predominantly against caste oppression.

    "Udhayanidhi Stalin did not say anything that Dr BR Ambedkar has not already said in his undelivered speech Annihilation of Caste. The reference to the term Sanatana Dharma by Udhayanidhi relates to casteism in the society," Sanjay Hegde, a Supreme Court lawyer told The Quint.

    "If you go by the Indian Constitution, which works towards equality and abolition of untouchability, calling for their eradication whether through Sanatana Dharma or something else that perpetuates it, is unexceptionable," he said.

    During his speech on Saturday, 2 September, Udhayanidhi, who's Tamil Nadu Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, said that Sanatana Dharma stood “against equality and social justice."

    “Some things cannot be opposed, they should be eradicated. Mosquitoes, dengue fever, malaria, and corona cannot be opposed. They should be eradicated. So should Sanatana [Dharma],” the DMK leader's son said, in his address to the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, in Chennai.

    But it is not as black and white, indicates RK Radhakrishnan, a senior political journalist from Tamil Nadu, who explained that a call for social justice and politics may not go hand-in-hand.

    "You can either reform society or Hinduism or you can win elections. It is all political in nature. At a time when the BJP’s slogan for elections has been ‘Hindu khatre mein hai (Hindus are in danger)', you cannot superficially talk about Sanatana Dharma. Especially if you don't engage in a larger debate of caste practices," he told The Quint.

    Expand
  2. 2. The Different Contexts In North & South India

    However, political commentator Madhavan Narayanan said that the term itself has a different meaning in northern and southern India.

    "It is a concept that has evolved over the last 200 years just like how the Dravida awakening has been brought into being as part of the post-Mughal and post-British awakening in India. In the north, the term is more widely understood than in the south," he told The Quint.

    Narayanan also said that in politics, social linguistics was extremely important to understand.

    "What is meant, what is said and what is understood maybe three different things. What Udhayanidhi meant was no caste divisions. He has chosen not to weigh his words carefully for which he might pay a political price," Narayanan said.

    Expand
  3. 3. BJP Versus 'INDIA' Alliance on Udhayanidhi's Comment

    Union Home Minister Amit Shah was quick to respond, with the BJP leader accusing both the DMK and its ally, the Congress, of “insulting Sanatana Dharma” for vote bank politics. Addressing a rally in poll-bound Rajasthan, Shah declared that 'INDIA' alliance "hates Hinduism" and is "an attack on our heritage." He added that the junior Stalin's remarks were part of the 'INDIA' bloc's "vote bank politics" and "appeasement" tactic.

    Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said Sanatan Dharma is the “rashtriya” (national) religion” of Bharat and that "no one can question its perpetuity."

    In Tamil Nadu, the issue broke into a political slugfest with Tamil Nadu BJP president Annamalai accusing Udhayanidhi of peddling a “bought-out idea from Christian missionaries." Writing on microblogging platform X, Annamalai said:

    “The only resolve that the Gopalapuram family has is to accumulate wealth beyond the state GDP. Thiru Udhaystalin, you, your father, or his or your idealogue have a bought-out idea from Christian missionaries and the idea of those missionaries was to cultivate dimwits like you to parrot their malicious ideology (sic).”

    A day after receiving backlash, the 45-year-old MLA said that he stood by his remarks and said he was ready to face legal action. “I am ready to present extensive writings of Periyar and Ambedkar, who conducted in-depth research on Sanatana Dharma and its negative impact on society in any forum,” he wrote.

    Expand
  4. 4. The Larger Impact On The 'INDIA' Alliance

    Over the last two days, as the 'INDIA' bloc came under attack as a whole, experts reiterated that Udhayanidhi's remarks could hurt them in the long run. The alliance runs the risk of losing some Brahmin voters in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, they added.

    "Electorally, it is too risky a move for the DMK as part of the alliance. It could swing one or two percent of votes against the Congress in the north," Narayanan said.

    "What is considered a normal creed of the Dravidian moment is projected as objectionable to the heartland voters of the BJP in north India," Sanjay Hegde said.

    Hegde compared the religious issue to the Hijab ban in Karnataka and said, "They (BJP) want this issue to have an impact across the country. A lot of politics which is local is being conflated for national purposes."

    Narayanan told The Quint that while the statement should not be overanalysed, "it is safe to say that it will only enhance the north-south divide."

    "In the context of what is happening in Tamil Nadu, his (Udhayanidhi) remarks are relevant and valid. It strengthens DMK's already large vote base amongst Dalits and other religious minorities," Narayanan said.

    He also added that what the Congress might lose in the north, it will gain through the DMK and other allies in the south.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Why Is This A Political Trigger? Experts Weigh In

The DMK has had its roots in the Self-Respect Movement begun by EV Ramaswamy ‘Periyar’, positioning itself as a rationalist movement, predominantly against caste oppression.

"Udhayanidhi Stalin did not say anything that Dr BR Ambedkar has not already said in his undelivered speech Annihilation of Caste. The reference to the term Sanatana Dharma by Udhayanidhi relates to casteism in the society," Sanjay Hegde, a Supreme Court lawyer told The Quint.

"If you go by the Indian Constitution, which works towards equality and abolition of untouchability, calling for their eradication whether through Sanatana Dharma or something else that perpetuates it, is unexceptionable," he said.

During his speech on Saturday, 2 September, Udhayanidhi, who's Tamil Nadu Sports and Youth Affairs Minister, said that Sanatana Dharma stood “against equality and social justice."

“Some things cannot be opposed, they should be eradicated. Mosquitoes, dengue fever, malaria, and corona cannot be opposed. They should be eradicated. So should Sanatana [Dharma],” the DMK leader's son said, in his address to the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, in Chennai.

But it is not as black and white, indicates RK Radhakrishnan, a senior political journalist from Tamil Nadu, who explained that a call for social justice and politics may not go hand-in-hand.

"You can either reform society or Hinduism or you can win elections. It is all political in nature. At a time when the BJP’s slogan for elections has been ‘Hindu khatre mein hai (Hindus are in danger)', you cannot superficially talk about Sanatana Dharma. Especially if you don't engage in a larger debate of caste practices," he told The Quint.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Different Contexts In North & South India

However, political commentator Madhavan Narayanan said that the term itself has a different meaning in northern and southern India.

"It is a concept that has evolved over the last 200 years just like how the Dravida awakening has been brought into being as part of the post-Mughal and post-British awakening in India. In the north, the term is more widely understood than in the south," he told The Quint.

Narayanan also said that in politics, social linguistics was extremely important to understand.

"What is meant, what is said and what is understood maybe three different things. What Udhayanidhi meant was no caste divisions. He has chosen not to weigh his words carefully for which he might pay a political price," Narayanan said.

0

BJP Versus 'INDIA' Alliance on Udhayanidhi's Comment

Union Home Minister Amit Shah was quick to respond, with the BJP leader accusing both the DMK and its ally, the Congress, of “insulting Sanatana Dharma” for vote bank politics. Addressing a rally in poll-bound Rajasthan, Shah declared that 'INDIA' alliance "hates Hinduism" and is "an attack on our heritage." He added that the junior Stalin's remarks were part of the 'INDIA' bloc's "vote bank politics" and "appeasement" tactic.

Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said Sanatan Dharma is the “rashtriya” (national) religion” of Bharat and that "no one can question its perpetuity."

In Tamil Nadu, the issue broke into a political slugfest with Tamil Nadu BJP president Annamalai accusing Udhayanidhi of peddling a “bought-out idea from Christian missionaries." Writing on microblogging platform X, Annamalai said:

“The only resolve that the Gopalapuram family has is to accumulate wealth beyond the state GDP. Thiru Udhaystalin, you, your father, or his or your idealogue have a bought-out idea from Christian missionaries and the idea of those missionaries was to cultivate dimwits like you to parrot their malicious ideology (sic).”

A day after receiving backlash, the 45-year-old MLA said that he stood by his remarks and said he was ready to face legal action. “I am ready to present extensive writings of Periyar and Ambedkar, who conducted in-depth research on Sanatana Dharma and its negative impact on society in any forum,” he wrote.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The Congress party, however, has been divided over Udhayanidhi’s statement.

Speaking at a party briefing at the AICC headquarters, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal said: “Our view is clear. ‘Sarva Dharma Samabhava’ (respect for all religions) is the Congress’ ideology. Every political party has the freedom to tell their views….We are respecting everybody’s beliefs…”

Speaking to the media, Congress leader Kamal Nath said, "These may be his personal views... I am not in agreement with Stalin."

However, Karnataka Congress Minister Priyank Kharge defended the leader's remark and told news agency ANI, “Any religion that does not treat people with equality is as good as a disease.”

Some allies of the 'INDIA' alliance were also quick to distance themselves from the row.

"His comment is most unfortunate. This is not related with 'INDIA' alliance. We (TMC) strongly condemn it. He should change his comment”, TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh told news agency PTI.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena UBT leader Priyanka Chaturvedi said, "Sanatan dharma (as) the country's bedrock... linked... to inclusiveness of all faiths and identities".

"Anyone making derogatory comments it is ignorant of what it stands for," she wrote on X.

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The Larger Impact On The 'INDIA' Alliance

Over the last two days, as the 'INDIA' bloc came under attack as a whole, experts reiterated that Udhayanidhi's remarks could hurt them in the long run. The alliance runs the risk of losing some Brahmin voters in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, they added.

"Electorally, it is too risky a move for the DMK as part of the alliance. It could swing one or two percent of votes against the Congress in the north," Narayanan said.

"What is considered a normal creed of the Dravidian moment is projected as objectionable to the heartland voters of the BJP in north India," Sanjay Hegde said.

Hegde compared the religious issue to the Hijab ban in Karnataka and said, "They (BJP) want this issue to have an impact across the country. A lot of politics which is local is being conflated for national purposes."

Narayanan told The Quint that while the statement should not be overanalysed, "it is safe to say that it will only enhance the north-south divide."

"In the context of what is happening in Tamil Nadu, his (Udhayanidhi) remarks are relevant and valid. It strengthens DMK's already large vote base amongst Dalits and other religious minorities," Narayanan said.

He also added that what the Congress might lose in the north, it will gain through the DMK and other allies in the south.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Tamil Nadu   DMK 

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