PM Modi claims he’s stood by Tamils everywhere – but has he really?

Why didn’t Modi speak a word about the Sterlite controversy, the Thoothukudi shooting, Jallikattu, Cauvery, or NEET?
PM Modi claims he’s stood by Tamils everywhere – but has he really?
PM Modi claims he’s stood by Tamils everywhere – but has he really?
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“Friends, our vision is sabka sath, sabka vikas. The bond of humanity is bigger than all bonds. Whenever any Tamil person has faced a problem, anywhere in India or the world, we have been at the forefront to help…”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s solemnity can indeed be breathtaking. Whether appealing to the minorities in the original avatar, or now turning to Tamils, generally lukewarm to Hindu nationalism, his formulations are poignant, no doubt. Naturally this declaration at a recent NDA rally in Kanchipuram evoked thunderous cheers from the audience.

In the same speech, he also claimed, “Almost 1,900 fishermen from Sri Lanka have returned home to Tamil Nadu. A few of them were also facing the death sentence, but we ensured with the cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka that they returned to India.” That many in the last five years? Most certainly news to those tracking developments down south. Fact-checkers can do the job better, but clearly this is a typical Modi hype.

The Rameswaram fishermen did begin to breathe more easily after the destruction of the LTTE, yes, but the turf war between them and their counterparts across straits has resulted in their frequent detention and seizure of their boats by the Lankan authorities. It takes a lot of coaxing to soften them and rescue the detained. This is the latest incident.

All the same it can be argued that the Centre is doing its bit, whatever the credibility of Modi’s numbers. But the Congress, too, can turn around and make similar claims.

So the right question to ask could be – Is the NDA regime indeed alive to the needs of the state or its  sensibilities?

All the things that Modi didn’t do

The Cauvery river water dispute affects the livelihood of millions, and the upper riparian state of Karnataka continues to baulk at honouring even tribunal awards. Only surplus water flows down, seldom the sharing formula for distress years is adhered to. But never once has the Modi government made any attempt to forge a compromise.

Not that former Karnataka Chief Minister and BJP leader Yeddyurappa would allow New Delhi to take any such initiatives – this point raised just to stress that, on a serious economic issue, Modi has been as indifferent to Tamils as the previous Prime Ministers.

No major investments have been made in Tamil Nadu either, whether by or at the instance of the Centre.

In the educational sphere, NEET is felt to be hurting the interests of the Tamil students. While some experts seem to think that it is not as demonic as it is made out to be, others believe the very nature of the medical entrance exam hurts the interests of students from Tamil Nadu. The rankings are interpreted in various ways, and the last word has not been said on the issue.

Whatever the actual impact, it may be noted here that when the controversy was raging and a disappointed Dalit girl, Anitha, killed herself, New Delhi chose to ignore it altogether. If anything, it insisted before the courts that the idea was eminently sensible and just. It wouldn't even accept the translation muddle of last year. Worse, when the Madras High Court ordered compensatory marks, it promptly appealed to the Supreme Court, and eventually the affected Tamil Nadu students lost out.

The response to the two major cyclones that hit the state in recent times, Ockhi in 2017 and Gaja last year, has been very tardy.

And when a farmers’ organisation went all the way to New Delhi and took to some unorthodox methods of protest, grabbing wide media attention, Modi didn’t care. Only a hugely embarrassed state government had to call on the agitators and persuade them to back off. Of course, none of the issues raised by them have been addressed so far.

Besides, critics even argue that the current dispensation is inimical to Tamil aspirations. Both during the jallikattu agitation and Sterlite protests, the Modi regime managed to wriggle out after some initial embarrassment. There was no statement from the Prime Minister when 13 people were shot dead by the police in Thoothukudi last year – no condemnation, no condolences, not even an acknowledgement of the lives lost. But through some deft manoeuvres, both the Centre and the state government could succeed in staving off more odium.

But Keezhadi is a major indictment. Even while experts and laity were both excited by the findings that seemed to establish Tamil antiquity, the Centre suddenly downgraded the excavations, booted out the lead archaeologist, and reduced the financial outlay. 

Another slap on the Tamil pride is the recent nomination of conservative archeologist R Nagaswamy to a panel of the Central Institute of Classical Tamil to decide on fellowships. This expert maintains Thirukural, a celebrated Tamil text, derives from the Vedas, particularly the Manu Shastra, which is widely reviled by the Dravidianists.

The case of the seven convicted for their role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is yet another touchstone. The courts have left it to the executive, but the Governor of Tamil Nadu has been sitting for weeks now on the recommendation of the state government to grant them pardon. (It is claimed though that a surprise announcement could be in the offing, in order to win back public opinion.)

Not that previous Congress governments had really acquitted themselves creditably – the problems of the Lankan Tamils, whether native or immigrant, were continuously ignored, Katchatheevu was ceded without so much as a by your leave, leading to major setbacks for the Rameswaram fishermen, the Manmohan Singh regime allowed the Mullivaikkal massacre to take place and so on.

But then the BJP has an additional disadvantage – it has to battle the impression that it is a party of the northerners, of the Brahmins and Baniyas at that. The alliance of the AIADMK and other parties might serve to contain such adverse perceptions, but there is nothing on record so far to show this edition of the ‘sabka sath’ is any less hollow.

TN Gopalan is a senior journalist based in Chennai. Views expressed are the writer's own.

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