While Prime Minister Narendra Modi used a Tirukkural as an example to drive home a point in his speech in Thailand on Saturday, the BJP Tamil Nadu chapter came under severe criticism the same day for trying to 'saffronise' Thiruvalluvar, the poet who wrote Tirukkural.
Controversy broke out after BJP Tamil Nadu’s official Twitter handle posted a tweet with Thiruvalluvar in orange robes and holy ash smeared on his forehead. The tweet picked a Tirukkural which asked what is the use of education when all they do is defame God and earn the wrath of believers. “Dravidar Kazhagam, the Communists, whose existence dependent on the DMK and their media organs must know and understand these words said by Tiruvalluvar,” the remaining part of the tweet read.
While the content of the tweet may otherwise have been ignored by social media, it is the picture of Thiruvalluvar accompanying the tweet that sparked widespread outrage. Thiruvalluvar, the legendary Tamil poet, who gave the world the Tirukkural, was shown wearing saffron robes. What’s more, he was also shown wearing rudraksha beads on his neck and arms and holy ash and vermilion on his forehead and arms. For most people in the state, the image of Thiruvalluvar involves the poet clad in white robes without any visible marks on his forehead or jewellery on his body.
The tweet garnered sharp reactions from Tamil Twitter users with many calling it a misinterpretation of the Tirukkural quoted in the tweet. By 6 pm on Sunday the hashtag #BJPInsultsThiruvalluvar had garnered over 20,000 tweets and was trending at the national level.
MK Stalin, the DMK President responded to BJP’s tweet stating that BJP’s attempt to appropriate Thiruvalluvar is a betrayal for Tamils. “How much ever you colour, it will fade. Stop colouring and read Tirukkural and reform yourselves,” his tweet read. Sharply reacting to the BJP’s tweet, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also released a statement of condemnation stating that since BJP does not have its own rich history, it’s attempt to appropriate icons for themselves by changing their identities and painting them with colour is hereby strongly condemned by the state committee of CPI(M). However as the war of words escalated, many right wing supporters on Twitter argued that Dravidian forces had made the legendary poet a Tamil icon, and taken away his Hindu credentials.
There have been 1000's of organisations, political parties & social movements in TN. None of them gave a communal colour or linked #Thiruvalluvar to their ideology. Be it left or right.— Shabbir Ahmed (@Ahmedshabbir20) November 2, 2019
It's sad that even #Thiruvalluvar is not spared today. pic.twitter.com/uQYWHrz5SX
Thiruvalluvar wrote Tirukkural, a collection of 1330 couplets of worldly wisdom, which came to be known as the Universal common code, or ‘Ulaga podhu marai’.