The controversy around BJP and carving out Kongu Nadu from Tamil Nadu

The uproar over Kongu Nadu might be a retaliation to the federal assertion of the DMK government, but not feasible.
L Murugan, Union Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying
L Murugan, Union Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying
Perumal Murugan, a prominent voice from what is defined as Kongu literary landscape, is clearly amused by all the furore over Kongu Nadu. “It is neither possible nor necessary,” he says emphatically. “It is true that Tamil Nadu was once a land of different countries – apart from Cheras, Chozhas and Pandiyas, we have had smaller countries too. But now we’re a state formed on linguistic basis. By this logic, there are voices that demand that Puducherry too should be part of Tamil Nadu. The demand did not gain any traction only because the Union Territory follows a largely French culture.”
Murugan says the demand for Kongu Nadu has its roots in the caste configuration of the region. “Kongu region is synonymous with Vellala Gounders, but in truth there are many other castes too. In some parts, Arundhathiyars and in some Vanniyars are in majority.” Since Kongu Nadu became a talking point, there have been voices on social media demanding a separate Pandiya Nadu for southern districts. Bifurcation of Tamil Nadu into northern and southern parts has been a long pending demand of the PMK too.
But Kongu Nadu quickly escalated into a controversy after the term was mentioned as the place L Murugan hailed from, soon after he was sworn in as Union Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying. A day later, Tamil newspaper Dinamalar published an unsubstantiated copy on how the Union government was planning to make Kongu Nadu a separate Union Territory as a response to the ‘confrontational approach’ of the DMK government. The report said the Union government was ‘irked’ by the state referring to it as a ‘Union’ and was upset about other issues including forming a committee for NEET and the Jai Hind controversy.

Kongu Nadu refers to the western region of Tamil Nadu, which includes the districts of Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Nilgiris, Salem, Namakkal, Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. Of the 57 constituencies in these districts, the AIADMK-BJP combine won 41 seats. The Kongu region is always seen as a AIADMK stronghold into which the DMK has been struggling to make inroads. After Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, a prominent leader from the region who fought on a DMK ticket against AIADMK’s strongman SP Velumani, the party recently roped in Mahendran from Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam and former AIADMK Minister from Erode Thoppu Venkatachalam in what is largely seen as an attempt to consolidate its base. It is rumoured that the party might soon depute a senior to work in the Kongu region.

But GK Nagaraj, BJP’s farmer’s wing leader from the Kongu region, says both the Dravidian majors have consistently neglected the region. “Edappadi Palanisamy as Chief Minister showed some interest in the region but otherwise it remained neglected despite the fact that it contributed 45% to the state income,” he says. “It is very developed; we have all kinds of industries. Namakkal is known for eggs, Tirupur for garments, Erode for turmeric, Coimbatore for industries and so on.”

But Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, who is now the state secretary of DMK’s environmental wing, says that the Kongu region owes its development to the Dravidian ideology. “Without social justice and education, how is this development even possible?” he asks. “If Kongu region has to be a separate union territory only because it contributes more to the state, by that same yardstick will it be fair to demand that Tamil Nadu be made a separate country since it contributes more to the country’s income? Clearly not.”

Sivasenapathy believes that the hype about Kongu Nadu is an attempt to ‘hide the failure of the BJP government’. “From GST to coronavirus and economy, the BJP government is a bigtime failure. The resignation of several of its ministers recently is an admission of this failure. In Tamil Nadu, they also have to fight an ideological battle. From 1998, they have been doing negative politics in the state. They also see our leader MK Stalin as a potential threat. We have had many national and international publications comparing our Chief Minister with Modi and actually pointing out that our CM performs better. Along with Mamata Banerjee, the DMK’s alone is a very strong federal voice. Many parties in the north are not even equipped to speak about federalism. In the last few years, we have also established very clearly and on the basis of facts that the Dravidian model has accelerated development in the state.”

He points out that organisations affiliated to the RSS have been driving their ideology in the business community in the ‘guise of honouring them.’ “This has been happening for years," he says.

Nagaraj, however, says the BJP is also slighted by the state’s use of the term ‘Union.’ “Yes, they say that it is a constitutional term, but the DMK is deliberately using it with an intention to humiliate the Modi government.”

But senior lawyer in the Madras High Court Radhakrishnan says that Union is a constitutional term. “It is not separatist, on the contrary Kongu Nadu could be considered a separatist issue. In any case, it’s not easy to bifurcate a state. It requires the consent of the legislative assembly and involves a long process. Kongu Nadu as a retaliation to Union government is just not right.”

Sivasenapathy echoes the thought. “India is a young country formed on the basis of constituent assembly debates. They should perhaps call for the debates again to bring any change. Also, if you are really keen about development of regions, the Union government should ideally begin with Uttar Pradesh. The state lags far behind in all social development indicators and any sort of attempt to develop a region should probably begin there.”

Meanwhile, TN BJP leaders have begun saying that if Kongu Nadu emerges as a public demand, the ‘government will consider it’.

As Nagaraj says, Kongu Nadu has been a demand made by fringe groups for a long time now. Kongu Nadu Makkal Desiya Katchi is one among them.

“It is true that we were among the first organisations that began campaigning for a separate Kongu Nadu. We still think bifurcating or trifurcating large states makes administration easier. But such decisions should be arrived at on the basis of consensus. This demand from the BJP is an attempt to divert the public attention from real issues. BJP’s real intention is to do politics but I think it’s temporary. The party has been churning one controversy every week in the state, I see this as one among them,” says ER Eswaran, general secretary of Kongu Nadu Makkal Desiya Katchi and an MLA.

Kavitha Muralidharan is a senior journalist based out of Tamil Nadu. Views expressed are the author's own.

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