Since the beginning of April, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and at least one of its allies in Tamil Nadu have issued a number of unusual clarifications: that they are not anti-Hindu or anti-religion.

For instance, while campaigning in southern Tamil Nadu on April 9, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president MK Stalin said that the DMK was not a “anti-Hindu party” and that Hinduism did not belong to the Bharatiya Janata Party alone.

Stalin did not stop at that. “I am asking them [BJP] if the DMK is an anti-Hindu party, then who are all those people who are in the DMK?” The News Minute quoted him as saying.

Stalin also emphasised that the DMK manifesto has a specific section about the protection of religions, and added that the party was not opposed to any particular religion or caste.

The DMK leader’s statements demonstrate that that the efforts made by the BJP and its ally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, to project the DMK as an anti-Hindu party have touched a nerve. The AIADMK currently holds power in Tamil Nadu.

The state, which sends 39 MPs to the Lok Sabha, heads to the ballot booth on April 18.

How it started

The BJP-AIADMK’s decision to use the “anti-Hindu” theme in its campaign against the DMK was triggered by a statement by Dravidar Kazhagam president K Veeramani at the end of March.

The Dravidar Kazhagam is a social justice movement founded in the 1920s by reformer EV Ramasamy Periyar, to promote rationalism and self-respect. It built its popularity by ridiculing religion and spirituality.

Both the DMK and the AIADMK have branched off from this movement.

However, the Dravidar Kazhagam has extended its support to the DMK for the current Lok Sabha elections.

On March 27, during an event held at Periyar Thidal, the headquarters of the Dravidar Kazhagam in Chennai, the movement’s president Veeramani compared the Hindu deity Krishna to the men accused in the Pollachi sex blackmail case. In the case, four men are alleged to have befriended women on Facebook, sexually assaulted them, recorded the act and then blackmailed the victims.

Veeramani was responding to an article published in Thuglak, a weekly Tamil magazine, which alleged that cultural decay in Tamil Nadu had started with Periyar.

Defending Periyar at the event, Veeramani said that the social reformer had pioneered gender equality and it was because of him that women in Tamil Nadu have been educated and acquired social equality.

Turning to the Pollachi case, which has been widely discussed in Tamil Nadu, said that that “Lord Krishna should be the first person who should be booked for the criminal act of eve teasing.” Veeramani claimed: “If he [Krishna] had access to the Pollachi rape tapes, he would have gladly shown it to all other people in deva lokam [heaven].”

The video of Veeramani’s speech went viral.

Dravidar Kazhagam president AK Veeramani. Credit: AK Veeramani via Facebook

The Hindu Makkal Katchi, a Hindu nationalist group, and Thirumoolar Thiruthondu, a religious organisation, filed a police complaint against him on April 4.

Following the complaint, the Central Crime Branch police registered a first information report against Veeramani under several sections of the Indian Penal Code, including for provocation with an intent to cause riots, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, and statements that promote enmity between classes.

The BJP and the ruling AIADMK parties were quick to capitalise on the anger that the video created to project the DMK as an anti-Hindu party.

Anxious about losing the support of the Hindu majority, the DMK has now been attempting to calm the situation.

Appeasing Hindus

In addition to Stalin, other DMK candidates and allies have also emphasised that they are pro-Hindu.

While campaigning, Kanimozhi, the DMK candidate from Thoothukudi, has been emphasising that her father, Karunanidhi, respected all religions, and that number of religious rituals were performed in temples when he led the DMK government in the state. Kanimozhi, who is Stalin’s half-sister, has visited several temples during her election campaign.

In an interview to The News Minute, K Ravikumar, general secretary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a political party that is contesting under the DMK symbol in Villupuram, also stated that the party was not against Brahmanism but its priority was equality for all.

Possibly sensing that the issue had the potential to influence voters, even the Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidate from Madurai, Su Venkatesan, has clarified that his party was not against religion.