May 30, 2020
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Split Personality

Thackeray began his political career by assaulting poor narialpaniwallas from Malabar. Look where he is today.

Split Personality
KIDNAP artiste Veerappan's promotion to Brigadier rank was announced not at Army Headquarters, but on a website—the Tamil Liberation Front's The transmutation of a sandalwood tsar into a political star, the launching of a new cyber-tuned liberation front and the overnight disbursal of downloadable research findings on Tamizhagam's past glories point to one inescapable reality that is staring us in the face: India has a resuscitated and adroitly orchestrated secessionist movement in the South.

NOT that in the 53rd year of our strident independence, Chennai is about to become a suburb of Jaffna. But the emotional ballast that anchored Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of our tryst with destiny does not apply any longer. Clamour for separation and secession has grown over the years despite all the calls for unity in diversity. The balance sheet of freedom has been a steady progression towards divergence in diversity. Some tryst, some destiny.

It began with the demand for linguistic states. When Potti Sriramulu starved himself to death, the multitude saw it as the supreme sacrifice of a supreme patriot. Actually it set off perennial conflicts in the name of language over border districts like Belgaum and Kasargod, rivers like Kavery and dams like Mullaperiyar. Language didn't unite; it divided. It didn't unite even the same language-speakers. Thus Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have taken wing. Ready to fly are Vidarbha and Telangana, Gorkhaland, Bodoland and Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Panchal Pradesh, Saurashtra, Malwa, Kodagu.

Now we have graduated to linguistic killings. Bangalore just about escaped the Kannada-Tamil riots that threatened to engulf it in the wake of Veerappan’s abduction of Rajkumar. But in Assam more than a hundred people were murdered for the reason that they were Hindi-speakers. Elsewhere, Marwaris have been targeted. The Gujarat government, accused of allowing a church to be converted into a temple, would not talk to the chief priest because he was an outsider—from Tamil Nadu.

Why blame the killers and the persecutors? Bal Thackeray began his political career by assaulting South Indians in Bombay city, the poorer narialpaniwallas from Malabar getting beaten to pulp in their dozens. Look where Thackeray is today; free to apply the adjective idiot to the Prime Minister of the land; free to hobnob with mafia kings even as he remote-controls chief ministers; free to rule with such sovereignty that the Home Minister of his home state, who ordered his arrest, was made to look like a clowning dunderhead.

It did not take long for Thackeray politics to escalate from linguistic poison-spreading to religious hate-mongering. Indeed, he symbolised the country’s overall drift into religious divisiveness. The patronage that inflated Bhindranwale into a Frankenstein of violence, the constitutional tinkering to nullify justice meted out to Shah Bano, the unlocking of the Babri Masjid locks were all matters of state policy under one over-calculating Gandhi or another. They all pulled the country asunder. After so much malevolence under prime ministerial auspices, the ploughing of a cricket pitch seemed small beer as did the burning of Bombay by Muslim dons and the burning of Muslims by Shiv Sainik dons.

When language and religion provide such powerful motivations to vandalise a civilisation, can secessionists be held back with the slender thread of law? Delhi’s policies and attitudes directly contributed to the alienation of people in Kashmir and the Northeast. No comparable cause arose to provoke the people of Tamil country despite the average northerner’s illiterate concept of the Madrassi. But flames of an exclusive nationalism have been fanned by the astonishing phenomenon of Velupillai Prabhakaran across the Palk Straits. Not all the armed might of Rajiv Gandhi’s India and of the duly constituted state of Sri Lanka could subdue this lone crusader whose strength remains invincible and mysterious at once.

Prabhakaran is the evident inspiration behind the eruption of such aberrations as whose literature leaves nothing to the imagination. The map of Periya Tamil Nadu encompasses parts of Karnataka and Andhra, all of Kerala, the north and east of Sri Lanka, all of Maldives and all of Mauritius. More soul-stirring is the Map of the Tamil Empire, ca. 1030 AD (click to enlarge) which also takes in all of Kalinga and most of Bengal besides Malaya, Sumatra and Java.

Veerappan’s apparent success has boosted this self-image of the Tamil Dalit activist. If the man’s rank has been fixed a few notches below the top, it merely indicates that in the envisioned empire even the Brigadier of brigandage comes only after the Field Marshal of Jaffna. If the vision itself can be clicked to enlarge, it will reveal that Jawaharlal Nehru is finally dead. Alive are the messengers of hatred, the fundamentalists who see all others as worshippers of false gods. It is a new tryst with a new Kaliyuga destiny. | Co-founder, Asiaweek

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