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How Udhayanidhi Stalin's 'Sanatan Dharma' Remarks Caused A Political Uproar

On September 2, 2023, in an address at a meeting of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin made a comment against Sanatan Dharma, equating it with 'dengue, malaria, fever, and corona'.

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Udhayanidhi Stalin in Paramakudi
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When DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin on September 2, 2023, equated Sanatan Dharma to “mosquitoes, dengue, malaria and corona”, it greatly provoked and enraged Hindutva forces, who interpreted his remarks as a “call for genocide of Hindus”. In his first public remarks on the row, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday accused the opposition alliance of seeking to destroy Sanatan, and urged people to be vigilant against such “attacks on us across the country”. His remarks in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, pushed forward BJP’s hindutva approach as the party tries to make inroads into the state leadership.

Although Udhayanidhi has since then clarified that he merely wants an end to social discrimination, BJP leaders have accused him of giving a call for “genocide of Hindus”. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin too reiterated that his son never mentioned the word “genocide”. 

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How the controversy began: 

On September 2, 2023, in an address at a meeting of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association, DMK leader Udhayanidhi Stalin made a comment against Sanatan Dharma, equating it with “dengue, malaria, fever, and corona”. "What is the meaning of Sanatan? It is eternal, that is, it cannot be changed; no one could pose any question and that is the meaning." Sanatan divided people on the basis of caste, he alleged. 

Soon after, BJP leaders criticised the DMK leader and accused him giving a call for “genocide of Hindus”. K Annamalai, the Tamil Nadu BJP chief, accused Udhayanidhi of advocating for the elimination of the majority population of Bharat, who adhere to the Sanatan Dharma, by using the term "genocide." 

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Subsequently, Home Minister Amit Shah accused the INDIA bloc, which includes the DMK, of engaging in divisive politics by "insulting" Sanatan Dharma for the sake of securing votes and appeasement.

On September 5, 2023, the DMK leader also received a death threat after Ayodhya seer Paramhans Acharya announced a reward of Rs 10 crore for beheading Udhayanidhi Stalin over his alleged remarks. "Sanatan Dharma neither has a beginning nor an end. It has never been destroyed and can never be destroyed," he said, warning that anyone trying to destroy Sanatan Dharma will be destroyed. 

Stalin then issued a clarification that his speech was not a call for genocide but "what the BJP is doing in Manipur is genocide." "Manipur remained in a state of unrest for over five months. Over 250 people have been killed and churches have been demolished. Media, communication facilities and the Internet were all cut off for months,” Udhayanidhi said. He refused to apologise for his remarks, as was demanded by several BJP leaders, and said that he would make them again. 

On September 6, 2023, an FIR was registered against him and Congress leader Priyank Kharge for “hurting religious sentiments” under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different religious groups), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). 

While Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress have made their disapproval against his statement clear, the Congress took a neutral approach and said that all religions should be respected and people have the right to express opinions. 

The controversy was brewing even as the grand G20 Summit was underway in New Delhi onSeptember 9 and 10. Ahead of the summit, PM Narendra Modi advised his ministers to strongly refute the opposition on their Sanatan Dharma remarks. A source told PTI that the prime minister spoke positively of Sanatan Dharma's endurance over the millennia and asked ministers to strongly refute the suggestions made by opposition leaders. 

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In his first public remarks on the row on September 14, PM Modi accused the opposition INDIA grouping of trying to "destroy" the ancient faith and push the country into "a thousand years of slavery". He was speaking in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh where he laid the foundation stone of 10 industrial projects. Mentioning Mahatma Gandhi, the prime minister claimed that he and other historical leaders drew inspiration from Sanatan Dharma and Gandhi’s struggle for freedom was centred around the ancient faith. 

"They (the Opposition) have started speaking openly. They are going to sharpen their attack on us. Every follower of Sanatan Dharma in every nook and corner of the country and the nation-lovers have to be watchful," Modi warned. 

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With MP Congress chief Kamal Nath asserting himself as a ‘Hanuman Bhakt’, PM Modi and his ministers’ strong reactions to the Sanatan Dharma controversy, further reiterates the soft-hindutva narrative that both parties seem to be using ahead of the state elections.

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