It was Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s date with cultural diplomacy.
Massive crowds, largely of Tamils, converged at the RBANMS College grounds in Bangalore on Sunday to witness the unveiling of legendary Tamil Sangam poet Thiruvalluvar’s statue by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi.
In this, a UPA ally shared the dias with a BJP Chief Minister for the cause of syncretism. Present on the occasion were BJP leaders Ananth Kumar and M. Venkaiah Naidu, many Tamil Nadu ministers and Union Telecom Minister A. Raja.
Yeddyurappa watched on as the statue—in the eye of the storm for 18 years due to protests from some Kannadiga groups—was finally unveiled. Tamil Nadu will reciprocate the gesture by unveiling a statue of 16th century Kannada poet Sarvagna in Chennai on August 13.
But this has not been without a round of threats from some fringe Kannadiga groups. The two neighbouring states have had an intermittently tense relation over the years.
Yeddyurappa touched upon this dispute in his speech: “The teachings of the two great poet-saints indirectly advise the governments of the two states that the crops of farmers of both states should not be allowed to die for want of water.”
He said both poets stood for universal values and against parochialism, and added that parochialism would harm nationalism. A major dampener to Tamil-Kannada relations has been linguistic chauvinism.
The symbolism of honouring each other’s saints is welcome. But it remains to be seen how it plays out in the fractured politics of the two states.