The attack on the Bangalore residence of M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Selvi over the comments by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister on the historical veracity of Lord Ram with regard to the Sethusamudram controversy suggests that the issue has now become politicised even in the South. Six months ago, little was heard about the Sethusamudram canal project and its merits and demerits either in the North or South. The CM’s doubts over the existence of Ram have angered many in the North and brought back memories of the DMK’s revered leader E.V. Ramaswami Naicker — Periyar — and his disdain for idol worship. Periyar is reported to have torn pictures of Ram, now at the centre of the Sethusamudram controversy, and even slapped them with a chappal.
Though Periyar’s fight was against superstition and caste, his followers have not done him proud. The Ram Sethu issue has suddenly become a political football between the DMK, the AIADMK and, of course, the Centre. Mr Karunanidhi is catering to his core constituency by questioning the role that Ram may have played in the construction of what has now been contested as a bridge between the southern Indian coast and Sri Lanka. Fair enough. The Chief Minister has political compulsions to be seen as the rightful inheritor to Periyar’s legacy in questioning the authenticity of figures like Ram and Hanuman. The UPA government, however, is not likely to be able to take such a cut-and-dry view of the matter. In the largely charged arena of cowbelt politics, with the Opposition BJP waiting in the wings to pounce on any seeming affront to a Hindu deity, it must tread cautiously. As it has. What may seem as pusillanimous backtracking by the government is actually good politics. It has detached itself from any doubts raised over either the mythological authenticity of the Ram Sethu or the existence of Ram, a move led by Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Into the breach now we have the MDMK stating that religion is being used to stop a project that would help Tamil Nadu. So in the muddy waters of the Palk Bay we cannot hope for any clarity on the issue except that the battle has moved from the arena of technical feasibility to the theatre of politics. The outcome is anyone’s guess.